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

Dasai 23 is a superior bottle with a rice polishing ratio of a mere 23%, and a class by itself. This is a smooth and fruity sake with a rich sweetness to it. Imagine flavours of grapes, flowers and strawberries as well as hints of brown sugar, fleshy plums and minerals. 

The limited edition Rokkon Diamond Junmai Daiginjo from the Rokkon series is a serial award winner, with an annual production of only 900 bottles. The drip-filtering method is used to brew this sake to ensure its elegant and delicate taste. This full-bodied premium sake has a deep, juicy taste and a voluminous mouthfeel with a unique umami flavour.

Made from Yukimegami, a rice that is developed to use exclusively for daiginjo sakes within the Yamagata Prefecture, the Jyuyondai Yukimegani Junmai Daiginjyo is a medium-bodied sake that is mild, structured and well-balanced — perfect for anyone. 

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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