If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant, probably one on the menu or the waiter would have offered you an alcoholic drink known as sake.
How much alcohol is in sake, you say? Sake usually has an alcohol content ranging between 15% to 17%. Also called rice wine, it is Japan’s popular fermented rice beverage. It had been enjoyed, at the very least, in the 8th century CE. Some historians, however, would argue that it has been consumed hundreds of years earlier.
What Is Sake Made Of, And How Is Sake Served?
Rice, water, and koji mold typically make up sake. There’s not much question on how sake is served. You can serve them hot or cold, which comes in a glass that makes it delightful.
Even though served in a shot glass, one can enjoy a glass of sake by sipping just like having a cup of tea or a glass of wine. A friendly reminder: don’t shoot for your sake!
So, How Do You Make Sake?
Water, rice, catalyst yeast, and koji spores usually make up sake. Like any other alcoholic drink, an essential ingredient that one should consider when making sake is clean and chlorine-free water.
Rice is measured delicately, washed, and soaked before steaming. The first step is moto. Stir together 2.5 cups of cold water, 0.75 tsp of yeast, and a pinch of Epsom salt. You will do this until the dissolution of yeast. Add ½ cup of koji, cover the container and store inside the refrigerator overnight.
Next, rinse 1.5 cups of rice and add 2 to 3 inches of water to cover. Place in your refrigerator and allow to soak overnight.
The next day, drain and steam the soaked rice. After steaming, mix the hot rice with the chilled koji and water mixture using your clean hands. Allow this mixture to rest at room temperature and stir twice a day within the two days.
After two days, cool the rice and koji mash to 10 ℃, then toss the sake yeast. Let this rest with the maintained temperature for the next 12 hours and let the temperature come back up to 21 °C to start the fermentation.
Using a sanitized spoon, stir the mask twice a day for the next three days. Then once a day for three days after that. It takes nine days to complete fermentation.
Maintain the temperature back to 10 °C for the next five days as it rests. Then the moromi builds up. Rice, koji, and water are added three times over four days.
Add 2.5 cups of rinsed rice and cover it with water to soak for twelve hours before you proceed with steaming. While rinsing the rice, stir 1 cup of koji into the moto.
The next day, steam the additional rice.
While steaming, dissolve 1.25 teaspoon of Morton salt in lukewarm water (do this only once), then add cold water bringing the total to 2.75 cups. Set aside and place this in the refrigerator to allow it to chill until the rice is done.
After steaming, mix with the chilled water. Use your hands to quickly break the clumps. When the rice temperature reaches 29 °C, it’s about time to mix it into the moto. The temperature of the moromi mash must range between 21–23 °C. Maintain this mash at room temperature and stir every 2 hours for the next 12 hours, then twice a day for the next 36 hours.
On the evening of the day after, prepare 6 cups of rice for steaming while simultaneously stirring 1.5 cups of koji into the moromi mash. In the morning, steam the rice and add 8.75 cups of chilled water. Mix this well, and then only add it to the moromi when the rice is cool.
Right after, allow the moromi to rest at room temperature for twelve hours, then add the remaining koji (20 ounces) and stir.
On the next day, drain and steam the soaked rice. Mix the steamed rice with one gallon plus one cup of cold water before adding to the moromi. Let it rest overnight at room temperature. Fermentation is now underway. Move the fermenter to a location with approximately ten °C, if possible, and allow it to ferment in the next three weeks.
As it progresses, separate the sake from the rice lees. In two weeks, the rice particles will settle into the bottom. You can funnel the clear sake and transfer it to another vessel.
To make the sake clear, you may use bentonite. Prepare (237 mL) of boiling water and whisk in 1.5 teaspoons of granular bentonite until it looks like a slurry. Divide this to the vessels of your sake and gently shake. In about three days, the bentonite has settled, already taking all of the haze.
Pasteurize it immediately. Do this by placing your sake vessel in a pot large enough to hold it. You can then add enough lukewarm water to cover up to the shoulder of the vessel. When it reaches 60 °C, remove the sake from the water bath and cap tightly. Cool further before refrigerating.
After pasteurization, you can age sake for up to six months, then start siphoning into bottles and repeat the pasteurization. Sake can have a shelf life of up to a year at room temperature and away from direct sunlight.
What Does Sake Taste Like?
Generally, it would qualify as mildly sweet with a fruity aroma and taste like white wine. As it is a delicate drink, its flavor also changes depending on its temperature.
Should You Drink Sake Hot or Cold?
Should you decide to drink a hot sake (called atsukan), it tastes differently depending on the temperature. When it’s between 0℃ and 40℃, it’s more sweet and less bitter. If it’s between 45℃ and 55℃, it would taste a little dry with a sharp aroma.
Also, you must note that alcohol is absorbed sooner when you drink it hot. There are several ways to heat sake if you prefer it hot, like heating them over the microwave or a tokkuri.
Using a microwave is one convenient way to heat your sake. Doing this will only take you about 20 seconds, or you can do this repeatedly, depending on your desired temperature.
If you opt to use a tokkuri, pour your sake onto the tokkuri. After filling in the tokkuri with sake, put the tokkuri in a pot to measure how much water you should use to fill the pot.
Ensure that the entire bulb of the tokkuri is submerged in the water to ensure that your sake heats evenly. Take out your tokkuri and start boiling the water inside the pot. Once it boils, turn off the heat and put your tokkuri into the pot immediately. Take note that the water temperature should be under 100℃.
On the flip side, cold sake tastes more fruity and dry. Your body does not absorb the alcohol as fast compared to hot sake. It will take you some time to realize that you’re already feeling tipsy.
Are you wondering what kind of sake tastes the best? It all boils down to your personal preference. Sake can be enjoyed hot or cold, at your discretion.
Sake Storage Tips & Typical Shelf Life of Sake
Maybe you’re wondering how long sake lasts in your storage. Usually, you cannot find an expiration date on the bottle of sake, but you can find the date when it was bottled.
Consume your sake within a year or two after its bottling date. While it isn’t harmful to drink sake that’s been sitting in your drawer for more than two years, you can expect that its quality could have already degraded over time.
Like wine, store an unopened bottle of sake in a cool and dark place. Keep it away from direct sunlight and any other sources of heat. Generally, it is best to keep it below room temperature.
Once opened, the best practice is to consume it within the day. You may still store this inside the fridge, and it’s still safe to drink it after a few weeks. Just note that the taste will slightly change over time.
The general rule is that sake is clear in color. A good indicator that your sake has gone bad is when you see it has become yellow, smells fusty, and visible floating particles.
Sake Cocktail: How Do You Make a Sake Bomb
A famous cocktail you can make with sake is the sake bomb. But what is a sake bomb?
A sake bomb is simply a combination of Japanese beer and sake. Simply plunge the sake into a glass of beer using chopsticks. All you need to do is fill the shot glass with sake and fill the pint with beer.
Make sure you leave enough room for the sake so it won’t overflow to save time in cleaning up the mess.
Put a pair of chopsticks at the top of the pint glass and make sure that these are close enough to support the shot glass. Balance the shot glass on top of the chopsticks.
When you’re ready to dig in, bump your knuckles on the table until the shot glass falls into the beer and yell, yell Ichi…ni…san…sake bomb! A party has just started.