Sake Rice Fields in Japan

Sake is made from a combination of ingredients that include rice, water, rice koji and yeast. The alcohol content typically ranges from 13% to 18% but it can be as high as 21%, although anything above this percentage would no longer be classed as sake. Classifications are key to distinguishing different types of sake. Knowing the classifications will allow you to have a greater understanding of sake and how it should be served. There are 6 main classifications of premium grade sake, all of which must use certified sake-specific rice. The origins of Sake go back as far as 2,500 years ago when rice growing became prevalent in Japan. However, today’s premium Ginjo grade sake is a relatively new development which has only been around for 40 years or so.

The classifications of Sake are PREMIUM GINJO SAKE: 1. Junmai-Daiginjo; 2. Junmai-Ginjo; and 3. Daiginjo Ginjo. PREMIUM SAKE: 4. Junmai; 5. Honjozo and 6. FUTSU-SHU (Table Sake).

Sake is brewed with more similarities to beer production than wine. Sake rice does not contain the kinds of enzymes that barley does, so a di erent ingredient is needed to help convert the rice's starch into sugar. This ingredient is rice Koji, which is made with steamed rice and Koji mould (Koji-Kin). When this magical Koji mould is combined with the rice, enzymes are produced which break up the starch in the rice and turn it into sugar.

The process of polishing rice grains is conducted in order to remove fat and proteins and reveal the starchy core. The polishing process greatly influences the final taste of a sake. Generally, the more fat and proteins that are removed during the polishing process the cleaner and fruitier the sake. In contrast, rice which has been polished less will result in savoury, grainy, rice-like flavours which are full-bodied.

Sake works well with a wide range of food. The pairing principles for sake have many similarities with that of pairing food with wine. Sake with similarities to the food enhances both, such as rich Sake for rich food. Sake can bring out and amplify the flavours in food, prolonging the enjoyment. Consuming Sake with food can even create new tastes by enhancing flavours and aromas. Sake can also wash away food aftertastes and refresh the palate. Sake with higher acidity usually stands up better to oilier foods. Some dishes however may not need all that acidity, and in fact will work better with lower acidity Sake. Yeast, lactic acid bacilli and mould are also involved in the production of cheese, which is rich in umami resulting from the breakdown of proteins. Cheese, therefore, goes well with some Sake varieties.

Sake can be enjoyed in a variety of ways and is a great option for cocktails. Whether to serve sake chilled or warm is a question of personal preference. As a general rule fruity sakes like Ginjo and Daiginjo are served chilled. While earthy, savoury sakes like Junmai and Honjozo can be warmed.