Enjoying Sake: The Basics
A brief history
Sake is a traditional Japanese brew made by fermenting rice. It is Japan’s national beverage and is used during formal ceremonies, weddings, special events, and holidays. Sake is deeply tied to the seasons and the rice harvest with the brewing season starting in the winter to allow the tanks to become cold enough to make sake.
While the exact origins of sake are unclear with records reaching back at least 2500 years, it is believed to begin in China with the start or rice cultivation. Japan is really where the brewing of sake became an art and koji methods were refined during the Nara Period (710-794).Through the next 500 years, sake was being brewed in Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples originally to appease the gods, but by the sixteenth century, breweries began to be established for sake to be drank by the masses. In the Edo Period (1603-1868) the techniques for sake began to change toward less sweet and lighter flavors. New methods surrounding filtration brought about clear sake. In the Meiji period (1858-1912) sake hit the international scene and there were said to be over 27,000 breweries in Japan with large producers established in Kobe and Kyoto. Sake continued to evolve as time progressed and was heavily influenced by the coming world wars. With rice being rationed the sake industry collapsed and many sake breweries were forced to blend with cheaply distilled alcohol and much richer sake became popular. This brings us to the modern period in which new classifications based on rice polish ratios gave birth to the ginjo boom of the 1970s. These new styles refined flavor and aroma as well as pushed toward more artisan sake.
Today sake is experiencing an international resurgence with America being the highest importer of sake. New craft sake breweries in the US are popping up around the country while the general population is embracing this ancient and beautiful drink.
Made From Rice
The most important thing to know is that sake is made from rice. While you might not think too much about these ubiquitous little white grains, they can bring about such incredible aromas and flavor.
How to Drink Sake
There is no right or wrong way to drink sake. It is often enjoyed in carafes with small porcelain cups, served in wine glasses, or in more casual cups. Due to its complex flavor and high ABV sake is typically sipped and pairs wonderfully with all types of cuisine.
Made for Sharing
Sharing sake with friends and family is deeply engrained in sake culture. It is customary to ensure your drinking companions cup is always full, so be sure to pour for them. Sake is also present at formal ceremonies, special occasions, holidays, or any other reason to celebrate with friends.
Best When Fresh
Sake is a freshly brewed alcohol and is always best when drank as soon as possible. Many bottles will have "bottled-on" dates and while they maintain a good shelf life, are typically not aged.
Cold vs Hot
This is a personal preference but sake is brewed cold and the brewing season in Japan is tied to the winter months. Most modern sakes that are light and full of aroma are made to be enjoyed chilled, while sake that is served warm is typically richer and fuller.
Clean, Curious, and Gluten Free
Sake is a historic beverage that remains to be one of the cleanest most curious drink on the planet. Rice is also naturally gluten free, making sake the top choice for your drinking pleasure. Kanpai!