It's not hard to reason this one but you migh...
If you've ever feasted on the traditional and popular Japanese meal of raw fish and seaweed (aka sushi), then it's highly likely that the subtly flavored rice wine that is sake has tickled your taste buds as well! Though in all likelihood, you may not have been aware of what exactly you were gulping down as sake does not necessarily taste distinctly alcoholic.
Sake is a rice-based alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin and is often referred to as a rice wine. However, its method of production is entirely different from that of regular wine. While real wine is created through the fermentation of sugar naturally present in fruit, sake is made through a brewing process that is much more similar to beer production.
As such, it would be apt if it were referred to as a 'rice beer.' But it does contain a higher alcohol content than beer--undiluted sake has 18-20% alcohol, while diluted sake has about 15%.
In Japan, 'sake' does not imply only this particular alcoholic beverage; the word simply means 'alcoholic beverage'.
The true origin of sake remains somewhat of a mystery but the earliest Japanese written reference to the beverage is recorded in the Book of Wei. According to this, the drink originated in the Nara period (AD 710-794).
The two major ingredients that make the beverage are rice and water, the quality of which is extremely important to produce high quality sake. Rigid norms are observed while selecting appropriate grains and water.
It is brewed through a multiple parallel fermentation of rice by a brewer-master called a 'toji'. The fermentation process takes anywhere between 7 to 12 days and then another 9 to 12 months are required for the sake to mature. The maturity is very important because fresh sake has a rougher taste.
There are two major types of sake: Futsu-shu and Tokutei mesh-shu. The former is the equivalent of a table wine and accounts for the majority of sake consumption as it is far cheaper. The latter represents the more premium sakes and it is distinguished by the degree to which the rice has been polished. It also has a much more fragrant flavor than the Futsu-shu, and also complements Japanese cuisine better.
In case you're planning to try out this exotic wine, we recommend you start with Tokutei mesh-shu, as it goes down far more easily than its less-refined counterpart.
-Pictures courtesy Thinkstock-
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