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Japanese Sake Guide


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Sake is a Japanese rice wine that provides one of the most distinctive flavours in the country. With a long cultural history, this delicious tipple continues to be produced throughout the country and it should be enjoyed during your stay. From sake bars to sake warehouses there are so many ways to experience all that this local drink has to offer.

Sake Origins

To fully appreciate Sake, we need to take a closer look at where it derived from. This drink has been at the heart of Japanese living for around 2000 years since the beginning of rice cultivation. At the beginning of its discovery, sake was made for individual consumption rather than to sell. This rice wine was not only used as a drink but also as an offering to the Shinto Gods. In fact sake was and still is used in many Shinto practices including wedding ceremonies.

How is Japanese Sake Made?

Simply put sake is made from fermented rice. The key ingredients for making sake are rice, water, and Koji (rice yeast). Koji is the yeast that is produced from the rice and this is mixed together with steamed rice and water before being left to ferment. After the fermentation process, the mixture is then filtered.

Cheers! Enjoying Japanese Sake.

Traditionally sake was made using only pure rice, however, since the Second World War, many manufacturers now add alcohol. Today there are many different types of Sake and a number of rules have been put into place in order to ensure that the quality and consistency of Sake making remains intact.

Pure sake which is made from 100% rice is very rare in Japan today and is seen as a premium type of Sake. The fermentation process of the rice produces the natural alcohol. The amount of distilled alcohol that can be added is entirely up to the manufacturer and typically the more alcohol which is added, the lower the quality.

Types of Sake

For those looking to taste sake, it is important to be aware of the different types in order to find one that suits your taste buds.

Kunshu – Rich and fruity.

Soshu – This is the most common sake and offers a light texture.

Junshu – This is more traditional and boasts a very rich taste.

Jukushu – Spicy.

Different types of Sake have different tastes.

How to Drink Sake

Those seeking to try this national drink can choose from dry, medium and sweet variations. Often at restaurants, the meal is paired with one of these variations in order to complement one another.  The traditional way to drink sake is in a small porcelain cup called sakazuki. Depending on the type of sake, this drink is typically served at 10-20 degrees Celsius. As Junshu is a dense sake it can also be served at 40 to 55 degrees for a warm tipple.

When drinking any alcoholic beverages in Japan, it is bad luck to pour your own drink. The traditional way to pour a drink in Japan is for the younger person to pour a drink first. After someone has poured your drink, try to sip it before placing it down.

More recently sake cocktails have gained popularity. You will find these delicious blends in many hotels, restaurants and cocktail bars across the country.

Where to Drink Sake in Japan?

Sake can be found in restaurants, bars and hotels throughout Japan, however; if you wish to try it in true style then these places offer some of the best cultural sake experiences.

Shimomiya

This traditional sake bar come fish restaurant is the perfect place to sit back and sample two of Japan’s favourite things – fish and sake. Shimomiya is nestled within Tokyo’s Nakano district and boasts around 200 different brands of sake. The restaurant uses fish from the renowned Tsukiji Market (now Toyosu Market) and offers wonderful sake pairings. Staff are extremely knowledgeable and the atmosphere is relaxed.

View of a rice field

Sasahana

Located in Tokyo’s glamourous neighbourhood of Ginza, Sashana is a stylish bar and kitchen that offers limited edition sake. This bar is cosy yet elegant and has a wonderful menu of traditional delicacies too.

Akaoni

For something even more traditional, Akaoni is the perfect place. This quaint sake bar represents a more traditional time amongst Tokyo’s bright city lights. This bar is the go-to place for sake connoisseurs as the staff and customers here take the drink  very seriously. The bar stocks ine hundred varieties including some unique seasonal options.

Fukujyu Brewery

For those who want to escape the city buzz and find out exactly how sake is made then this brewery is ideal. Nestled within the Mount Rokko range lies Fukujyu brewery which has been producing sake for more than 260 years. Its mountainous location provides the perfect setting for growing rice and fermentation. Visitors can take a tour of the brewery and see the sake makers at work. The tour is free and must be booked in advance. Guests can also have a bite to eat at the site’s very own restaurant.

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