Our Sake Sommelier Tells us More About Japan’s National Drink -
Japanese Sake

Our Sake Sommelier Tells us More About Japan’s National Drink

For those who are not familiar with sakes, you are now at the right place, because Joshua Kalinan, our Sake Sommelier, is here to give us a lesson on the very basics of sakes. Have you ever wondered why sake tastes so different from other wines? Well, read on, and you will get to know the answers soon! 

Sake originated from Japan with a history of more than 2000 years. However, it is always misunderstood by those who are not familiar with this beverage, even in professional settings. It is often known as “Rice Wine”, but in an incorrect way. 

Differences between wine and sake

The main difference is in their fermentation techniques. Wine is made by harvesting grapes, macerating them to get hold of the grape juices, then adding yeast that reacts with the sugars in the juice to produce alcohol.

The sake-making process is slightly more complicated. It is not possible to find sugar in its natural form in rice grains to be converted into alcohol. Organic micro-organisms such as yeast or bacteria has to be added to kickstart the decomposition process before fermentation can occur. The resulting substance released via decomposition defines the type of fermentation (eg. if alcohol is the by-product, the sake undergoes alcoholic fermentation). Sake has the highest alcohol content (22% ABV) as compared to other fermented beverages. 

Types of rice used in sakes 

In order to produce good sakes, sake-grade rice or polished rice has to be used. The difference between Sake-grade rice and the usual table rice is the higher starch content found in the opaque core of the sake-grade rice (known as shipnaku) — a property conducive to quality sake production. 

There are 4 most widely used Sake rice in the industry. Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Miyamanishiki and Omachi. 

Yamadanishiki: The best sake rice available, also known as the “king of Sake Rice”. It is grown in Hyogo, Fukuoka, Tokushima Prefecture. This sake rice is often used to make a more delicate style of premium sake.

Gohyakumangoku: Second most widely used sake rice in Japan.  It is usually grown around Niigata.  It yields a light-bodied sake with a fresh, clean taste. Click here to check it out.

Miyamanishiki: This high-altitude sake rice grows well in cold weather and produces a rich and strong flavoured sake.  Best grown in Nagano.

Omachi: The only pure strain of sake-rice that is not crossbreed.  It is grown in Okayama. Sake made with this sake rice have an earthy taste and subtle flavour.

Just like the different terroirs in a wine producing world, different regions in Japan specialise in growing different Sake rice with the soil and climate. 

Type of water used in sakes

A typical sake usually has a pure water content of about 80%. Water plays an important part in the making of sakes. Water is used in all the steps of the brewing process including washing, soaking, steaming the rice, and finally diluting the alcohol in the fermentation tanks before bottling. Thus, the water quality plays a huge role in defining the quality and character of a sake. 

Most traditional sake breweries are located around regions where there is a good supply of water source such as rivers, wells, or springs. Nada Region in Kobe and Fushimi in Kyoto Prefecture are two of of the most renowned regions with high-quality brewing water. 

Water from Nada Prefecture has long been famous for its suitability for sake brewing. It is known as Miyamizu. These waters are low in iron, and can be traced back to rainfalls that fall on the Rokko mountains. 

On the other hand, water from Fushimi area of Kyoto is relatively low in mineral content and softer, known as “nansui”. With a lower mineral content, the soft water brewing process was successfully developed to produce a mellower style of sake that is usually fine textured and smoother on the palate.

Japanese waters are generally soft because of the low presence of limestone in the archipelago which filters the waters as it makes its way to the surface. Water that contains iron and manganese are considered unsuitable and are detrimental to sake production.

Now that you know more about sakes, it is time to take a look at our restaurant premium-grade sakes in our Wine Delivery Store (insert URL) and taste the difference for yourself! 

UrbanFindr Picks

Chie Bijin Junmai is a premium sake perfect for the sake connoisseurs. The delicate balance of flavours is soft on the palate, with notes of dryness and sweetness. Subtle as it might be, the fruity and flowery flavours has an undeniable complexity that unfolds slowly while you savour this bottle of goodness. 

For those who are not used to the stronger flavours in sakes, Hakugakusen Slightly Sparkling Black is the one for you! This sake has a complex but refreshing aroma consisting different layers of flavour profiles from apples, bananas and white peaches. The slight hint of minerals balances out the complexity of the fruity notes, making this easier to drink for the sake beginners. 

Instead of regular sake yeast, wine yeast is used in the fermentation process of Hakugakusen Wine Cell. Expect a rounder and fuller mouthfeel with hints of malolactic acid commonly found in wine. This sake is also made with natural spring water that lies 150 metres below the brewery. Hakugakusen Wine Cell is a product that combines tradition with reinvention to create a unique drinking experience.

Sommelier Profile: Joshua Kalinan is the first Singaporean to win Sake Sommelier of the Year in 2018. This title was bestowed by the Sake Sommelier Association, an organisation based in the United Kingdom. In the same year, Joshua became one of the first to achieve the Master Sake Sommelier (MSS).

Looking for more? Here is an article you might like: Interview with Jamie Koh: Founder of The Brass Lion Distillery

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