Sake is a rice-based alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin. It is sometimes spelled saké to show the pronunciation more clearly.
This beverage is called sake in English, but in Japanese, sake (酒) or o-sake (お酒) refers to alcoholic drinks in general. The Japanese term for this specific beverage is Nihonshu (日本酒), meaning "Japanese sake".
Sake can have many flavor notes, such as apples, bananas, melons, flowers, herbs, spices, rice, chestnuts, chocolates, dry grapes, sherry, caramel sauce, etc. The flavor of apples comes from ethyl caproate, and bananas from isoamyl acetate. These two constituents are contained in many types of sake which is represented by Ginjyoshu (吟醸酒).
The rice used for brewing sake is called shuzo kotekimai (sake rice). The grain is larger, stronger, and contains less protein and lipid than the ordinary rice eaten by Japanese. Since sake made from rice containing purely starch has a superior taste, the rice is polished to remove the bran. If a grain is small or weak, it will break in the process of polishing. This rice is only used for making sake because it is unpalatable for eating. There are at least 80 types of sake rice in Japan. Water is also the one of the important ingredients for making sake. Rigid restrictions are observed for the concentrations of certain chemical substances which can affect the taste and quality of sake. The water used is almost always groundwater or well water. Urban breweries usually import water from other areas, because of the difficulty of getting water of sufficient quality locally.
In Japan sake is served chilled, at room temperature, or heated, depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake, and the season. Typically, hot sake is a winter drink, and high-grade sake is not drunk hot, because the flavors and aromas will be lost. This masking of flavor is the reason that low-quality sake is often served hot.
Sake is usually drunk from small cups called choko, and poured into the choko from ceramic flasks called tokkuri. Saucer-like cups called sakazuki are also used, most commonly at weddings and other ceremonial occasions. Recently, footed glasses made specifically for premium sake have also come into use.
Another traditional cup is the masu, a box usually made of hinoki or sugi, which was originally used for measuring rice. In some Japanese restaurants, as a show of generosity, the server may put a glass inside the masu or put the masu on a saucer and pour until sake overflows and fills both containers. Aside from being served straight, sake can be used as a mixer for cocktails, such as tamagozake, saketinis, nogasake, or the sake bomb.
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Sake FAQ, www.esake.com