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Sake (Japanese Rice Wine)

A Taste of Japan

Sake has been part of Japanese culture for centuries. Made from the rice of Japan's abundant paddy fields, Sake is brewed in a similar way to beer even though it is usually thought of as rice wine. Rice is fermented and stripped of its starch content, then brewed with water to produce the delicious finished product.

A Short History

With its first known production in 300 BC, sake is one of the oldest known spirits on the planet. First enjoyed in Japan centuries ago, sake has slowly made its sweet way across the globe and is one of the most unusual yet satisfying spirits available today. In the 1300s, sake was produced across Japan in great quantities, but the government stepped in and levied a tax upon it. In later years, the spirit was produced in temples by monks as an offering to the gods, and temple visitors would drink it in an act of deference to the gods and hope to gain favour with them (rather than just getting a nasty hangover). And while not a particularly wholesome image, kamikaze pilots in the Second World War would drink sake as neat in order to prepare themselves for their mission ahead. Not a great advertisement admittedly, but a nod to its anaesthetic properties nevertheless!

How is Sake Made?

Sake is manufactured through the stripping of rice grains, and the protein and oils removed. In the good old days, this process was carried out by hand for each individual rice grain –hence why the Japanese treat the spirit with such reverence! The rice is then left to ferment, originally a koji fungus was used to accelerate the process, but nowadays yeast is used. As sake rice is so rich in starch, the fermentation process is aided and results in a gloriously vibrant liquor to be enjoyed by all (over 18s). Nowadays, sake brewers are cropping up all over the globe; some even utilise the old-fashioned techniques of production established all those thousands of years ago. Of course, undiluted sake has an extremely potent alcohol content, and so it is often watered down prior to bottling, and this ratio of water and alcohol content goes a long way to giving each individual brand and bottle its unique flavour.

Things You Should Know

Sake, in its purest form, is a potent brew, and as such it was restricted for hundreds of years and passed for religious use only. It was never to be consumed in any other circumstance. Luckily, you can raise a glass without fear these days! With those days behind us, sake is now consumed – as it has been for so many years – at celebrations in Japanese culture to mark a happy occasion. The traditional toast at a Japanese wedding, the "San San Kudo", sees the bride, the groom and both sets of parents sip from a cup of sake to celebrate an everlasting union.

Each bottle of sake is measured using a Sake Meter Value (SMV), or the"Nihonshudo" to give it its correct Japanese name. This compares the dilution ratio of water to sake; with the higher the number, the drier the liquor. A low number signifies a sweeter sake, which is perhaps the best introduction for the debutant to this unique spirit. An acidity level is associated with each different take on sake as well, and this coupled with the SMV will give you an insight into the character of each bottle. The higher the number on the acidity scale, the richer the taste, while the lower end of the scale indicates a sake that is more forgiving on the uninitiated palette.

We stock a great variety of brands and takes on this Japanese classic, and each comes complete with its own measurement on the dry, medium or sweet scale – browse the product descriptions to find your perfect drop. Some bottles, such as the Dassai 50, contain fruity hints of melon and pineapple for a slightly tropical flavour, whereas others are at the drier, more traditional end of the spectrum.