Sake isn't rice wine. While this revelation is as shocking as a sumo wrestler running at you full speed, it's what sake is commonly called. Wine is the result of fermenting fruit, but rice isn't a fruit. Sake is actually made in a two-step process. First, sake makers turn rice starch into sugar. Then, yeast is added to the sugar to turn the starch into alcohol. Oddly enough, this fermentation process is more like beer than wine. Still, it has a higher alcohol content than most beers. So if you're looking for more bang for your buck at your favorite Japanese restaurant, go with a nice sake.
Where Is Sake Produced?
Sake has its roots in Japan, where the spirit has been produced for almost 2,000 years. Originally, sake was produced solely by the government until the 10th century, when private citizens gained the right to brew the tasty concoction. Since that time, Japan has continued to perfect the process, but the popularity of sake caused many entrepreneurs in the U.S. to make their own. American sake isn't nearly as prized as the Japanese version, but it's becoming more and more recognized as an above-average version. October 1 is officially recognized in Japan as Sake Day. Just imagine what crazy stunts would happen in the U.S. if the same date was observed as Jack Daniel's Day.
How Should I Drink Sake?
In Japan, sake is often reserved for special occasions. Normally, it's warmed slightly in a porcelain bottle called a tokkuri and served in a small cup called a sakazuki or ochoko. However, various types of sake need a different vessel to give them the best taste and aroma. That said, Koshu is best served in a sherry glass, while Daiginjo tastes best out of a long-stemmed wine glass with a bowl. Beyond that, sake pairs well with traditional Japanese staples such as ramen, sushi and tempura, although pork belly and steak are also complemented well by sake.
What Are the Types of Sake?
Although there are endless types of sake, most fall into a few distinct categories:
Remember that this is just a few of the dozens of sakes commonly produced in Japan and abroad. As with beer, sake aficionados enjoy exploring the extensive variations on this classic Japanese spirit. However, you should look at this as a fun opportunity to try any sake that looks interesting. Just try not to do it all in one sitting or you might end up on a one-way flight to Tokyo.