|2005 Winter - Sake Intro - Sake Today - Sake Primer
Sake Today Types, tastes, and trends
photography by Ryoichi Okazaki / text by Machico Yorozu
There are three crucial elements in brewing sake: water, rice, and rice koji (malted rice). The quality and characteristics of each greatly affect the taste of sake. Since sake is 80 percent water, this is a vital element in determining quality. In the case of junmai (pure rice sake) to which no additives such as starches, brewer's alcohol, or preservatives are added, the subtle, delicate flavor must be created from only rice and water.
These days more than ever before, public interest is focused on food safety and ingredient quality. Influenced by the "slow food" movement, the benefits of safe, all-natural junmai have been re-evaluated nationwide, and many breweries in Japan are polishing their skills to make much tastier junmai. This trend has resulted in the development of many excellent new labels.
When brewing daiginjo (super-premium sake), quality is achieved through superior rice-polishing techniques whereby the rice is processed until each grain is less than half of its original size. This type of sake is very extravagant in that most of each grain is ground away and discarded. The result, however, is the ultimate in pure taste. The refined flavors of daiginjo are well suited to the preferences of the current market.
The new-found popularity of Japanese food abroad has aroused interest in sake. The most popular type of sake outside Japan is junmai-ginjo (premium pure-rice sake). Because of its fruity, refreshing flavor, it is easy to enjoyeven for people tasting sake for the first timeand it goes well with all kinds of food. Very refined, with a light, dry taste, junmai-daiginjo (super-premium pure-rice sake) parallels the finest wine, and has won high accolades from connoisseurs. This type of sake has also been extremely popular in Japan for a long time. Most of the top-selling labels are junmai-daiginjo.
Perhaps the most intriguing trend seen in Japan recently is the popularity of sake with a rich, full-bodied, and mellow taste (hojun-umakuchi), which is the opposite from light, refreshing dry taste (tanrei-karakuchi). Though there are certain flavor peculiarities to the former, its delicious rice flavor is concentrated and therefore reminiscent of the original style of sake. It is well suited to the various ethnic cuisines that use more fats and oils than Japanese cooking does.
Although sake has traditionally been served warm, many connoisseurs in New York have found that premium sake tastes best when slightly chilled, and as a result most sake is now served cold. In actuality, premium sake is delicious no matter how it's served. Each sake has its own optimum temperature, and this will vary from type to type. Warming sake to the right temperature is extremely difficult, however, and therefore many types are now served cold both in Japan and abroad.
There is an old saying in Japan that "Sake is the king of all medicines." This axiom is now beginning to find endorsement from the scientific community. Some say that drinking sake in moderation is good for health, and the main components of sake are now even being used for the production of cosmetics and health-related products. And as with so many other industries, there is an earnest desire to attract the interest of women as a consumer group.
Articles from the 2005 WINTER issue:
Kateigaho International Edition Issues:
2005 SUMMER - 2005 SPRING - 2005 WINTER
2004 AUTUMN - 2004 SUMMER - 2004 SPRING - 2004 WINTER
2003 AUTUMN - INAUGURAL ISSUE