Tuesday, October 27

Tom Gabb: Sake

- February 12, 2018


Sake is somewhat of a dark area in the knowledge of the western drinker and most people just know it as that rice wine from Japan. The funny thing is it’s not a wine, it’s not called sake and it’s not even made from RICE – ok it is actually made from rice, but the rest is true.

First things first, in Japan, sake means all alcoholic beverages (think of the way we use the term booze) so the real name for sake is nihonshu.

In its simplest form nihonshu is a fermented grain drink made form rice, so unlike the popular opinion that it is more akin to wine, it is really more like beer. In fact, there are a lot of producers that are using rice to make more traditional beers and if you can buy Asahi Black I strongly suggest you give it a try to see how rice changes the flavour of a dark beer. The main reason that nihonshu differs from traditional beers in flavour and strength is that where we use yeast to ferment, Sake uses a mould called Koji. I understand that sounds gross, but yeast is literally a fungus so let’s not get on our high horses too quickly.

So why should you try this exotic tipple? Well it has a surprising amount of advantages over our western alternatives. For a start, it is much lower in acidity which causes reflux and is also lower in histamines for those who aren’t a fan of wine headaches and let’s be honest who is? It also has hundreds of aroma and flavour components like wine but with the bonus of being able to be served at more temperature points than any other alcohol. I would advise being careful if warming nihonshu however, while it is heavily popularised it can sometimes ruin the flavour.

Finally, I would say if you do try nihonshu (and I strongly suggest you do) the best range I have come across is produced by Akashi tai, especially the plum and yuzu variations which are great for those new to the drink.

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