Boketto roughly translates into English as to gaze vacantly into the distance without thinking. With the beauty of the Japanese language comes the beauty of their customs and practices, specifically in regards to the sharing of food and drink. And while Richmond has more than its fair share of gathering places for wine, beer, and cocktails (thanks to the many breweries and distilleries, etc.), we’ve noticed a resurgence in sake’s popularity— and it being utilized in interesting ways. Which got us thinking about Japan’s national drink, so did a little web search to learn more. Come along!
BREWED NOT DISTILLED
While sake is often referred to as rice wine, the beverage actually has more in common with beer thanks to a brewing process through which starch is converted into alcohol. Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu and Namazake are the five main kinds of sake. They’re brewed in slightly different ways and make use of different percentage of milling and hence, have a unique taste. Seimai Buai, or the degree of milling, makes all the difference to the sake and determines the grade of the beverage.
AN ACT OF FRIENDSHIP
Traditionally, sake was served one of two ways: the first was in a choko, a small ceramic cup accompanied by a ceramic flask called a tokkuri. The other was a small wooden cup called a masu, which would either have a choko in it, or would sit on a saucer. Either way, the drink might be poured so that it spilled over the cup's rim, a sign of the host’s generosity.
In Japanese culture, serving yourself suggests a distrust in your host to take care of you. However, this transgression is more meant to convey saké-drinking's focus on friendship. Loved ones use saké to toast weddings, the New Year, and other celebrations. So pouring for a friend— and letting them do the same for you— is meant to create a bond.
IT’S A HEALTH ELIXIR
There are not many “cleaner” or simpler alcohols than sake. Rice and water that has been fermented and then pasteurized – pretty darn clean! No need for preservatives like sulfites as found in wine. Many people are sulfite intolerant which is why wine smacks them in the skull the morning after. Sake also has 1/3 the acidity of your typical glass of wine (red or white), and this is incredibly appealing to those who have acid reflux and or other digestive issues. Another positive aspect of sake is that it is very low in histamines, which is incredibly important to those who are afflicted by allergens. It’s pretty simple to see the strengths of a beverage that has no preservatives, low acidity levels, and very low histamine levels.
Sake also contains a lactic acid bacteria called lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is a probiotic that can help with digestive problems, particularly diarrhea caused by disease or antibiotic use.
Unfortunately, sake contains much less lactic acid than it used to. Lactic acid is now primarily found in samhaeju, traditional Korean rice wine, rather than sake. The fermentation process for sake was industrialized by Japanese brewers in the early 20th century, and the contribution of acid-forming bacteria plays a much smaller role in the newer process.
DECODING SAKE LABELS
Nearly all sake bottles come without an expiry date printed on them. They are instead, printed with a “production date”, the date that the product exited the production line, in other words when it was bottled.
Sake contains comparatively higher levels of alcohol than other libations, the bacteria-killing-actions of which prevent sake in an unopened state from spoiling… to an extent. That is to say that while a sake that has been in the fridge — or even a dark cupboard — for 10 years will not do you any harm, it is not going to taste anywhere near the same as something that has just been bottled.
There are however exceptions to the no-expiry-date rule. A small section of breweries do put an expiry date on their sakes. This expiry date is not there to tell you that the sake can’t be consumed past a certain date; rather it is there to tell you how long the sake will keep its freshly produced flavour.
Below are other terms to know when deciding on a bottle of sake. Pronouncing Japanese words isn't difficult. You speak everything. Every syllable and vowel. Nothing is silent. And the pronunciation of every word has the same length and strength.
Sake brewed during the current year.
Matured sake that has been stored for a long time.
Undiluted sake. any genshu have a high ACV and strong taste because there is no addition of water after mash filtration.
Handmade and/or sake that has been brewed using certain traditional methods.
Sake is usually pasteurized twice before being bottled, namazake is unpasturized
A unique mixing process, shiori, using sake instead of water in the brewing process.
Brewed at only one brewery
Sake that has been kept in a cedar cask and has it's own special aroma
Sake that has been pasteurized once and aged from the winter until the following fall before distribution.
Cloudy sake that is made by filtering the rice through a coarse mesh, leaving rice solids and yeast in the sake.