Sake is a clear refined rice wine with an alcohol content of about 13 percent to 18 percent (which is stronger than wine) and it is the national drink of Japan.
In Japan, Sake is known as nihonshu (literally, “Japanese liquor”) and it is commonly served during formal ceremonies, special events, and national holidays – but also more generally. They typically pour it from a tall bottle called a tokkuri and traditionally drink the Sake from a sakazuki, which is a small porcelain cup – but Sake is quickly modernizing in its presentation and usage. It is often drunk warm, but Premium Sake, of a delicate flavor, is served cold or on ice. Sake is best when consumed less than a year after bottling.
The exact origin of Sake is unclear as it predates recorded history, but the earliest reference to the use of alcohol in Japan is recorded in the Book of Wei in the Records of the Three Kingdoms where a Chinese text speaks of the Japanese drinking and dancing. Alcoholic beverages are mentioned several times in the kōjiki, Japan’s first written history, which was compiled in 712, so it is strongly believed that the brewing techniques of Sake as we know them today (which is made from rice, water, and kōji mold) was introduced in the Nara period (710–794).
Beer brewing and Sake brewing are somewhat similar. Both use yeast to convert starch (rice or barley) into sugar, then into carbon dioxide and then alcohol. With beer, barely is converted into sugar through malting, but the huskless rice used in Sake cannot be malted so a mold called kōji is added. This is perhaps for the better, because in the really early days the process was so crude that villagers would gather to chew rice and nuts, spitting the contents into a communal tub which would then be stored and left to ferment (the enzymes in their saliva would be what aided the fermentation process).
Though the origins of Sake (or at least some form of rice wine) can be traced to China as far back as 4,000 B.C., it was the Japanese who began mass production of this simple but delicious rice concoction. Sake production was initially a government monopoly, until the 10th century when temples and shrines started brewing their own. The temples would become the primary distilleries of the drink for centuries, and by the 1300s Sake had become the most ceremonious beverage in Japan.
The 20th century
Improvements in brewing technology and equipment led to huge increases in the quality and production of Sake. Steel tanks soon replaced the traditional wooden barrels used to brew Sake, which were considered unsanitary and less durable. Around this time, Sake accounted for about 30% of the country’s entire tax revenue, leading the government to ban home-brewed alcohol because it couldn’t be taxed. It is still illegal to home-brew in Japan without a license.
During World War II, rice shortages required brewers to add pure alcohol and glucose to in order to maintain or increase volume; to this day, 75% of Sake is still made using this method. While Japan’s brewing industry began to recover after the war, the recent popularity of Western spirits – namely beer and wine – began to overtake Sake in sales and consumption.
Although fewer than 2,000 Sake breweries exist in Japan today, the drink has steadily grown in popularity overseas, with breweries opening in North and South America, China, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Sake Day, traditionally a Japanese holiday held every year on October 1st, is now celebrated by brewers and enthusiasts worldwide.
Malaysia’s Sake Festival Malaysia
Malaysia’s ONE and ONLY Sake Festival returns with its second edition this 21st September 2019! Featuring a wider range of Japanese Sake brands and labels this year, taste and learn what Sake is all about, and how it can be your next favorite go-to drink anywhere, anytime! And of course, no festival would be complete without food and exciting activities, so watch out for our line-up of food vendors, pop-up activities, music and an after party after the festival!
So save the dates, round up your Sake buddies and kanpai with us!