|Sake Awards at HYPER JAPAN|
Even if you've tried sake before and it left you spluttering and coughing and vowing never to touch the stuff again, it's time to discard old vows and begin anew. There's a whole world of sake out there that promises an array of taste sensations and flavours, from delicate floral fragrances to rich and robust types, so if you're curious to find out more, then read on for a snippet into sake...
Types of sake: Premium Vs Regular
If you did have a slightly spluttering induced reaction to your first ever sip of sake, it could well have been a more potent regular sake, or futsushu. Often warmed-up (partly to hide the flavours), futsushu can be a little, well, rough around the edges. The stronger taste of alcohol comes from having had quite a bit of brewer's alcohol added to the mix, as opposed to premium sakes which have very little added, if at all. Premium sakes will also have been made using sake rice, as opposed to table rice used in futsushu. Sake rice covers specific strains of the grain which make it easier for the fats and proteins, considered to impair the taste of sake, to be milled away. The amount of rice grain milled, and how much brewer's alcohol has been added to the rice and water mix that makes sake, help to determine its classification. Now that's not to say that there's no place for futsushu, or that it should be dismissed. Futsushu makes up a hefty 75% of the total volume of sake available, and any trip to a Japanese supermarket will prove how popular it is, with reams of the stuff stocking the shelves. Warm it up and give it a go and see if futsushu is the drink for you!
Junmai, ginjo...ah!!! What's it all about?!
No need to panic, everyone stay calm, it will ALL become clear soon enough! Don't let those myriad categories put you off from diving in and trying a glass of the premium stuff. As mentioned above, the category that sake is put into depends on whether brewer's alcohol has been added and how much the sake rice has been polished. If you see the word Junmai on the label, then no alcohol will have been added, whilst the term seimaibuai refers to the percentage of the grain that remains after milling, usually between 50-70%. Take one rice grain and imagine shaving off the edges to leave behind a pure starch centre, (ok, there will be machinery used here as opposed to a man with nimble fingers and a tiny peeler) but that's one reason premium sake is that bit more expensive-as more of the rice grain is discarded, the quality but also the price of the sake increases too.
Premium Sakes, the Equation: (Ever so simple,really)
When you see those sommeliers taking their time to swirl, smell and sip a thimble of sake, what are they looking for? What aromas and tastes are they identifying? There are five flavours which tasters often look out for. These are dryness, bitterness, astringency or tartness, sweetness and acidity, with the balance if the sake all important. A sake that manages to have a defining yet subtle flavour which doesn't overpower any other components that may be present, will get the thumbs up.
Sake may be mellow, soft, fresh or full-bodied, rich or robust or a combination of the above. That's part of the appeal, and what makes tasting sake an experience for the senses every time you try, for both the uninitiated and enthusiast. Sake is also made to be paired with food, and greatly complements sushi and sashimi besides a host of other dishes, A chilled ginjo sake as an aperitif or paired with delicate, light dishes works wonders, whilst a warmed-up sweet junmai can suit heavier, more robust meals which include meat or strong flavours.
Sake is the drink of celebration in Japan, being used during Shinto wedding ceremonies, festivals and seasonal events such as the arrival of the much anticipated cherry blossoms, where friends gather together under trees in full bloom and drink to the beautiful spectacle above. But whether sharing with friends, trying with a meal, or sipping as a winter-warmer, it's worth introducing your taste-buds to a high-quality sake or two, (if you haven't already), to understand the allure of this rice-based beverage.
Sake: The Revolution
Sake is becoming increasingly recognised as a quality drink outside of its native Japan, with sake sommeliers coming to share their expert knowledge, organising and participating in introductory tasting events. Japanese supermarkets in the UK have variety of sakes for sale covering a wide price-range, and sake brewing has even made it to Europe, with Norway producing Europe's first sake!
It's an exciting time for sake in the UK as we finally shine the spotlight on this Japanese drink, with the introduction of the first ever Eat-Japan Sake Awards. Each of the seven participating breweries will be bringing one of their lines of premium sakes from Japan for us to deliberate over, unleashing our inner sommelier. From sake whose rice has been refined to just 23% of its original size, to rare vintage sake, the Awards aim to showcase the versatility of the drink so there's something for everyone to enjoy.
For more information on sake, check out the Eat-Japan All About Sake pages and get yourself ready for a celebration of sake at HYPER JAPAN 2012!