The most well-known liquors may be available around the world, but in each corner of the globe, there exists their own traditional alcoholic drinks.
Today, we’re taking a deep dive into one such alcoholic beverage that originated in Japan.
Sake can be consumed either hot or cold, which makes it different than other alcohol. It’s often mistaken for its Korean counterpart, soju.
Sake’s origins has traditional roots, some of which are still upheld even to this day. Read on to find out more about this beloved Japanese drink.
What is sake?
Sake is essentially an alcoholic beverage hailing from Japan which is made of fermented rice grains.
To create this drink, the rice grains are brewed instead of distilled, placing sake in a similar category with beer and wine, in that it is not a liquor.
Sake normally contains an ABV of 15% to 20%.
What is the difference between sake and soju?
When you’re not paying attention, mistaking sake for soju is only understandable.
Both drinks are clear in appearance, and they even taste similar to each other because they’re made of the same base ingredient.
Despite these similarities, soju and sake are different in this way.
The production of sake is safeguarded by rigid traditional rules. Sake is made of strictly rice grains and don’t allow for much variation.
On the other hand, creating soju is a less strict affair. Soju can be made of a variety of starches, and soju brewers even have the freedom to add flavors to the drink.
In terms of taste, sake and soju may have near-exact flavors, but sake is technically dryer while soju is sweet.
Related Article: Similarities and Differences Between Sake & Soju
How was sake invented?
As it is with the history of most alcoholic beverages, we have migration to thank.
Circa the 2nd century BC, the Chinese brought brewing techniques to Japan, localizing the method.
The first mention of sake appeared in3rd century AD, when a Chinese document recounted the consumption of sake during a period of mourning.
Sake entered the Japanese Imperial Court four centuries later.
The court initiated a sake brewing division, producing the drink to keep the people of the palace warm on cold days.
However, when the summer rolled around, the emperor would also consume it with ice cubes.
Because the Imperial Court was the one that produced sake, the drink became a ruling class drink, inaccessible to the public for a long while.
In 927, the Imperial Court produced a code of practice that dictated specific sake-brewing methods called the Engishiki.
Thanks to the Engishiki, the Japanese didn’t just have an exact recipe for sake; they also had a sake ranking system.
This divided up the kinds of sake consumed by each Japanese social class.
Sake available to lower class people was generally unrefined, while the sake in the Imperial Court was top tier.
The 13th century finally saw sake being produced commercially, thanks to the industrial and technological developments in that period.
Mass production of sake meant that the drink rose in popularity across Japan, garnering 54 liters of consumption per capita in the city of Edo alone!
Related Article: Various Benefits of Sake for Your Health & Skin
Sake production process
Just like hops are the key ingredients in beer, sake relies on a Japanese fungus called koji in its production.
Sake producers ferment rice grains, water, and koji to create this traditional drink.
First, rice grains are harvested. For sake, the grains used must only be white rice.
This means that the harvested grains are polished, washed, and soaked to remove any impurities.
Then, the rice is steamed until it is firm on the outside but soft inside.
This texture allows for that umami flavour – a savory taste commonly associated with sake. After steaming, some of the rice is separated from the rest and cooled.
While waiting for the above batch to cool down, producers use the remaining rice to make koji rice.
In this process, the spores of the koji fungus are added to the rice and kneaded in.
This creates koji rice, which is wrapped in cloth and left to harden. After a period of time, the koji rice is fermented along with yeast and cold water.
For sake, fermentation takes 21 days, after which producers are left with a brew called moromi.
This brew goes through a press in order to filter out impurities and sediments.
During this process, some brewers may opt to add in alcohol to increase alcohol content.
Then, the sake is carbon filtrated, diluted, and then pasteurized before it’s bottled and stored.
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