What Is Sake?


Sake is a type of rice-based alcoholic drink that originates from Japan. While Sake is referred to as a rice wine it is technically not a wine. Wine is produced by fermenting the sugar that is naturally found in fruit while sake is created through a brewing process that mimics the brewing process of beer. To make Sake the sugar needed to produce alcohol is converted from the starches of rice. The brewing process of Sake is different from beer in that when brewing beer the conversion of starch to sugar happens in two different steps. The conversion of starch to sugar while making Sake occurs simultaneously. The alcohol content of Sake, wine and beer also differ. Wine usually contains between 9-16% alcohol, beer contains 3-9% alcohol while undiluted Sake is 18-20% alcohol. The high alcohol content of Sake is usually lowered to around 15% when water is added prior to bottling.

Before brewing Sake the rice must be polished to remove the protein and oils from the exterior of the grains. This leaves behind just the starch of the rice. Freshly polished rice then must rest until it absorbs enough moisture from the air so it will not crack when submerged in water. After the resting period the rice is washed and soaked. The amount of time the rice is soaked depends on how the rice was polished. The time the rice spends soaking can range anywhere from several hours to overnight. After the rice is finished soaking the rice is boiled in a large pot or steamed on a conveyor belt. The degree of cooking is vital as overcooked rice will ferment too fast. This prohibits the flavors from developing well. Under cooking the rice will cause it to ferment on the outside only. Once the rice is properly cooked it is then cooled and divided. Some of the rice is taken to a culture room and inoculated with mold. It cultivates for about two days or until the growth of fungus reaches the desired level. It is then called kōji. Once the kōji is ready a starter mash is created. Kōji rice, water, lactic and yeast are all mixed together.Sake Bottles Then the freshly steamed rice is added and is cultivated for 10-15 days. After this steamed rice, water, and more kōji are added once a day for 3 more days. This doubles the volume of the mash each day. The mash is then allowed to ferment for 2-6 weeks. Unlike beer Sake does not have the necessary amylase to convert starches to sugar. Sake must go through multiple fermentation, in which the starch from the rice is converted to sugar by the kōji, and the sugar is then converted to alcohol by the yeast. These processes both happen at the same time. Once fermentation is complete the sake is pressed which separates the liquids from the solids. Some Sake has a small amount of distilled alcohol that is added before pressing in order to extract flavors and aromas that would normally stay with the solids. The sake is filtered, pasteurized, and allowed to rest and mature before bottling. It is usually diluted with water just before being bottled.

Sake has a wide variety of flavor notes. These include apples, bananas, melons, flowers, herbs, spices, rice, chestnuts, chocolate, dry grapes, sherry, caramel sauce and more. The flavor of apples comes from ethyl caproate, and the banana flavor comes from isoamyl acetate. Sake can be served chilled, at room temperature, or heated depending on the preference of the drinker. Sake is served straight, but can also be used as a mixer for cocktails such as tamagozake, saketinis, nogasake, or the ever popular sake bomb.

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