There is a lot of enthusiasm about Japanese Sake (I should more correctly say ‘Nihonshu 日本酒’ but let’s save that for a future article) so it would be nice to have a basic understanding and, as we progress through further articles, eventually a good understanding.
For many of us, our first experience of Sake is the free-flow stuff that comes with a sushi buffet. It is usually distinctly average and is officially termed ‘Futsushu 普通酒’ (ordinary Sake would just about work as a translation). An ordinary glass of wine is unlikely to say ‘Chateau Cardboard’ on the label and, similarly, you won’t see ‘Futsushu’ on the label. How, then, do we know it’s Futsushu? Basically when it doesn’t have the designation of any of the more premium categories on the label (which we will learn about in a future article).
So, we have had a gut full of the free flow stuff and decided we’re not keen on Sake. So what’s all of the excitement about?
Simple really. When it’s from a premium category, made by a dedicated artisan working in a brewery with a long history and tremendous reputation at stake, it is one of the most beautiful and exciting alcoholic beverages there is.
Some of the stuff made by larger companies, overseen by whatever the Japanese equivalent of a bean counter is, can also be pretty good!
But back to what is it.
A fermented beverage (not distilled so typical alcohol levels of 15-16% being a shade above typical levels for wine) with rice as the raw material and no ingredients other than rice, water, Koji (which could be the subject of several articles but for now, Koji helps convert the starch in rice to sugar, thus enabling fermentation) and yeast (arguably, a more significant ingredient than yeast is for wine but I am saving that argument for another article). Some styles of Sake can also add alcohol in the form of distilled Spirit and/or lactic acid.
The volume of Sake being consumed in Japan is going down so breweries, and the Government, are having to put effort (and budget) into the overseas promotion of Sake, not just to increase sales (not that significant given that exports only represent a single digit percentage of production) but also to remind Japanese travellers about Sake by enhancing the chances that they will see people overseas drinking it when they are on overseas trips!
So we have great access to fantastic Sake which I would argue, based on the production method, represents one of the best value for money alcoholic beverages so sensible prices and a whole host of courses (including those offered at AWSEC from WSET, the Sake Sommelier Association and the Sake Service Institute) to learn about it, there hasn’t been a better time to get into Sake.
I will be looking at the various aspects of this introductory article in future articles which will be appearing in this blog. Until then, Kampai!