Often referred to as nihonshu, sake is a quintessential alcoholic fermented rice drink. While it has long been used for weddings, funerals, and everything in between, this national beverage is making waves abroad. Drink aficionados are growing appreciation for the subtle flavors, several classifications, and bold pleasures of this meticulously crafted Japanese alcohol.
If you’re new to sake, we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to help you get the most out of your rice wine experience. First, let’s take a look at how sake is made:
Among the first steps is polishing or milling rice grains to remove the bran, exposing the starch component of each grain. With increased polishing, proteins, fats, and lipids that result in unwanted flavors and aromas in the brewing process are taken out.
Premium sake is typically made with grains that have been polished to 50%–70%. As a general rule of thumb, the more the rice has been polished, the higher the sake classification level.
Sake brewers start the process of making shubo, a yeast starter or seed mash that’s widely considered to be the foundation of sake brewing. The rice is washed, steam-cooked, and mixed with yeast and koji (a type of mold). This starter batch is left to ferment to grow a vibrant yeast colony before it is moved to a larger fermentation tank. Then, more steamed rice, koji, and water are added to the main tank — a shikomi — for 18-32 days. After that, it’s pressed, filtered, and blended.
Most sakes are pasteurized and left to age for at least six months before being shipped out.
There are myriad types of sake, and most have an alcohol content of 15%–16% on average. Here are the four main classifications:
The differences don’t stop there!
Junmai sakes are best served warm or at room temperature, while honjozo sakes can be enjoyed warm or chilled. Ginjo and daiginjo sakes are typically served chilled to bring out their complex flavors and aromas.
Many connoisseurs recommended drinking premium sakes from a glass to avoid impacting the complex, often subtle flavors and aromas. However, it’s also fun to drink sake the traditional way: out of an ochoko (ceramic cup) or masu (square wooden receptacle).
Sake enthusiasts posit this enigmatic, versatile beverage complements food just as superbly as wine does. Moreover, it pairs with certain ingredients, such as asparagus, that can be challenging for wine.
When you visit Kabuto, you’re getting so much more than a fast-casual caliber of dining; you’re immersing yourself in an atmosphere that places a high value on fresh ingredients, quality selection, and a modern take on long-standing tradition. Ideal for birthday parties, hibachi lovers, and Japanese culinary enthusiasts alike, our staff is committed to providing you an immaculate experience that lets you discover your new favorites with those that mean most to you.
While this guide is a window into the wonderful world of sake, our expertise — and your sake journey — doesn’t stop there. Our highly-trained staff can educate you even further and make sake recommendations based on your personal preferences and food order. We have an extensive sake menu available upon request; stop by to learn more! Kabuto invites you to try all sorts of sakes at our different locations, including:
Whether you’ve never tried sake before or you’re looking to experiment with different varieties, Kabuto is the place to be! Look over our menu, or check out our gallery, and contact us today for more information!