A sip of sake, a bite of perfectly cooked meat and veggies from the hotpot…Truly a match made in heaven!
Japanese sake, called nihonshu in Japan, begins its production each October. It is made from rice which has been polished to a certain degree. Different degrees of polishing result in different grades of sake and different flavor profiles, with the more polished grains generally producing a more refined flavor. This is because the outer portion of the rice grain which surrounds an almost pure starch core contains fats and proteins which can cause "off" flavors. The most expensive sake have their rice grains polished to at least half of the original grain size!
The two main categories of sake are junmai (pure rice) which is made from only rice, water, kobo (yeast) and koji (rice malt), and honjozo, which includes a small amount of distilled alcohol added at the end of fermentation to stabilize the sake and enhance its fragrance. You may have seen the word junmai on the label of some sake - if the name doesn't include the word junmai, then it is usually honjozo.
Ginjo, another word you might have seen, refers to the Ginjo brewing process and is also used in the naming of some sake. Sake that undergoes this brewing process is slowly fermented at low temperatures. Junmai sake made this way has a fuller body and more pronounced rice aroma than ginjo brewed honjozo sake which tends to be crisper and less floral.
Come early summer through winter time depending on the brewery, shinshu, or "new sake" is available for a brief time, and many lovers of sake look forward to this season. Shinshu is sake that hasn't been aged, unlike other sake which matures for at least six months prior to sale, so it has an extremely bright, fresh flavor and is intended to be drunk fresh. There are many types of shinshu including some that haven't been pasteurized and some that are bottled right after the liquid is separated from the solids. This young sake is often called the Beaujolais Noveau of the sake world, and it is looked forward to with just as much anticipation as the wine is!
Sake can be served in a wide range of temperatures. There are some fine sakes that benefit from being served gently warmed. Depending on the sake, a temperature that is too low can actually inhibit the true essence of the drink. But, just as with wine, finding the sake that you love is one of the great adventures of a food and drink lover's life!
For more information about Sake, please visit here.
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