Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage fermented from rice; and since rice is a grain, this makes sake more of a beer than a wine. Sake is not carbonated, so its flavor will be closer to wine than beer yet uniquely different. Sake is not distilled so it has no relation to vodka, gin or other spirits. Sake originated in Japan and traditional sake is made only in Japan even though there are other breweries making sake around the world. Wow!…That was a mouthful.
There are basically two levels of sake, ordinary sake (the cheap stuff) which is the equivalent of table wine and usually has a lot of distilled alcohol added to it in the final stages, and premium sake which has very little or no alcohol at all added. Premium sake will also undergo a special milling or “polishing” of the rice; the more the rice is polished, the higher the price and the better the sake.
What is the alcohol content of saké?
Sake is closest to wine in alcohol content with an average of about 15% alcohol, but you will see sake as low as 12.5% and as high as 17%.
Unlike premium wines, sake does not age well and should be consumed soon after purchasing, so when sourcing sake, look for a retailer with a large variety. A substantial Japanese clientele is always a good thing also. This will make sure that the product is constantly moving out the door.
Storing and Drinking
Most sakes taste best slightly chilled.
There are many similarities between wine and sake when it comes to storage:
- Store sake away from heat or direct light.
- Drink soon after opening, any remaining sake should be sealed and stored in the refrigerator and consumed within 2 days. It will still be safe to drink it just won’t taste as good.
- Sake will oxidize if exposed to air for too long.
- Just as a Chardonnay will taste better when served not as cold as a Sauvignon Blanc, the same is true for sake. Some sake will need more or less chilling combined with your own personal preference.
- Here are just a few flavors & aromas you can expect to get from sake:
- Cream, Chocolate, Vanilla, Cucumber
- Pear, Plum, Banana, Coconut, Papaya, Pineapple
- Flowers, Herbs, Spices
- Minerals, Stone
Buy yourself a cute little sake set like this one:
There’s no need to be intimidated by sake, simply look for these words:
Junmai, Ginjo or Daiginjo
If the bottle has any of those three words in it you will be tasting premium sake.
If you’re looking for a fun beginner sake, you may want to try a sweet & cloudy Nigori sake which is fruity and mild.