Saké is surrounded by a veil of mystery that the Japanese people would love to shed, thus transforming it from a national drink into an international favorite. We’ll try to help them by telling you 11 things that you should know about Saké.
1. The oldest drink on Earth
Saké is one of the oldest drinks in the world with its 2000-year-old history. Some historians say it’s 6800 years old, but we believe it originated in the roman era, due to the fact that rice production became dominant in Japan at that time. As with all good thing, the technique of Saké making comes from Buddhist monks who’ve always been ahead of their time. They even pasteurized liquids well before Pasteur (and the Hungarian scientist, Móric Preysz) developed the technique in 1862.
2. Being a Saké master is a very respectable job even today
The responsibility of the master (Töji in Japanese) is not limited to choosing the right yeast (which most influences the flavor the Saké) he is also responsible for keeping the team together. The latter is especially hard in the long and cold winter season when the workers of traditional breweries almost move in together because they need to check the brewing progress several times an hour. In breweries, without machines, there’s a good chance that workers won’t see their families between April and October.
3. Its alcohol content is similar to wines, its manufacturing technique to beers.
During multi-phase parallel fermentation, the rice needs added sugar just as beer needs barley and malt. A century ago the product had a volume of 18 to 19 but thanks to changing eating habits the volume was reduced to 15 for easier consumption.
4. This too became a manly drink
Töji is actually a feminine word signifying that Saké brewing was once done by women. Men only took over somewhere between the 16th and 17th century. Some say that Japanese women owe their beautiful skin to Saké due to its skin whitening effects but manufacturers today do a lot more to tempt women. There are brands that have Sakés made especially for women such as the Sayuri (small lily) made by the market leader Hakutsuru brewery that was established in 1743. The Saké that has subtle banana flavor notes comes in a pink bottle.
5. It can be cold, lukewarm or hot
As the seasons change in Japan so too does the temperature of Saké. The same bottle will have different flavors depending on the temperature it’s served at. Unfortunately, the proper heating of Saké can prove difficult for restaurants outside Japan but the temperature plays a key role in food pairing. Hot Saké (joukan) matches perfectly with oily and greasy foods, while room temperature Saké (nurukan) is paired with sushi and cold Saké (reishu) goes well with slightly sweet or sour dished according to experts.
6. It’s the symbol of unity
Hakutsuru’s slogan is “To eternal friendship” and this further proves that Saké is not meant to be drunk alone. It’s even considered an offense to pour it for ourselves. Japanese people drink Saké at almost all festive events or gatherings. Drinking it is even part of wedding vows in accordance with strict rules.
7. Not only from ceramic cups
Saké was traditionally served in little ceramic cups or wooden cups that were ceramic on the inside, but since its world domination, any kind of cup will do. So much so, that Americans drink carbonated Saké with a slice of lemon from a tall glass as they do with certain beers.
8. Not only in Japan
The Japanese are glad to share the secrets of Saké brewing. They make Saké in the United States, Brazil, and even Norway and these are often brewed by locals instead of Japanese.
9. Vanity may increase consumption
According to The Guardian a decade ago Saké consumption was down by a quarter compared to 30 years ago. But the Americans new found love for the drink may increase consumption in Japan simply because the Japanese are proud people and care about what other people think of their country.
10. It can be best enjoyed paired with the right food
According to Dr. Akira Nishimura, if you examine a successful Saké food pairing, you’ll find that 70 percent of the success depends on the harmony between the flavor intensity of the food and drink. After providing the harmonious third taste it’s the Saké’s job to rinse, in other words, to be a mediator between two courses. It prepares our taste buds for the next experience. While in Japanese restaurants it’s the chef’s job to choose a Saké that goes well with his menu, the breweries also experiment with their products to find the best food pairings. The challenge they face today is finding the perfect pairs for the recent carbonated Saké brands released recently.
11. It is their Unicum
It’s a good digestive and aperitif because it stimulates gastric acid production in our body which has a beneficial effect on our appetite. It’s healthy if drunk in moderation. Japanese often recommend it for heart problems or diabetes, and they say it’s an excellent antioxidant. These effects are only partially confirmed by doctors but we can definitely confirm that Saké has antidepressant effects!