Sakė is a Japanese rice wine that was initially brewed in many parts of Asia before finally settling in Japan as its natural home. The process of making Japanese Sakė is quite intriguing and that is what adds to the magical allure of this drink. Sakė is both a drink and the window into Japan’s rich culture.
The Japanese themselves believe Sakė to be the drink of the Gods and it has an important place in the Shinto belief. In many households, people place small cups of Sakė in front of domestic shrines on festive days. And during weddings, brides and grooms exchange Sakė to symbolize the ‘sealing’ of the marriage.
In its early days, Sakė was not the clear alcoholic beverage (with 15-17% alcohol content) that is produced today. Instead, it was a thick, milky, or yellowish drink reserved for the priests and nobles. In the past two hundred years, Sakė brewing has undergone tremendous changes and has become the Universal drink that is available almost everywhere.
Types of Sake
Ask anyone what they know about Japanese Sakė and the answer will promptly be that ‘it is a type of a rice wine’. The description may be partly true because Sakė itself means a combination of alcohol and rice wine known as Nihonshu.
Depending on the brewing technique and the type of rice that goes into it; you have five types of Sakė: the Junmai-shu, Honjozo-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, and Namazake.Print
This sake recipe uses short grain rice or sweet rice. You can buy sweet rice for Sake from Asian stores. It takes about a month to ferment, longer the better.
- Approximately 3–4 cups of cooked short grain rice or sweet rice.
- 3 Chinese yeast balls
- Berries like blueberries (optional) – for flavor. This is added after the fermentation period, before bottling the sake.
- Clean plastic bucket for fermentation. This should come with a lid and airlock. You need at least 3-5 gallon size.
- Rice cooker – large enough to cook 5 cups of rice. You can also cook your rice in a pressure cooker or in a saucepan with a lid like you normally do.
- Clean tray or plate to cool the cooked rice on
- 2 paint strainers or cheesecloth strainers. These should fit over the plastic fermentation bucket. Sterilize the paint strainer with hot water or sterilizing solution.
- A 3–5 gallon glass carboy with airlock.
- Sterilizing solution.
- Clean spoons
- 3–4 clean glass bottles to store the wine in.
- Siphoning equipment
- Rinse the rice until it runs clear.
- Cook the rice in the rice cooker. Grains should be cooked completely.
- Crush the Chinese yeast balls into a powder.
- Spread the cooked rice on a clean, sterilized tray or plate to cool down to room temperature.
- Sprinkle the Chinese yeast powder all over the rice. Reserve a bit of the yeast. We will add it later to the rice when we add it in the paint strainer over the plastic fermentation bucket. Mix the rice and the yeast well.
- If you haven’t already, now is the time to sterilize the paint strainer or cheesecloth. Place it in hot water for 5 minutes. You can also sterilize it with the sterilizing solution.
- Arrange the sterilized paint strainer over the mouth of the plastic bucket.
- Place the rice in the strainer. Add more yeast over the top of the rice.
- Place the lid of the bucket and add an airlock.
- Let the rice ferment for 21-30 days. The rice will start to disintegrate and remain in the strainer, while the wine will trickle into the bucket.
- After 3-4 weeks, strain the crumbled rice. The paint strainer will ease this process although a cheese cloth will work just as fine. Place the second strainer (sterilized of course!) over a clean utensil. Add the crumbled rice from the bucket on the strainer.
- With clean hands, squeeze the strainer or cheesecloth properly to get milky white liquid in the utensil.
- Pour the milky-white liquid into a sterilized glass carboy for further fermentation. Close the carboy with airlock.
- To help the wine settle, you can add a bit of bentonite to the liquid.
- After a few days, the white sediment will settle to the bottom of the carboy.
- At this point, you can siphon off the clear liquid into prepared (sterilized) glass bottles with lids. Make sure you sterilize the siphoning and racking equipment thoroughly with the sterilizing solution before use.
- Pasteurize all of the filled sake bottles in a hot water bath at 145°F for 30 minutes. Flavor your wine by adding crushed berry juice directly to the bottle after siphoning.
Cleanliness and temperature control are key as is the water you use for cooking the rice. Make sure you use non-chlorinated water only. Cook the rice grains well. Chinese sake yeast is always the best choice but you can also use champagne or wine yeast. You can also make your own yeast by soaking ¼ cup of raisins in hot water and letting it sit for a while. Use this wild, natural yeast instead of packaged, commercial yeast. Do not suffocate the brew. Sake is ideally stirred frequently in open vats. So stir or shake the plastic bucket once every 5 days. If you are not pasteurizing your bottles, the fermentation and carbon dioxide formation will continue. So do not tighten the bottle lids and allow the gas to escape. Do not discard the white sediment. You can use it as marinade for fish and meats.
How to drink sake
Being lower in acidity and higher in flavour, sake is a versatile drink that goes well not just with Japanese food but with many Western foods as well. You can drink it from any vessel of your choice, although a traditional Japanese cup called ochoko is used for drinking sake in Japan.
Sake connoisseurs are often divided on whether to drink it hot or chilled. It is more than OK to drink hot or warm sake (at about 122°F). Sake does not contain preservatives or sulfites, unlike many wines. As a result, hangovers and headaches are not very common if you happen to consume too much of it.
To heat sake, make a hot water bath and place the bottle or your cup in the bath. Consume this heated sake immediately. Do not microwave sake since it does not get heated evenly and this method of heating sake can even harm its delicate flavour.
Dry sherry or gin is a great substitute forsake. In cooking, you can use either of them if the recipe calls for Japanese or Chinese sake.
What is sake made of?
Commercially, authentic Sake is made in breweries with carefully selected rice, fresh drinking water, and good quality yeast.
The steamed rice, yeast, and water are placed in a tub and left to ferment for 30 days. The mixture is then siphoned off to another tub, and more steamed rice and water are added, then the mixture is allowed to ferment for another 30 days.
The alcohol content is about 20% at this point. It is then transferred to a third tub so that the white residue settles at the bottom. After two weeks, the clear liquid is siphoned, racked, and bottled for sale.
How to pronounce sake?
Sake is pronounced as Sah-Kay or Sa-Ke.
What does sake taste like?
Known as ‘Japan’s national drink’, Sakė differs in taste and colour depending on the ingredients used in brewing.
One thing that is common about all types is that they all have the ability to give you lovely dreams and to dispel sorrow as claimed in popular culture.
Sakė from different parts of Japan can either be crystal clear to light gold in colour. Some people describe Sake’s taste as that of Madeira or sherry.
The alcohol content varies between 12-16% depending on the length of fermentation and ingredients used.
Where to buy sake?
There are roughly about 3300 sake breweries in Japan. But the best-known ones are located at Nada in Kobe, at the foot of the Rokko Mountains.
The climate, water, and temperature in this region are best suited for Sakė brewing. You can also buy Sakė of comparable quality from Hiroshima, Akita, and Nagano prefectures.
Good sake is available in most wine shops and you can also check out deliveries online. Sweet cooking sakes like this one are readily available on popular retail sites.
How to heat sake?
Authentic Japanese restaurants serve hot Sakė. Hot Sakė is delicious but it must be heated very slowly.
Many restaurants keep special machines to heat Sakė. These machines are not much different from the water dispensers we see in offices.
All one has to do is empty a large bottle of Sakė down the dispenser and the machine heats it slowly. Remember, Sakė has a very delicate flavour and it takes 45 to 60 days to develop authentic sake. So if you are planning to heat your Sakė, it is best to do so gently.
Simply pour the required quantity in a small sake pot and prepare a hot water bath in a saucepan. Place the Sakė pot in the boiling water in the middle of the saucepan.
Hot sake tends to boil over rather quickly, so do ensure there is a bit of room on the top of the sake pot for expansion. The best temperature to serve sake is at the same temperature as that of the human body.
Some people like to drink their sake very hot. However, boiling sake too much can impact its taste. You can also heat sake in a microwave. However, microwaving does not allow for even heating of the sake as the neck of the sake pots tend to get very hot while the bottom part remains cool.
If you have a large party for dinner, you can heat an entire (1.8 litre) sake bottle in a hot water bath. Serve this sake within 30 minutes of heating. If the sake is cooled too much after it has been heated, the alcohol in it will dissipate and it is no longer fit for drinking. You can use such sake for cooking instead.
How much alcohol is in sake?
Sake contains much less alcohol than most spirits but still enough to get you drunk. The moderate alcohol content of sake (about 15% abv) and its clean flavour, make it an ideal partner for many different cuisines.
Is drinking sake good for you?
Unlike most commercially available wines, sake does not contain sulphites and other preservatives. That is why drinking sake generally does not cause hangovers or headaches. Having said that – sake, like all alcoholic beverages, should always be drunk in moderation.
How many calories are present in sake?
Typically, Honjozo sake with 15% alcohol will contain about 100 calories per 100 ml.
How many carbs in sake?
2 ounces of Sake contains about 3 grams of carbohydrates.
How to store sake?
Many people use Sake not only for drinking but for cooking as well. Unopened Sake keeps well in the pantry and no refrigeration is necessary.
You can buy a large bottle and keep it at room temperature for several months; it will be cheaper than buying smaller bottles. If you have heated the sake, use it up within 30 minutes. As stated before, do not let heated sake cool down completely as its alcohol content would dissipate. Such sake is only useful for cooking.
Delicate sake varieties tend to oxidize rapidly and lose their flavour, so, once opened; they need to be refrigerated and consumed within a week. Fortified sakes like honjozu, because of their higher alcohol content and stronger flavours, last longer- up to a month in the refrigerator. Beyond that, they too begin to go stale and their flavours weaken considerably.
Does sake go bad?
Sake, if left opened at room temperature, can go stale and its flavour can weaken considerably. Use it up within a week and make sure you refrigerate it upon opening. Leftover heated sake can taste bad if left outside for a long time.
China is the grandfather of rice wine or sake, although the world believes that Sake is a Japanese creation. Sake is even considered the national drink of Japan and there are more than 3000 sake breweries in the country. Sake or rice wine is easy to make at home, and if you love homemade wines, you should definitely give the above recipe a try.