What is Japanese sake?

What is Japanese sake?

What is it made from? and how close is it to wine? Those are the questions we answer as we breakdown the blueprint of sake.

What is the Definition of Sake?

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The legal definition of Nihonshu is that which fulfils the below conditions. It is referred to in the industry as Seishu (LIT: clear alcohol). The opposite to this is something called Dakushu (LIT: muddy sake) which comes in various forms, one of which is Doburoku, the vestige of a type of home-brew sake that was popular all the way up to its prohibition in Meiji Era Japan. This is not to be confused with Nigori sake a slightly opaque / cloudy sake as a result of being pressed through a coarse filter which is part of the Seishu category.

・Up to 22% alcohol by volume
・Filtered / pressed fermented-alcoholic-beverage made with rice, koji and water.

What is it Made From?

To make Nihonshu you need rice, something called koji, and water.
Generally speaking, the rice is a special type which is specifically suitable for brewing.

The Koji is basically a malt which performs the role of saccharification (glucose conversion). See this article for more details.

If we were to go into more detail, there are a whole host of other elements, all of which play a very important role in the process, but are the subject for another article. To start with, an understanding of the 3 core ingredients is more than enough.

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Sake’s Relation with Wine

Wine and sake belong to the same category: fermented alcohol.

Whiskey and Shochu go through a distilling process which uses the different boiling points of water and alcohol to extract a higher level of alcohol; wine and sake both get all their alcohol from the raw ingredient: in the case of wine, grapes; sake, rice.


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The next time you go to an Izakaya, why not break away from convention and try Nihonshu!