Most of us have experienced warmed, low-quality sake. The finest sakes are served lightly chilled to enable their delicate aromas and flavors to be expressed.
Sake is brewed and fermented from rice, originally brewed in China in about 2,000 B.C. Japan followed in the third century, and sake became Japan’s national beverage and a way to communicate with the gods and man, a drink of both respect and enjoyment.
All rice is brown. The grains are polished, removing 5 to 8 percent of the husk, as well as some of the husk’s protein, amino acids and fats that create “off” odors and flavors in the sake. As you will read below, the amount of husk removed determines the quality level of the sake.
Sake rice (some 65 types) is grown for its high starch content. The starch is concentrated like an egg yolk in a hard-boiled egg, and is found in the center of the grain. The polishing of the outer layer also removes enzymes necessary to convert the rice starch to sugar, so a mold (Koji) is introduced before fermentation.
Brew masters introduce Koji to the steamed, polished rice and yeast completes the ferment. The differences in water, yeast, rice and Koji and the timing of their introduction make each Sake unique in flavor and style.
SAKE STYLES –
Futsu-shu – the lowest level, usually heated and alcohol added.
Junmai – made from only rice, water, Koji mold and yeast, representing 6 percent of all sake produced. A minimum of 30 percent of the grain is polished away.
Junmai-Ginjo – represents 2 percent of all sake. A minimum of 40 percent of the grain is polished away.
Junmai-Daiginjo – the highest quality level, representing .5 percent of all sake produced, with its rice polished to remove a minimum of 50 percent of the grain.
Nigori – loosely filtered to make a cloudy style with added texture and flavor.
– Gary Twining