Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Sake

Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink, brewed from rice. The word (酒) is pronounced as SA-KEH (the E sound like the A in CARE.) Its history can be traced back to the 3rd century. The first sake was called kuchikami no sake, (口噛み酒) or chewing-in-the-mouth sake, and was made by an entire village chewing rice, chestnuts, and millet and spitting the mixture into a tub to ferment.

Centuries later, the use of yeast was discovered, which greatly increased the sake's alcohol content. World War II also altered the recipe, when rice shortages forced brewers to develop new ways to increase their yields. By government decree, pure alcohol and glucose were added to small quantities of rice mash, increasing the yield by as much as four times. 95% of today's sake is made using this technique, left over from the war years, though connoisseurs say that the best sake is still made with just rice, koji (麹) (Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus whose enzymes convert the starch in the rice to sugar), and water only.

There are four basic types of sake, created by slightly varying the brewing method.

Sake that has not been pasteurized is referred to as namazake (生酒), and may be made with any of the above methods.

The most common way to serve sake in the United States is to heat it to body temperature (100F/40C), but professional sake tasters prefer room temperature, and chilled sake (50F/10C) is growing in popularity.

In Japan sake is also often served cold, warm or hot, depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake and the season in which it is served. Typically hot sake is consumed in winter and cold sake is consumed in summer. It is said that the alcohol in warm or hot sake is absorbed by the body more quickly, so this habit was popular during and after WWII to mask the roughness of the flavor. Sake is one of the few alcohols that is drunk heated.

Sake is often drunk as part of Shinto rituals. During World War II, Kamikaze pilots drank sake prior to carrying out their missions. Today barrels of sake are broken open during Shinto festivals or following sports victories.


Japanese barrels containing sake