Sake in its modern form has been enjoyed in Japan for almost 900 years, which means while your ancestral bros were playing “slap the bladder” with fermented goat milk, the Japanese were enjoying the same sophisticated beverage that now populates the shelves of Whole Foods.
What we’re getting at is that it’s been around for a long time and the process of making it is a tradition steeped in time and culture. Not like you give a shit about any of that, but you’re going to learn today in the hopes that next time you find yourself on a date, business dinner or charity event where sake is served, you’re armed with enough knowledge to get through the night without looking like a total Chad.
First things first, fuck me up with that high quality H2O
Sake is primarily made from two things, rice and water. The finished product is in fact, 80% water, so the quality of the water that is used to produce it is a major key to producing a good end result. However, don’t try and go ferment some Fiji Water with the leftover rice from your takeout last night. Sake is brewed from very specific rice varietals. Different types of rice produce very different types of sake and many brewers closely guard their ingredients.
Step two, bring out the fluffer for the rice
Now that we have the rice and water, we can begin the next step: polishing. Polishing is essentially fluffing for rice and is the process of striping away the outer layer of the rice kernel to expose the starchy core within. Traditionally this process was done by hand, but now is predominantly done with milling machines. This matters because the percentage of rice grain that is polished away determines what category the sake will fall under:
- Honjozo: At least 30% polished away
- Ginjo: At least 40% polished away
- Daiginjo: At least 50% polished away
How the brewing is done, a Methods of a Modern Male “Choose Your Own Adventure”
For those of you that didn’t read the first two sake articles we did and/or were too high in biology class to remember how science works, we’re going to review the basics of brewing and use a few big words. However, this week we’re giving you the choice to learn about it in two different ways. If you went to a school that was named “________ State University,” option one is for you. If you’re interested in learning more and using big words, then take path number two.
Option One: The general brewing process, simplified
Step 1: A grain is steamed in order to break down the starch molecules. Add water to the equation and starch releases the sugars.
Step 2: A fermentation agent (a yeast with beer or a mold with sake) is added and converts the sugars to alcohol.
Step 3: Press and filter so you can separate the solids from liquid. No one wants chunky shit in their drinks.
Step 4: Pasteurize (boil) to kill the yeasts which are still converting sugars to alcohol
Step 4.5: Only for sake, dilute because you’re not strong enough for the heavy shit.
Step 5: Bottle the alcohol and age it.
Option Two: Science and big words
Step 1: Now that the rice has been polished, it is rinsed and soaked in water in preparation for a nice, sexual steaming. Aside from being great for your pores, steaming breaks down the starch molecules and sterilizes the rice. Next, Koji (a specific type of mold that will convert the starch in rice into delicious alcohol), is massaged into the rice. Happy ending optional.
Step 2: Now that fermentation has begun, specific yeasts are added that will supercharge fermentation and give sake its distinctive flavors. The rice, koji and yeast mixture is then added with water to form the main mash. During the next 18-32 days, magic and science happen as the starch is converted into alcohol.
Step 3: When fermentation is completed it’s now time to press the sake, which is a process that will separate the solids from the liquid sake. From there, charcoal is then used to filter out unwanted elements and keep you from choking on chunks of fermented rice. However, the amount of filtration can vary. For example less filtered or cloudy sake is called Nigori and still has visible rice particles.
Step 4 & 4.5: The final steps in making sake are pasteurization and dilution. Most sakes are pasteurized twice but special sakes called Nama’s are only pasteurized once. Nama’s maintain many of the funky characteristics of wild yeasts. Sake straight from the brewing process is too strong for you to fuck with so it needs to be diluted to a point where you can handle it. The dilution process notches the post brewed sake at 20%-25% to a more palatable 15%-18% alcohol. However, some sakes do not go through this process and they are called Genshu and are higher in alcohol have more noticeable rice flavor and should be consumed carefully.
Step 5: After bottling, sake is usually aged for about six months to round out flavors. Taru sake’s are aged in cedar barrels and are traditionally reserved as celebration sakes, they maintain a woody flavor and aroma.
And now to celebrate your ability to make it through a semi-high level article about sake
This is Kiku-Masamune Junmai Taru Sake, it’s dry, available in most cities and won’t break the bank… don’t just shoot it like an asshole.