Sake, Japanese traditional alcoholic drink, is mysterious and complicated. Its flavor can easily change depending on temperature, vessels and food. Though it seems drinkable and smooth, you can get really drunk if you don’t know the proper way to enjoy it.
For these reasons, you may believe, sake must be made from unusual ingredients. In fact, however, its ingredients are quite simple and familiar – rice and water.
Rice is the primary staple food of the Japanese diet. As you know, Japanese people use rice for many kinds of Japanese cuisines, such as sushi, onigiri, gyudon and mochi (Did you know mochi is also made of rice?).
Generally, on the other hand, sakamai (shuzo-koteki-mai) is different from rice for table use in Japan: it is is specifically cultivated for sake making and has special characteristics. For example, a grain of sakamai is bigger than one of cooking rice. Additionally, it contains lower protein and fat. Because of these qualities – less tasty than cooking rice – Japanese people don’t adopt sakamai for table use.
There are various kinds of sakamai in Japan. If you are a sake fan, you may have heard names of some popular brands – Yamada Nishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Omachi and so on.
Although sakamai is one of the essential parts of sake, it is tough even for professional sake sommeliers to distinguish the type of sakamai from its flavor.
This is because:
(1) Each brand of sakamai runs the gamut: quality matters more than the name of brand.
(2) A combination of many factors, such as quality of water, type of yeast, skills of brewers, affects the flavor of sake.
This characteristic is somewhat different from wine, to which the type of grapes alone can have a significant influence on flavors.
In contrast, sake breweries in the U.S. use general cooking rice to make sake. There are some reasons: growing sakamai is difficult in the U.S. and the price of imported sakamai is super high. Making sake from cooking rice is hard, but some rice made in America has characteristics more suitable for sake brewing than Japanese one for table use.
Since sakamai is expensive even in Japan, Japanese big breweries that produce a large quantity of sake have used cooking rice for their products. Recently, to cut the cost, some local breweries also try to make high-quality sake without sakamai. With a high level of technology and skill, it is possible to produce delicious and competitive sake from general one.
Even though sake consists of simple ingredients such as rice and water, why does it sometimes flavor complicated and make people feel sick? – You can find the answers from next articles.