Demystifying Saké

Demystifying Saké at Piedmont Grocery StoreNot unlike with wine, there is a whole world of saké, and it can be daunting for the uninitiated. At Piedmont Grocery we are demystifying saké. We stock a good selection, and encourage you to explore its flavors.

Saké, a traditional Japanese rice wine, has four basic ingredients: polished rice, water, koji, and yeast. Koji is the magical mold that converts the starch in the rice into sugars. The saké-making process involves brewing, in two steps, where the starches in the rice are converted to alcohol. Sake is not carbonated, like beer, and is not at all distilled like spirits. Its taste profile is closer to wine, but also uniquely different.

What we think of as saké is the national beverage of Japan, and is often served with a special ceremony. However in Japanese, the term saké refers to any alcoholic beverage, and the drink we call saké in English is called nihonshu in Japanese.

Sake generally has an alcohol content of 12% to 18%, greater than both beer and wine.

Most saké is pasteurized for a longer shelf life. And some is unfiltered, or partially filtered, with a milky appearance and a bottle that should be shaken.

When you are purchasing saké, price does make a difference. In general, the more expensive the bottle, the better it will taste. Inexpensive saké is often made with unpolished rice, which alters the flavor unfavorably. It is then diluted and has distilled alcohol added to improve the flavor.

In Japan, saké is served either at room temperature, chilled, or warmed (not hot), depending upon the season, the quality of the beverage, and the preference of the drinker. It is usually served in small, ceramic cups, and can also be served in a masu, or small, wooden box.

There are a few cocktails made with saké as a pivotal ingredient. It can also be delicious in a marinade on meat or fish.

If you wish to explore the details and taste profiles of different types of saké, you can read all about it at Saké World.

Here are some of the types of saké, and specific bottles that we currently have in stock at the store:

Type: Junmai Ginjo Saké
Junmai Ginjo is considered the highest achievement of the brewer’s art. Many Ginjo brewers use special yeasts in making Moto, and ferment the final mash very slowly at low temperature. This extra effort produces a saké that is lighter, clean taste and has a tangy flavor and aroma.

Meibo Yowano Tsuki Junmai Ginjo Midnight Moon Saké is light, smooth, round and very drinkable. This is a very consistent and type of Ginjo. The nose is full of vanilla and melon, and the first sip shines of a well-built Ginjo. The sake has a smooth start and an equally smooth finish with a middle made up of melon and citrus undertones. It is very well balanced and literally slides on the tongue. The taste is refreshingly dry. It pairs well with omelets, fish, mousses, oysters with vinaigrette, and fried scampi.($26.99)

Sho Chiku Bai Ginjo Saké is from a special reserve connoisseur class of sake. Most sakes are brewed with rice that has been milled 30%. This Ginjo uses rice that is polished over 50%. Additionally, a special strain of yeast is used that allows for fermentation at a cooler temperature. The result of the slower, longer process is a silky-smooth, rich texture and a fruity flavor. The character is delicate, dry and silky smooth with a strong ginjo aroma. It should be served chilled, and pairs with lightly seasoned food. Excellent drunk by itself. ($7.99)

Type: Junmai Saké
Junmai Saké is made of only rice, water, koji and sake yeast. No other ingredients or additives, such as alcohol or sugar, are added. The character tends to be full-bodied and slightly acidic.

Tozai Living Jewel Saké has aromas that are quite complex, showing white grape, anise, and a hint of sweet rice. These same flavors come rushing through the medium-bodied palate which has a slightly creamy texture followed by a hint of white pepper and fresh herbal notes. The long, clean finish makes this both a great sipping sake as well as a companion to a wide range of foods, from fish and shellfish to pork and light meats. ($12.99)

Type: Nama Saké
Nama means “Draft saké”. Here, fresh sake is microfiltered. Nama is fruity and fresh taste with pleasant aroma.

Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama Saké is totally natural, using OCIA certified rice harvested from the Sacramento Valley with absolutely no preservatives, no alcohol, and no sulfites added. It is brewed under the direction of Takara’s master brewer combining the most traditional methods with modern technology to arrive at the Ginjo grade. It received the Silver Medal award for Organic & Biodynamic Wine Competition in 2009 and 2010. The character is full and dry with a balanced flavor and a fruity, fresh taste. Serve chilled with salads or vinegar-marinated foods. ($7.99)

Type: Nigori Saké
Nigori saké is an unfiltered, or partially filtered saké, with a bold and sweet taste. This sake is a milky white appearance.

Momokawa Pearl Saké is rich, creamy, and filled with tropical flavors. It has been a favorite Nigori in Americal for many years and sets the standard. Enjoy chilled with spicy foods or dessert. ($15.99)

Tozai Snow Maiden Saké is surprisingly dry for such thick saké. The aromas are bright, fresh, and taste of fresh rice and fruit. ($12.99)

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