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Sake: Is it Wine?
Demystifying Japan’s National Beverage
The national beverage of Japan is now enjoyed (and made) around the world. What do you know about sake, (pronounced sah-keh, not sah-kee)?
I recently joined a seminar on sake from the eyes of Tom Wilson, head brewer, of UK’s first sake brewery. Founded in 2016 and based in Peckham, England, Kanpai Craft Brewery offers award-winning British sake. If you’d like to learn more about sake, please watch this WSET® Bitesize 30-minute overview, click – below:
What is Sake? Where is it made?
Sake is considered “rice wine,” but actually is not a real wine at all. Sake making has more in common with beer brewing. This alcoholic beverage is made by taking specially milled and polished rice varieties and putting this rice with water into a parallel fermentation process with selected yeasts to produce a 15-20% alcohol drink. The percentage of milling and polishing of the rice determines the quality and style levels. My personal favorite style is Junmai-Daiginjo sake, featuring a fragrant, floral, spicy-scented aroma that is served slightly chilled. Pair this sake with the shrimp and salmon sushi. Most premium sakes should be slightly chilled.
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Consider that sake has a two millennia beverage heritage. Sake is produced in several regions of Japan including Kobe, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Fukushima. Sake does not carry a vintage year like red and white wines, as the rice harvests tend to be more stable than grape harvests. The purity of the water in the region is important, as it accounts for 80% of the content of the sake. Hard water produces a more masculine-style sake and soft water a more feminine-style sake. The winter snows off the Japanese mountains feed the spring waters creating ideal cold fermenting conditions.
Sake styles vary. Some can be elegant, fruity, and clean; some are robust and savory; while others can be aged, dark, and deep. Sparkling sake is available, as is low-alcohol sake.
Japan has 900 sake brewers, but 100 other sake breweries now exist around the world with many in Europe and North America including the UK and the United States.
Sake Food Pairing
The perfect pairing for sake is almost any Japanese food, especially salty foods, like roe or caviar. Sushi, ramen, and tempura are all good choices. Fresh sake pairs well with fresh vegetables, fruit, and soft cheese. Aged sake pairs well with pickles, dried fruits, and aged cheese. Cruising Japan can be a perfect way to sample sake and sushi. If aboard a Princess Cruise Lines ship, be sure to try the Kai Sushi restaurants, as they offer friendly, knowledgeable service, and information on sake. Kanpai!
Some Sake Recommendations
Gold Medal winner, San Francisco Wine challenge, World Sake Challenge
“Sayuri” translated to “little lily,” and this is a soft floral noted Nigori.
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