Everything you need to know about Sake
Sake is a truly special treat. Deeply rooted in the culture and history of Japan, its subtle flavours and distinct aromas have seen it evolve into the alcoholic drink of the moment, now served in the coolest restaurants across the globe.
At our Tokyo-vogue restaurant Yoku at No.131, we’ve curated a tantalising and tempting authentic Sake menu of every different type to accompany our exquisite Japanese sushi and Asian cuisine. And that’s not all. For an all-out taste experience, try our new Signature Sake Flight which offers three handpicked selections, as an introduction to Japan’s unique national drink.
Here, we introduce you to the wonderful world of Sake and all its intrigue…
How Sake is made
The exact formulas and recipes of each Sake are closely guarded secrets, passed down through generations. However, it all comes back to rice. There are over 80 types of sake rice in Japan, known as shuzō kōtekimai – and, as with wine and beer, the drink is made through the fermentation of yeast.
Crafted with meticulous attention to detail, the rice is first polished to remove the proteins, lipids and minerals on the outside. This provides the base of the flavour – the more of the grain removed, the cleaner and fruitier the taste. The less of the grain removed, the more savoury, rice-like the flavour. Hence sakes are placed into categories according to their “rice polish rate”. The lower the percentage, the higher grade or more premium the sake.
After polishing, the rice is soaked in water before being steamed. Koji mold (the national fungi of Japan), the steamed rice, water and a fermentation starter are then combined. The koji enzymes convert the starch in the steamed rice to sugar, and the fermentation mash becomes liquid. The mash is then pressed before being filtered, pasteurised and bottled. The result is an alcoholic tipple that exudes elegance and complexity.
A short history of Sake
The history of Sake goes back 2,500 years, after rice cultivation made its way from China to Japan. Since then, it’s been quite a journey. In the 7th century, Sake was brewed by the Imperial Court. The production was then turned over to shrines and temples, before ending up in the hands of commercial brewers.
Originally, sake production involved villagers gathering together to chew rice and spit it into a communal pot. The enzymes from the saliva would then kickstart the fermentation process. However, over the centuries, happily the process has become much more palatable and refined, now with a high level of production.
Today, an incredible range of Sake can be found worldwide. Yet, it remains intertwined with Japan and the country’s cultural and religious practices, beautifully complementing the delicate flavours of traditional Japanese food and ensuring its legacy for many years to come.
Types of Sake
DAIGINJO – the most prized type of Sake, with a minimum 50% polishing ratio and a very small amount of distilled alcohol added to enhance flavour and aroma.
GENSHU – undiluted sake. No water has been added after brewing, producing a sake with more robust, concentrated flavours.
GINJO – this fruity and aromatic super premium Sake was developed in the 1980’s. Similar to Daiginjo, it has a minimum 60% polishing ratio.
HONJOZO – a light, mildly fragrant premium sake. Limited distilled alcohol has been added to enhance flavour and aroma, with a minimum polish ratio of 70%.
JUNMAI – pure rice, water, yeast and koji with no minimum polishing ratio. No spirit has been added.
UMAMI – the fifth taste sensation, often described as savoury, or “mouthfeel”; translated in Japanese as “the essence of deliciousness.”