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Everything you need to know about sake

You may know sake is fermented rice wine, but there’s a whole lot more to this traditional Japanese drink. Read on to learn its history, types and more.

You may know sake is fermented rice wine, but there’s a whole lot more to this traditional Japanese drink. Read on to learn its history, types and more.

Surely you’ve had the experience of sitting in a sushi restaurant thinking, “Man, a drink would be nice right about now.” You make your thoughts known to the table.

Someone suggests sake.

“Sake,” you say with a knowing nod. “Yes, I always prefer sake with sushi.”

Your bluff has your friends fooled. But in your heart lies great shame. For you are an imposter, a sake-naïve ingenue hiding behind a façade of sake literacy.

Fear not, friend: the charade ends today. For today, we learn sake. And not sake for the sake of impressing anyone — no, today you’ll learn sake for sake’s sake.

What is sake?

Sake, pronounced sah-keh, is a Japanese rice wine that’s been enjoyed for centuries. Served hot or chilled, it’s actually far more versatile than its sushi reputation suggests — and everyone from French winemakers to American brewers is crossing genres to take the drink in new directions.

Sake is made using a very special and time-honored process. The primary ingredient is sake mai rice, which is highly polished to prepare it for fermentation. The brewer then adds water, yeast and Aspergillus oryzae, a mold that is also an active ingredient in preparing soy sauce. This is brewed for several months to years to produce the desired results.

Making sake the right way produces a smooth, delicious wine-like drink with an alcohol content of 15% to 20%. If you want a fine sake, you’re looking at drinks aged for at least a year. The really strong stuff is called Genshu and can have at least 20% ABV.

The history of sake

Sake is an alcoholic beverage that has been enjoyed for at least 1,300 years in Japan. Many believe it’s been around longer, but it’s difficult to track down hard evidence in Japan before the 8th Century CE. Before that, the drink appears to have first been brewed in ancient China around 500 BCE. It spread to Japan some 1,200 years later and became the sake that we know and love today.

The different types of sake

Junmai-shu

This pure sake has no added alcohol, no additional starch and no added sugar. The Seimai Buai rice (70% of which retains its original size) is used in this type of sake, producing a rich, full-bodied drink with a higher acidity than other types. Junmai often goes down better when it’s served hot. Check out our large selection of Junmai sake.

Ginjo-shu

Ginjo-shu requires a specific type of yeast, as well as 60% of the rice retaining its original size. A more labor-intensive technique, Ginjo-shu involves low-temperature fermentation. The result is an aromatic sake that’s light and refreshing and best served cold. You can find as much ginjo as you could ever hope to sample on Drizly.

Daiginjo-shu

The sake rice used in Daiginjo-shu (a type of Ginjo-shu) includes 35% to 50% milled rice. Expect a highly fragrant, delicious drink that has a short tail and a delicate flavor. Check out our different Daiginjo offerings.

Honjozo-shu

This category requires that 70% of the rice grain retains its original size and includes added alcohol by the brewer. This makes it slightly less potent than other types but also grants it a smooth, light body and delicate flavor. It’s best served warm. Check out our Honjozo offerings here.

As a newly minted sake connoisseur, you may also hear the term Nihonshu. This term encompasses a specific type of sake made from rice malt, rice and water. It’s delicious, but don’t take our word for it — try some yourself.

Sake it up at Drizly

At Drizly, the sake drinker will find a veritable utopia of Japanese rice goodness. All you have to do is decide what you want and order, and it’ll be at your door in an hour or less. 乾杯!