Today I would like to introduce “the liquid side” of the small grain of rice. When most people think of rice, they probably first think of it as food - but there are a variety of liquid products made from rice. The impressive range includes schnapps, rice beer and vinegar as well as sake.
Rice wine is an integral part of Japanese life - but in my opinion the drink is completely underestimated in this country.
What is sake?
The Japanese word “sake” means nothing more than “ alcoholic drink”. In Japan, the term “Nihonshu” describes what we know here as “sake” or “premium sake” (Japanese: rice wine). Japanese law stipulates which criteria an alcohol made from rice must meet in order to be called “Nihonshu”.
There are seven classes of premium sake, including the degree of polishing of the rice grains, the addition of brewing alcohol or the origin from Japan as differentiating criteria. With an average alcohol content of 16% vol., Japanese premium sake is slightly fuller-bodied than, for example, wine, but it has significantly lower acidity, has the highest amino acid concentration of all alcoholic drinks and develops flavor profiles that are not found in any other drink.
In addition, sake is an excellent accompaniment to various dishes - even non-Japanese cuisine can be complemented very well with Japanese sake. Sake production Japanese sake is more than just an alcoholic drink.
In Japan it is considered a gift from the gods who brought a rich rice harvest. Made from tasteless rice, it creates up to 800 different aromas and flavors, which is almost twice as great a variety as is the case with wine.
Lychee, mango, pear, cedar, chocolate, umami, yogurt are just a few notes that can be found in Japanese premium sake. The type of rice used plays a central role in the subsequent quality of the sake. The most commonly used type of rice is called Yamadanishiki. The grain is shorter and thicker than normal table rice (e.g. Japonika).
The starchy core in the center of the grain, the so-called shinpaku, is particularly large. Today , over 100 different types of rice are grown in Japan, which are specifically used for brewing sake .
The dedication with which sake is prepared is unparalleled: every step of brewing sake is carried out with almost scientific precision. After the rice harvest, which traditionally takes place in autumn, the rice is gently polished. The following applies: the higher the degree of polishing, the higher the quality level of the finished sake.
The different levels of polishing of Japanese premium sake are required by law, and range from 60% abrasion (Junmai/Honjozo) to an incredible 35% or less (Daiginjo) . The higher quality results from the rice grain's reduced coating of fat, protein and minerals , which have a decisive influence on the later taste of the sake.
Polishing must be done extremely carefully as polishing creates heat, which reduces the ability of the rice grains to absorb water. In addition, the abrasion of all rice grains must be the same and the fragile grains must not break. The powdery abrasion, the so-called nuka, is carefully collected and used in various ways in Japanese cuisine, e.g. B.: the typical Japanese rice crackers are made from it.
The next step is to wash and soak the rice. The duration of the soaking can range from a few minutes to 48 hours. This is followed by steaming the rice, after which the outer shell of the grain is hard and the starchy core of the rice grain is soft.
Since the sugar required to produce alcohol must first be obtained from the starch of Shinpaku, a specially developed mushroom is used, the so-called koji. The steamed rice is “infected” with the powdered koji mushroom in a separate room. In the next step, the rice rests on a cedar wood table at around 30°C for several days. This step is given special attention and is considered the heart of sake production.
Some brewmasters sleep next to the Koji room during this period in order to be able to monitor the development of the Koji. The finished Koji rice is then mixed in several steps over a total of three days with untreated (steamed) rice, water and yeast in a precisely specified ratio and then fermented in a larger, separate tank for a maximum of 3 weeks.
At the end of the brewing process, the fermented sake is pressed, filtered, mixed with spring water and pasteurized. The solid residues after pressing (jozo) are used in a variety of ways in Japanese cuisine, like the nuka.
Rice as a base for drinks? Hardly an issue in Europe, common practice in Asia!There is an almost endless variety of different types of sake, whether Genshu (undiluted sake), Nigori (coarsely filtered sake), Nama (unpasteurized sake), or Happoshu (sparkling sake) , each sake is unique in its own way!
You can also find out more about the topic of sake on the German-language Sake Guide www.sake-guide.de . And if you've now got a taste for it and would like to try a good sake straight away, just take a look at Tokuri ( www.tokuri.de ) - a German specialist retailer for Japanese premium sake. Kanpai!