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Invitation for Japanese Traditional Rice Wine "Sake"

Invitation for Japanese Traditional Rice Wine

Translated by Niki Mano

Written by Keishi Kawakami

2014.06.18 Bookmark

I recommend you to enjoy Japan with all your five senses. Of course, 和食 (washoku, traditional Japanese cuisine) which has been registered as an intangible cultural heritage is one thing that I recommend you to proficient with.

However, for you who like alcohol, I guess the drinks are as important as main dinner dish. When you come to Japan, I think you should try something different than usual, something Japanese.

Do you have any idea what kind of alcohol you can get in Japan, other than wine and beer? Yes, you can get 日本酒 (Nihonshu, Sake).


photo credit: shinyai via photopin cc

You've heard of "Sake" but never tried one out actually? Don't worry, I'll introduce you "Sake", which is a kind of alcohol made through Japanese traditional technique in unique environment. I'll also explain you its basic information including where to drink , and where to get it.

What is "Sake", Actually?


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Let's start with defining what kind of alcohol is called "Sake".

Sake, which is made by mixing rice with 麹(Kouji, malted rice) to saccharify, and fermenting with yeast, is a traditional alcohol of Japanese people whose staple food is rice.
(Quoted from コトバンク, translated by Niki Mano)

Simply said, Sake is made from rice. For your information, kouji is produced by steaming rice or soy beans and have Kouji mold increase in it. The taste of Sake changes depending on the combination of ingredients such as water, rice, kouji, and yeast. And each kinds, brands, or prefectures has its own combination.

Sake is made from rice as Wine is made from grapes. Sometimes there is alcohol displayed 清酒(seishu). Seishu is a name of Sake, so you can consider it as Sake when you see it.

Variation of Sake

As I said, the difference of ingredients is the variation of Sake. There are two big categories. One is the Sake made from "rice, rice kouji, and distilled alcohol" and the other is made from "rice and rice kouji"Only the sake without distilled alcohol is called "純米(junmai, pure rice)". 

I can not say which tastes better because each person has his taste. So, you should better try by yourself and see which you prefer.

I'll give you some examples of detailed variation of Sake.

  • 吟醸(Ginjou)

INGREDIENT: rice with polishing ratio of 60% or less, rice kouji, water,distilled alcohol
FLAVOR and COLOR: favorable

  • 大吟醸(Daiginjou)

INGREDIENT: rice with polishing ratio of 50% or less, rice kouji, water, distilled alcohol
FLAVOR and COLOR: especially favorable

  • 純米(Junmai)

INGREDIENT: rice, rice kouji, water
FLAVOR and COLOR: favorable
The gross weight of malted rice shall be 15% or more based on that of rice.

  • 純米吟醸(Junmai-ginjou)

INGREDIENT: rice with polishing ratio of 60% or less, rice kouji, water (A kind of Ginjou)
FLVOR and COLOR: especially favorable
Generally speaking, its scent is gentler compared to other Ginjou.

  • 純米大吟醸(Junmai-daiginjou)

INGREDIENT: rice with polishing ratio of 50% or less, rice kouji, water
FLVOR and COLOR: especially favorable
Generally speaking, its scent is gentler and taste is deeper compared to other Dai-ginjou.

Oh, I can hear your saying like "It's too difficult! I can not remember the difference!" Each Sake tastes different: dry, fruity, light, or sweet. "Junmai-daiginjou" is maybe the most expensive.

However, the most expensive one does not always taste best, because how you taste the Sake is depending on the food you eat with or your taste. That's why you have to try and find its taste by yourself.

Where to Drink Sake, Where to Buy Sake

You can drink Sake in almost all Ramen restaurants, stand and drink bars, Izakayas, or fancy Japanese restaurants.

When buying Sake, people sometimes get their age checked since under twenty-year old person can not buy alcohols in Japan.
However, when you are over twenty years old, you can buy Sake basically everywhere from the convenience stores in town to the duty free shops at the airports. If you feel like "I want to try Sake but it seems expensive when I drink it at restaurants", you can buy it at a convenience store and drink at your lodging place.

You have to be careful about one thing. Hang over by drinking Sake is really heavy...

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Examples of Sake made in Kyoto

There are so many Sake made in Kyoto. However, I'll introduce just two Sake as examples. If you're interested in them, please try it.

  • 月の桂(Tsuki no Katsura)

Both the brand name and trade name of this Sake is "月の桂(Tsuki no katsura)". (Brand name is the classification of Sake and trade name is the product's name. So, they are not always same.)

This Sake is the kind called にごり酒(Nigori-zake, cloudy Sake). They are sparkling, and taste fresh and fruity. People say that this "Tsuki no katsura" is the rice made champagne. It would be interesting if you compare this with other Sake.

  • 古都千年(Koto sennen)

This Sake's brand name is "英勲(Eikun)" and its trade name is "Koto sennen". Taste little bit dry but fresh. Nice flavor and easy to drink. My recommendation for your first try. There are "Junmai-ginjou" and "Junmai-daiginjou" of "Koto-sennen". Both tastes very good. So, let's try.

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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