We cannot visit Japan without trying some sake. There is a lot to know about it too – how to serve it, how to drink it and how it is made. One thing we already know – is how to enjoy it!
What is sake?
Sake has been produced in Japan for 2,500 years. It is brewed from rice with alcohol content ranging from 13-20%.
People call sake “rice wine,” but it is actually brewed like a beer. Sake rice is milled so that it has a high starch content. A fungus that helps turn the starch into sugar, is added to the rice. It is then fermented with yeast.
Even though it is brewed, sake is like wine. There are sweet and dry sakes, cloudy and clear, filtered and unfiltered. All of these influence the flavour.
For the connoisseur – the tasting notes include caramel and bananas, musty mushrooms, acidic lychee or pear and bamboo. As a drink, sake is described as both complex and subtle.
Sake is served warm or cold. It should either be served cold right out of the fridge, or barely warmed.
To drink it, hold the cup of sake near your nose to take it its aromas, then drink it in sips letting the liquid linger on your tongue before swallowing.
If you are drinking with others, you should never serve yourself. You serve others, then they serve you.
Serving and pouring etiquette
Sake is served in different ways. Often it is decanted into porcelain flasks called tokkuri, then poured into small ceramic cups. Cold sake can be served in glasses.
On special occasions, cold sake may be served into saucer-like cups. Another way is to pour it into a masu. A masu is a small wooden box used for measuring rice. A cup or glass may be placed in the box and then filled with sake. Sometimes the masu is placed on the saucer-like cup. When poured, the sake fills both the glass/cup and the box to indicate generosity.
We got a bit of a surpise when this happened for us, when ordering sake recently. When asked, the bar staff suggested it was a traditional way of serving it.
The Japanese have a pouring etiquette that applies to serving sake. In formal situations, the tokkuri is held with two hands when pouring. Likewise when receiving your sake, you should lift your glass/cup off the table, holding it with one hand and supporting it with the other.
Raise your sake glass/cup and say “kampai” to toast the occasion. Sake is a great accompaniment to spicy food, seafood and meat dishes. In fact, there are no real barriers if you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll try some?