From Academic Kids

Missing image
Sake barrels at Itsukushima Shrine

Sake (酒; pronounced Template:IPA2 "SAH-KEH" in Japanese, but often Template:IPA2 "SAH-ki" by English speakers) is a Japanese alcoholic beverage, brewed from rice.

In Japan, the word simply means alcoholic beverage, and regionally, it can take on more specific meanings. In Southern Kyushu, sake can refer to a distilled beverage, potato shochu (imo-jochu 芋焼酎). shōchu means distilled spirit. In Okinawa, sake refers to shōchu made from sugar cane. On the other hand sake can also mean Okinawa's other distilled beverages, awamori (泡盛), literally "bubble top", or kūsū, literally "old drink". These latter forms of sake are distilled from long-grain rice and kurokōji (黒麹) which means black koji. The rice wine known in the west as "sake" is called nihonshu (日本酒) "Japanese alcohol" in Japanese.

The Chinese character 酒 is used with the same meaning (alcohol) in Chinese, and is pronounced Template:Unicode in Standard Mandarin.



The history of sake is not well documented and there are multiple theories on how it was discovered. One theory suggests that the brewing of rice first started in China, along the Yangtze River around 4,800BC and was then subsequently exported to Japan. Another theory traces sake brewing back to 3rd century Japan with the advent of wet rice cultivation. The combination of water and rice lying around together would have resulted in molds and fermentation. Regardless the first sake was called kuchikami no sake, (口噛みの酒) or "chewing-in-the-mouth sake," and was made by an entire village chewing rice, chestnuts, millet, acorn and spitting the mixture into a tub. The enzymes from the saliva allowed the starches to saccharify (convert to sugar). Then this sweet mixture was combined with freshly cooked grain and allowed to naturally ferment. Supposedly the best sake made in this way came from the mouths of young virgin girls. This early form of sake was likely low in alcohol and consumed like porridge. This method was used also by American Natives; see cauim, and pulque. Chinese millet wine, Template:Unicode (小米酒), made the same way, is mentioned in inscriptions from the 14th century BC as being offered to the gods in religious rituals. Later, from approximately the 8th century BC, rice wine, Template:Unicode (米酒) with a formula almost exactly like that of the later Japanese sake, became popular in China.

Centuries later, chewing was rendered unnecessary by the discovery of koji-kin (麹;菌 Aspergillus oryzae), a mold whose enzymes convert the starch in the rice to sugar, which is also used to make amazake, miso, natto, and soy sauce. Rice inoculated with koji-kin is called "kome-koji" (米麹), or malt rice. A yeast mash, or shubo (酒母), is then added to convert the sugars to ethanol. This development can greatly increase sake's alcohol content (18%-25% by vol.); as starch is converted to sugar by koji, sugars are conveted to alcohol by yeast in one instantaneous process. Koji-kin was discovered most likely by accident. Koji spores and yeast floating in the air would land in a soupy rice, water mixture left outside. The resulting fermentation would create a sake porridge not unlike the kuchikami no sake but without the hassle of needing a whole village to chew the rice. This porridge was probably not the best tasting but the intoxication was enough to keep people interested in making it. Some of this mash would be kept as a starter for the next batch.

Experimentation and techniques from China sometime in the 7th century AD gave rise to higher quality sake. Sake eventually became popular enough for a brewing organization to be established at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto the then capitol of Japan. This resulted in full time sake brewers, and these craftsmen paved the way for many more developments in technique. It was during this time period ( Heian Era, 794-1192 ), that the development of the three step addition in the brewing process was developed (a technique to increase alcohol content and reduce chance of souring).

For the next 500 years the quality and techniques used in brewing sake steadily improved. The use of a starter mash or "moto" where the goal is to cultivate the maximum amount of yeast cells possible before brewing came into use. Brewers were also able to isolate Koji for the first time, and thus were able to control with some consistency the sacchrification (converting starch to sugar) of the rice.

Through observation and trial and error a form of pasteurization was also developed. Batches of sake that began to turn sour due to bacteria during the summer months were poured out of their barrels into tanks and heated. However the resulting pasteurized sake would then be returned to the bacteria infected barrels. Hence the sake would become more sour and by the time fall came around the sake would be vile stuff. The reasons why pasteurization worked and how to better store sake would not be understood until Louis Pasteur discovered it some 500 years later.

During the Meiji Restoration laws were written that allowed anybody with the money and know-how to construct and operate their own sake breweries. Around 30,000 breweries sprang up all around the country within a year. However as the years went by the government levied more and more taxes on the sake industry and slowly the number of breweries dwindled to 8,000.

Most of the breweries that grew and survived this period of time were set up by wealthy land owners. Land owners who grew rice crops would have rice left over at the end of the season and rather than letting this stash of rice go to waste, they would ship it to their breweries. The most successful of these family breweries still operate today.

During the 1900's sake brewing technology grew in leaps and bounds. The government opened the sake brewing research institute in 1904, and in 1907 the very first government run sake tasting/competition was held. Yeast strains specifically selected for their brewing properties were isolated and enamel coated steel tanks arrived. The government started hailing the use of enamel tanks as easy to clean, last forever, and be devoid of bacterial problems (the government considered wooden barrels to be "unhygienic" because of the potential bacteria living inside the wood). While true, the government also wanted more tax money from breweries as the wood in wooden barrels suck up a significant amount of sake ( somewhere around 3% ) that could have otherwise been taxed. This was the end of the wooden barrel age of sake and the use of wooden barrels in brewing was completely eliminated.

During the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905, the government banned the home brewing of sake. The reason being because, at the time, sake made up an astonishing 30% of Japan's tax revenue. Since home brewed sake is tax-free sake, the logic was by banning the home brewing of sake, sake sales will go up, hence more tax money could be collected. This was the end of "doburoku" ( homebrewed ) sake, and this law still remains in effect today despite the fact that sake sales currently make up only 2% of the government income.

When World War II erupted the sake brewing industry was dealt a hefty blow as the government clamped down on the use of rice for brewing. Most of the rice grown during this time was used for the war effort and this, in conjunction with many other problems, was the doom for thousands of breweries all over Japan. Previously it had been discovered that small amounts of alcohol could be added to sake to improve aroma and texture. But by government decree, pure alcohol and glucose were added to small quantities of rice mash, increasing the yield by as much as four times. 95% of today's sake is made using this technique, left over from the war years. There were even a few breweries that were able to produce "sake" that contained no rice at all. The quality of sake during this time naturally suffered greatly.

After the war breweries slowly began to recover, and the quality of sake gradually went up. However new players on the scene, beer, wine, and spirits became very popular in Japan, and in the 1960's beer consumption surpassed sake for the first time. Sake consumption continued to go down, but in contrast, the quality of sake steadily climbed improved.

Today the quality of sake is at the highest it has ever been, and sake has become a world beverage with a few breweries springing up in South East Asia, South America, China, America and Australia. More breweries are also turning back to older methods of production.

While the rest of the world may be drinking more sake and the quality of sake has been increasing, it is not clear sailing for the sake industry. In Japan the sale of sake is still declining and it is uncertain if the exportation of sake to other countries can save Japanese breweries. There are currently around 1500 breweries in Japan right now whereas there were about 2500 in 1988.


There are four basic types of sake, created by slightly varying the ingredients. The inside part of rice kernels contains the starch (which is what ferments) and the outside parts contain oils and proteins, which tend to leave strange or unpleasant flavors in the final product. Polishing (milling) the rice removes the outer parts and leaves only the starchy core. The basic types of sake in increasing order of quality, complexity, and price are:

  • honjozo-shu (本醸造), with a slight amount of distilled alcohol added. The distilled alcohol helps pull some extra flavors out of the mash.
  • junmai-shu (純米酒 literally "pure rice wine"), made from rice only, at least 30% of rice polished away, no alcohol added
  • ginjo-shu (吟醸酒), from rice polished 30-50%. Junmai ginjo-shu is made with no added alcohol.
  • daiginjo-shu (大吟醸酒), rice polished 50-70% away. Junmai daiginjo-shu is made with no added alcohol.

The above four types (actually six, due to junmai varieties) are known as tokutei meishoshu, or "special designation sake". They can be considered to be premium sake.

In addition, there are some other terms commonly used:

  • futsuu-shu (普通酒), "normal sake", sake that does not qualify for the above levels of classification. The equivalent of table wine.
  • genshu (原酒), undiluted sake, most has been mixed
  • kuroshu (黒酒), sake using unpolished rice, more like the Chinese
  • seishu (清酒), the official name for sake
  • kasu (粕). the sake lees left after filtering, used for making tsukemono
  • seimai-buai (精米歩合), the scale used to rate sake from sweet to dry

The term honjozo was created in the late 1960s to describe the difference between it (a premium, flavorful sake) from cheaply made liquors to which large amounts of alcohol were added simply to make a high alcohol content.

Types of brewing process

By varying the brewing process, many different types of sake can be created. Sake that has not been pasteurized is referred to as namazake or kizake (生酒), is best served chilled, and may be made with any of the above ingredients.

The classic home-brew style of sake is called doburoku (濁酒) and is traditionally a cloudy milky color, as the most delicious flavors are found in the white residue. "Doburoku" is created by adding steamed rice at the end of fermentation, starting a second fermentation and raising the alcohol level. It is also unpasteurized.

By creating a starter-culture of micro-organisms, a higher-quality brew is possible, called boutique sakes, or "nigorizake" (濁り酒). The starter-culture, called "moto" (元)is stored at 5-10C, allowing the lactic acid micro-organisms to become dominant in the culture. Lactic acid is important to flavor and preventing un-wanted infections. Subsequently, the addition of moromi (諸味) is added at three separate stages. The moromi is just the kōji, rice, and water. Initiating a brew with a starter-culture, and the subsequent batches of moromi also increases the alcohol levels slightly.

Serving sake

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Sake can be served in a wide variety of cups; here is sakazuki (flat saucer-like cup), ochoko (small cylindrical cup), and masu (wooden box-like cup).

In Japan sake is served cold, warm or hot, depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake and the season. Typically, hot sake is consumed in winter and cold sake is consumed in summer. It is said that the alcohol in warm or hot sake is absorbed by the body more quickly, so drinking sake warm was popular during and after World War II to mask the roughness of the flavor due to difficulty of obtaining ingredients. Sake is one of the few alcoholic beverages that is regularly consumed hot.

The most common way to serve sake in the United States is to heat it to body temperature (100F/40C), but professional sake tasters prefer room temperature, and chilled sake (50F/10C) is growing in popularity.

Sake is served in shallow cups, called choko. Usually sake is poured into the choko from ceramic flasks called tokkuri. Other, more ceremonial cups, used most commonly at weddings and other special occasions, are called sakazaki. The influx of premium sakes has inspired Riedel, the Austrian wine glass company, to create a footed glass specifically for premium sakes such as Ginjo and Daiginjo. Drinking from someone else's sake cup is considered a sign of friendship, or to honour someone of lower status.

As with other alcohol in Japan, sake is poured with the palm of the hand facing down and the back of the hand facing up, particularly when it is poured for another person. Pouring with the palm of the hand facing up is considered rude and is likely to elicit surprise and disapproval.

Ritual uses

Sake is often drunk as part of Shinto purification rituals (compare with the use of red wine in the Catholic Eucharist). During World War II, Kamikaze pilots drank sake prior to carrying out their missions. Today barrels of sake are broken open during Shinto festivals and ceremonies or following sports victories: this sake (called iwai-zake, literally "celebration sake") is served freely to all to spread good fortune. Sake is also served during the light meal eaten during some tea ceremonies.

In the New Year Japanese people drink a special sake called toso (屠蘇). Toso is a sort of iwai-zake. Toso is made by soaking tososan (屠蘇散), a Chinese powder medicine overnight in sake. Even children sip a portion. In some regions the first sipping of toso is taken in order of age from younger to older.

See also

External links

Template:Commons de:Sake es:sake eo:Sakeo fi:sake fr:Sak ja:日本酒 nl:Sake pl:Sake zh:清酒 sv:Sak


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