My 2020 New Year’s Resolution (BTW, gasp, I haven’t made one since 1996) is to learn about sake.
Sake has become a trend in recent years, for reasons I can only speculate (as I’ve alluded to in a previous article). Initially, I really wasn’t too keen on exploring it. In fact, I never could get over a certain level of fear when it comes to getting into sake.
When I tried to figure out the source of my fear, I realised… It wasn’t so much the drink itself, but the terminologies. My grasp of the Japanese language extends up to basic salutations, asking a person what he wants to drink (I used to work in a Japanese hotel), figuring out where the toilet is (which I found extremely useful “in the middle of nowhere Kyoto”), and getting someone to stop doing what he’s/she’s doing (I have weird otaku friends, okay?)… This is why the mere idea of committing Sake labels to memory has always been daunting.
However, I think one of the best ways to get over a fear of something is to understand it… Which is why I made a beeline for my WSET mentor Steve Mack’s (of AWSEC in Hong Kong) Sake Primer during last November’s HKDTC.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- There is a lot of emphasis on the level of polish of the rice that gets used in making sake, but it actually dictates its style, not its quality. This is because the more the rice gets polished, the less rice a sake can be used to make sake… This translates to a more expensive sake the higher up the scale the polish rate goes, without necessarily making it better.
- The outer layers of the rice give sake a more savoury flavour. This means that the less the rice gets polished, the more savoury the sake.
- The lower the number is that’s reflected on the bottle (disclaimer: I have yet to figure it out from the bottles I’ve tried), the more polished the rice that was used to make the sake was.
- Dry sake has more sugar than dry wine.
- The acidity in sake is about 1/5 the acidity in wine. The higher the acidity of the sake, the easier it is to pair with food.
- Spirits can be added to sake. This gives the final sake product more volume, flavour, and character from the rice (because the addition of spirit happens before pressing the fermented rice). Sake which has spirits added to it has a subtle complexity to it.
Here are the Sake classifications I’ve learned:
Sadly – and in relation to what I was trying to say – I wasn’t able to memorise this information long enough to have enough confidence in ordering sake during our vacation in Japan… Plus, I really cannot read the characters on bottles just yet.
Besides, the trip to Japan was the first non-work related trip I’ve had in ages*, and having to really internalise sake during the vacation was just too much work.
Instead, I returned to what I’d like to think of as my “drinking roots,” ordered a few (language barrier be damned), and just enjoy what I had. After all, sake – as with wine, whisk(e)y, tea, and coffee – are beverages, which were created to be enjoyed. 😉
Here are some of the stuff we enjoyed in Japan. Another confession: I didn’t feel like ordering an entire bottle for myself, so I was limited to small bottle options… But I couldn’t believe how beautifully they paired with sushi (PS, even the sushi on conveyor belts were divine) and Kobe beef. Cheers!
*I do apologise to our gracious, wonderful friends who messaged me non-stop on where to eat/drink in Japan. We didn’t go to any because we had such a limited time and, honestly, we really wanted to make the trip about us. We’ve taken note of them and I promise we’ll definitely explore them on our next trip!