The alcoholic beverage called ‘sake’, Japanese rice wine, is made from polished rice and a type of bacteria culture called koji. Although sake is similar to wine in appearance, the brewing process of sake is more similar to beer. The alcohol content of sake is higher than wine and beer which is usually up to 18%.
Last November, I returned to Japan after ten years and visited Niigata prefecture where I lived for two years. Niigata prefecture is well known all over Japan for having the best tasting sake in Japan. I was fortunate to be given a tour of an award winning sake brewery in the area to experience and learn about the sake making process. As part of this tour, I got to taste a key ingredient in the sake making process; ‘koji’, it was surprisingly sweet!
In recent years, sake is becoming more popular outside of Japan, and its consumption is increasing in countries across the globe. People are open to using sake in more creative ways such as in cocktails (you have to try my Sake Cosmopolitan recipe below). Craft sake brewers, or micro-sake brewers, are becoming the latest trend in North America with over 1,000 sake craft brewers.
Interesting facts about sake:
– Sake is traditionally drunk from small cups called ‘choko’ and can be served either hot or cold.
– Sake is almost transparent and it’s not carbonated.
– The taste of sake can vary from sweet to rich, and from dry to light.
– The price of sake can vary drastically depending on factors such as the quality. The average price of a bottle of sake in Ireland is just under €20. In Japan, the prices tend to start at 1,000 yen (€8) and go as high as – 30,000 yen (€240) or even higher.
– Special techniques and knowledge are required in the sake brewing process so every sake brewery has its own brewery master called “Toji”
– Sake is an integral part of Japanese cuisine in the same way as wine is to French cuisine. It helps to tenderise meat/fish and also adds a beautiful taste to food when mixed with other ingredients such as soya sauce and mirin. My favourite way to poach fish is in hot water with a splash of sake.
– Sake is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and there is etiquette to serving and drinking sake. You should avoid pouring your own sake and wait for someone to offer to pour your drink. When someone is pouring sake for you, use one hand to hold the cup and the other hand should be placed flat with the cup sitting on it.
My favourite sake is called ‘Tsunagu’ from Niigata prefecture, produced by Matthew and Tomomi of Niigata Sake Lover (@niigatasakelovers), and is worth sourcing for a true flavour of Japan.
To get a taste of Sake in Ireland keep an eye on The Tokyo Barista blog (@tokyobarista). The Tokyo Barista team, Susi Castle and Joe Moore, regularly hold sake tastings events in Galway, with a range of good quality sake from Niigata prefecture.
Sake Cosmopolitan Recipe
Makes 2 cocktails
– 90ml sake
– 30ml Cointreau
– 30ml lime juice
– 90ml cranberry juice
– Mint leaves to garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then add all the liquid ingredients and mix well together until well chilled.
2. Serve in a cocktail/martini glass and garnish with mint leaves.
A self-taught cook, food-writer and author, Fiona Uyema is one of Ireland’s leading Japanese cooks and cookery instructors. Passionate about bringing the art of Japanese home-cooking into kitchens across the country and further afield, her first book, Japanese Food Made Easy was published in September 2015.
Fiona Uyema’s love of the Japanese language, culture and cuisine began in Dublin City University where she studied Japanese and International Marketing. She then spent three years living in the beautiful village of Nishiyama. After her introduction to her now husband Gilmar, her love of Japan was sealed.
Fiona now lives in Co. Kildare with her husband and two sons where she teaches workshops, provides corporate classes on the art of Japanese cooking, provides consultancy to restaurants and the food industry and blogs about her Japanese food adventures on Fiona’s Japanese Cooking Blog.