A Beginner’s Guide to Sake (in the US)

Hugh Thomas
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credit: hslo, Norio Nakayama, Sarah Tzineris, Takuma Kimura

To celebrate the launch of our New York section of the site and our new sake tasting experiences, we’re going to tell you a little about sake and why the drink has caused so much of a stir in the USA as much as it has in the TRULY HQ.

What is sake?

Although many English-speaking people refer to sake as a ‘rice wine’, it is actually more similar to beer than it is wine in that it’s brewed rather than fermented. The name seems to have stuck due to its lightly coloured appearance, taste, alcoholic content, and tall-bottled presentation. Traditionally, the rice used in the sake brewing process is of a larger and stronger grain than rice eaten by the Japanese. There are around 80 types of rice used in sake, and much like wine grapes, some are more popular than others.

Why should sake interest me?

Despite the fact beer has overtaken the sake market in terms of popularity, and there is competition in the form of Japanese whisky, sake will forever remain the national drink of Japan. It can be served hot, warm, or chilled, so it is suitable for a summer’s day outside just as much as it is in the middle of winter, and is not too far removed from the textures and tastes of wine as we know it.

You had me at ‘wine’. What sorts of flavours are there?

Many. You could spend a long time trying to find the type of sake that best suits you. Notes range from the fruity to the very dry, while some might have flowery taste to them and others can produce a spicy tingle in the mouth. If you’re keen to know more about why you should choose a particular sake beyond the look of the bottle, have a look at how to read a sake label.

Why is the USA so great for sake?

95% of sake drunk in the Western world is produced in the US. It might be easy to concede that Japanese sake is superior based on the fact that 2,000 years of experience, compared to the US’s 35, provide the fundamentals for its production domestically. That is not necessarily a staple trait of quality, as much like grapes are to wine, rice is to sake, and so the quality of a sake can be determined from its rice and how its water is sourced. Most US sakes import or use rice from the dry Sacramento Valley. Procuring water however is a bit more varied. Takara, for example, uses pure snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

How do I learn more about sake?

For those wanting to get their hands dirty and try some sake themselves with expert guidance, head on over to Japan. Alternatively, try the numerous bars dotted around the US. New York has a good selection of them, and we’ve picked Cherry on 16th Street as the one that provides the best experience. Best because it’s home Chris Johnson, one of New York’s four Sake Samurais; an elite association devoted to the deep understanding of Japanese culture.

Sake 101: An Introduction to Sake Experience >>

Taste the Finest Sakes with a ‘Sake Samurai’ >>

 
 

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