The Guide To Sake
Today’s decadent bars and exotic restaurants offer a diverse range of alcoholic beverages, from all corner of the globe – vodka from Poland, whiskey from Scotland, gin from England, wines from valleys across the continents including regions of California, Argentina, France, and of course our home backyard of Australia.
One unsung hero that doesn’t necessarily get a lot of mention is the Japanese superstar – SAKE.
What is Sake?
Sake is essentially a rice wine. Back in the day, rice was regarded high in value, and therefore a divine food – so then sake was also looked on as a blessed beverage, one used to sacrifice to the gods.
It was believed that a divine spirit lived in the rice, and that intoxication by Sake delivered gods into the human body. I know I have that godly feeling every Friday night after a few after-work drinks!
How is Sake made?
Well, before the commercial production of sake, it’s been recorded that people would chew the rice in their mouth to begin the breakdown process, and spit it into a container and add water.. This was the common method used to make sake up until the 18th Century!
These days however, sake is made from adding water and an enzyme to the rice, breaking down the carbohydrate into sugar components of the rice (for the technical readers – a process known as saccharification).
History of Sake
Drunk by Emperors, Geisha’s, and even brewed in Buddhist temples (only between the 12th and 15th centuries), sake is deeply rooted into Japanese culture and is consumed on a regular basis at the dinner table.
It is also ever entwined with broader cultural traditions and ceremony.
- In March, Momozake (peach sake) is toasted to honor daughters – in hope that they grow to be healthy adults.
- Sake is also consumed at the end of June to wash away the “impurities of the soul” that may have accumulated during the first half of the year (I try and do this on a weekly basis, but it doesn’t seem to help!).
- There’s also a “Coming of Age” Day in January, which traditionally was to celebrate sons of samurais or nobles between 11 and 17 when were given their first adult clothing, hairstyle, and name to mark their passage into adulthood. Today everyone just celebrates the day with plenty of sake!
- Ok…and then there is “National Sake Day” in Japan – a celebration of all things sake! Think about it, it’s pretty cool – it’s like having a “National Beer Day” here in Australia!
- This month of October was traditionally the month when rice is harvested and hence when sake brewing begins… and so the drinking begins!
The global evolution of alcoholic beverages has spawned a modern and international mix of products, with distribution now covering from corner to corner of our world. While born and bred in Japan, sake is creeping out from the island, and making a stamp into modern bar culture internationally.
With a huge range of taste and varieties, many restaurants and Japanese restaurants have easily adapted sake into their menus. Interestingly enough, it is also being incorporated into clever mixology and avant-garde cocktail bars in western metropolitan cities.
Even some of the best bars in Melbourne are taking sake to the next level, such as Little Red Pocket cocktail bar and their adventurous sake cocktail menu and in-house recipes.
Whether you love sake, or have never tried it before, a whole new world of taste exploration is awaiting you. What are you waiting for?