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Sake is sacred!

Sake has been enjoyed in Japan for thousands of years. The term " sake " refers to a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice. It's a rice alcohol produced by fermentation, ranging from 11° to 20°. In Japan, the word saké covers all alcoholic beverages, literally meaning " alcohol ". To speak of sake, the Japanese use the word " nihonshu "meaning " Japanese alcohol ". Japanese sake is smooth and aromatic, similar in structure to wine.

The origins of sake

Sake has ancient origins dating back over 1000 years in Japan. Initially, it was made as part of Shinto religious rituals, where sake was considered a sacred offering to the gods. This ancestral beverage is thought to have made its appearance in Japan around the 3rd century, coinciding with the development of rice cultivation. In the early days, sake production was reserved for priestesses, who chewed the rice before fermenting it with the enzymes present in their saliva. Initially drunk during funeral ceremonies, this alcohol was then mainly produced by the imperial court and Shinto monks.

From the 12th century onwards, the brewing method evolved towards more modern techniques, with shrines adopting vats to mix water and rice. The era of industrial sake began in the 1900s, with the introduction of the rice polishing machine.

Sake ingredients

The four main ingredients of sake are rice, water, koji - the fermenting agent - and yeast, added gradually.

The rice

The " sakamai " is the name given to the rice used specifically for sake.
It gives sake its aroma, texture and identity. There are around ten varieties of rice. Each has its own distinctive character, depending on the region in which it is grown.

The water

Water is classified according to its hardness and minerals. Strong water gives sake more taste. On average, 40 liters of water are used to make one liter of sake, which is then used to cultivate the rice, wash, soak and cook it, support the yeasts and lower the alcohol content.


The koji is a microscopic fungus used to ferment sake. It activates the process that turns starch into sugar.
This typically Japanese ferment is found in foods such as soy sauce, mirin and miso.

Man's work

Sake brewers are called sakagura. They select the rice and carry out every stage in the sake-making process, right through to bottling.


Yeasts are microscopic fungi that transform sugar into alcohol. They also play an important role in the flavor structure of sake.

How is sake produced?

Sake production involves multiple fermentations. The rice is polished to remove impurities and to classify it (ginjo or daiginjo) according to its degree of polish. It is then fermented by koji enzymes to produce sugar, which is then converted into alcohol by yeast. This complex process gives sake its distinctive aroma and flavor.

The purity of the source water is essential, as is the degree to which the rice is polished.
The more polished the rice, the higher the quality of the sake. After polishing, the rice is washed, soaked and then steamed. Fermentation lasts about a month. Koji - the fermenting agent - and yeast are then added to the rice.

The starch is transformed into sugar, then alcohol. Once filtered and pasteurized, the sake is bottled and ready for drinking within a year of production, after several months of maturation.

The different types of sake

There are different levels of sake, depending on how the rice is polished. The quality of the rice used, as well as the brewing method, have a considerable influence on the final taste of the sake.
Polishing categories:

100%: rice is polished between 100% and 70%. This corresponds to the category of some Junmai.

70%: rice polished to 70% or less. This corresponds to the Junmai and Honjôzô categories.

60%: rice polished to 60% or less. This corresponds to the Ginjô or Junmai Ginjô categories.

50%: rice polished to 50% or less. This corresponds to the Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo grades.

Traditional sake

A discreet aromatic profile, with notes of cereal or thirst-quenching sensation. This is what we call the " water type " or " rice ". Often crystalline in style, aromas burst and disappear. The nose is not very powerful, and the finish is clean and sharp.
Best enjoyed warm or at room temperature, the " water " are best enjoyed chilled.

Modern sake

The aromatic profile is more explosive on the palate. It is closer to wine, with fruity or flowery aromas. This is due to the fact that the rice grains are more polished. The more polished the rice, the closer you get to the heart of the grain, and the more aromatic the result.

Sparkling sake

Very much in vogue since the 2000s, sparkling sake is a variation on traditional sake. While some sparkling sake undergoes a secondary fermentation process in the bottle, similar to that used to create champagne, others are carbonated by adding carbon dioxide.
This is an interesting option for those looking to explore new horizons in the world of sake.

How to drink sake

Generally speaking, sake is best enjoyed at room temperature or slightly chilled to appreciate all its nuances. However, it can also be enjoyed hot, at temperatures of up to 55°C. The important thing is not to exceed 60 degrees, as this could alter the sake's flavors. For warm tasting, prefer traditional sakes to modern ones (often fruity or floral).

The containernt
Traditionally, sake is drunk in a " masu ", a small, square-shaped traditional wooden container, or in small glasses. It can also be enjoyed simply in a stemmed glass, as with wine, This allows you to appreciate its color and aroma more fully. For some sakes, it is necessary to pour the sake into a carafe first, then into the glasses, to release its aromas. Sake tasting, like wine tasting, is a journey through the senses. senses.

It is tasted in the same way as wine, in 3 stages:

Sight Sake: admire its color: some are colorless, while others are pale yellow or golden. You can also examine its transparency and shine.

Smell Gently swirl the sake in the glass to release its aromas. Bring your nose close to the rim and breathe deeply to discover notes ranging from fruity to floral to earthy.

The taste Take a sip and let the sake spread across your palate. Try to perceive the different flavors, from sweet notes to more complex nuances. Breathe lightly through your mouth while tasting to enrich the experience.

How to choose sake

Premium Japanese sakes are defined by the quality of their ingredients, such as rice and water, and the reputation of the producer.
They offer a varied sensory experience: some stand out for their intensity of taste and smell, typical of modern sakes, while others emphasize subtlety and a crystalline texture, characteristic of traditional sakes.

Your choice will depend on your preference for one or other of these experiences.

Service du saké

What are the differences between sake and wine?

Unlike wine, no preservatives, such as sulfites, are added. Here again, sake is different from wine: it doesn't belong to a particular terroir. Its refinement relies more on the rice, selected from some fifty varieties such as Yamada-nishiki (Hyôgo prefecture), Omachi (Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures), Miyama-nishiki (Nagano prefecture) or Gohyakuman-goku (Niigata prefecture).
On the other hand, like wine, it can be enjoyed as an aperitif as well as with a meal, and complements both Japanese and French gastronomy. Sake offers a palette of 400 distinct aromas, twice as many as wine. It keeps in the same way, i.e. in a cool, corked place, for 15 days to 1 month.

How do you go about pairing sake with food?

As with wine, sake goes well with your food, from aperitif to dessert (much like champagne). Ginjō and Daiginjō sakes go well with simple fruit and vegetable dishes, white fish sashimi, steamed chicken...

As an aperitif Sashimi, sushi, maki, tempura, tsukemono (pickled vegetables).

Main dishes Main dishes: white fish, seafood, chicken, duck, grilled vegetables, tofu.

Desserts Mochi, matcha, fruit.

Sakes of the Ginjō and Daiginjō accompany simple fruit and vegetable dishes, white fish sashimi and steamed chicken.

Sakes from the Honjōzō are more suited to light-tasting recipes based on tofu, wild vegetables, seaweed, fresh cheeses and shellfish.

Sakes from the Junmaifamily, thanks to their powerful aromas, will support tastier, umami dishes. Meat dishes, simmered dishes, high-quality charcuterie or fatty fish will be sublimated. Or try Junmai with French cheeses.

Here are a few suggestions for food & sake pairings devised by SAKABA's head barmaid:

· Dassai 23 & cheese (e.g. aged Comté)
· Monsay purple & grilled meat (duck and vegetables)
· Senjo kuromatsu muroka genshu & shrimp tempura