What is Sake?
“Sake” which is also referred to as “Nihonshu” is distilled liquor made from water, rice, koji mold and yeast.
Currently around 1,500 breweries are making various kinds of sake all over Japan.
It usually contains around 15% of alcohol, and its taste is totally different depending on breweries and brands. Because of that you might get lost what to choose at a bar or a liquor shop.
How to Choose?
No need to worry about what sake to select, just trust your gut feeling is enough.
However, you may feel uneasy to see many words on a bottle. If you want to have any clues for your nihonshu selection, I recommend you to choose a bottle with one of 8 “specific names” in below chart.
A specific name on a bottle means it’s categorized in “tokutei meisyou shu”.
Ordinary sake also has good brands, but in this category we also have terrible ones with too much pure alcohol and other additives are added. Thus, to be in the safer side, I recommend tokutei meisyou shu.
Please also check “Sake & Shochu List” to see my recommendations.
How to Recognize Tokutei Meisyou Shu. At Liquor Shops.
It’s easy. Just look at the bottle and check two points which is obligated by the Liquor Tax Act.
- Only tokutei meisyou shu can print the specific name.
- Such liquor has to show “seimai buai (rice remained)” on the label where is close to ingredients.
Take a look at above chart and try to find same letters from the bottle on your hand.
How to Recognize It. At Bars and Restaurants.
When you order a brand at a bar, most of the cases you cannot check the bottle.
In that case, take a look at the list of liquor on the menu. If specific names are on, you can choose it. If many brands are on (let’s say more than 5), you can choose any of it. (Only 1 or 2 brands on the menu probably means sake is not so important for that bar.)
This is not 100% reliable technique, but I hope this would work.
How to Enjoy.
You can enjoy sake either heated or chilled, or ambient as well. The drinking temperature of nihonshu has a unique and beautiful expression (see below table).
But this is just for reference only. No need to remember those words (I don’t neither).
Just tell “hot”, “warm”, “ambient” or”chilled”.
I hope this article can help you finding your best choice.
Go out, and enjoy finding your best choice!
- How to Enjoy Shochu. Distilled Spirits in Japan.
- Easier Access to Quality Sake in EU. Benefit of EU Japan EPA.
- National Tax Agency (https://www.nta.go.jp/english/index.htm)
- National Research Institute of Brewing (https://www.nrib.go.jp/English/index.htm)
When making categorization chart in this article, I referred to the list of preferred English translations made by NRIB.