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Sake, or samurai rice liquor
The story of sake is the story of a drink that they say is as complex as origami, as tempting as a geisha, and as irresistible as Mount Fuji. It is a national symbol of Japan marked by its history, traditions and specific location on the world map. Like sushi, sake is an integral part of Japanese cuisine, which foreign guests, due to their lack of proper knowledge, often appreciate only superficially. A pity, because it is worth attention and exploring its centuries-old history and tradition.
History of sake
The exact origin of sake remains a mystery to this day, although historians believe that the drink was first brewed after the annual rice harvest in 300 BC.The production process was extremely primitive at that time - the villagers gathered after the harvest to chew together and then spit out into the designated areas. to this tanks rice and nuts. The vats and their contents were set aside for fermentation, which was supported by enzymes contained in saliva. This method, which raises doubts in today's world, was abandoned after the discovery of koji , or mold spores used to saccharify rice in the fermentation process. The technique of brewing sake with the use of koji was popularized in Japan most probably during the Nara period (710-784 AD).
Sake makes his literary debut in AD 712, appearing in the pages of Kojiki - the first official history of Japan . Since then, Japanese literary work has abounded in stories in which the so-called Japanese rice vodka plays a major role in religious ceremonies, at lavish court festivals and during frivolous alcohol games in roadside izakaya (Japanese tavern).
Sake production was monopolized by the Japanese government until the 10th century, when the monks took care of brewing the rice liquor. For the next 500 years, the temples played the role of the main centers of alcoholic production and popularized it to such an extent that in the 13th century sake was the most ceremonial and ceremonial alcoholic drink in the whole country.
During the "Meiji Restoration" (1868-1912) in Japan, new regulations were introduced allowing the opening of the brewhouse to anyone with the resources and capabilities. Within a year of the changes in legal regulations, more than 30,000 sake plants were established on the Japanese islands, but the high taxes imposed on producers quickly reduced this number to just 8,000. Most of the brewhouses that survived this period belonged to wealthy landowners with rice plantations. Several family-owned brewing enterprises founded at that time continue to operate today.
Technological advances in the 20th century led to a significant increase in the production of rice alcohol and a significant improvement in its quality. In 1904, the Japanese government opened a research institute for sake brewing, and three years later the first official competition for the best nihonshu was organized . Traditional wooden brewing barrels were replaced with enameled steel tanks, which were found to be more hygienic, more efficient and easier to clean. And while this was the case, there was another reason behind the government's decision - the use of leaky wooden barrels led to the loss of about 3% of the country's sake production due to evaporation. 3% going away, which could not be taxed in any way.
The taxes on sake accounted for about 5% of the state's income from direct taxes in 1898 and as much as 30% in 1905. Such high revenues prompted the Japanese government to ban domestic brewing of non-taxable alcohol. State officials hoped that this would increase the sale of the drink, and thus the income of the state. Since then, Japan has been banned from producing sake without a license, even though the government's income from taxes on rice alcohol is now only 2%.
The Second World War led to the collapse of many rice crops in Japan, which forced sake producers to find new ways to maintain the pre-war scale of production with significantly depleted resources of the main ingredient. Pure alcohol and glucose were added to the rice mash, which increased its volume up to four times. Unfortunately, this non-noble method is practiced to this day - only 25% of nihonshu produced is made according to the traditional recipe.
After the war, the production of sake began to rise from the ashes, and the quality of the drink improved systematically. Along with the progressive globalization and the popularization of Western cultural and economic patterns, new players appeared on the Japanese alcohol scene: wines, beers and spirits. In the 1960s, beer consumption exceeded sake consumption for the first time in Japanese history, and since then, the popularity of Japanese rice rice has been steadily declining in favor of other alcoholic beverages appearing on the market. However, more and more breweries are returning to traditional brewing methods, and the quality of their products is more and more satisfactory. And although there are currently only less than two thousand sake plants in Japan, the drink is becoming more and more successful abroad. Sake breweries began to open up in the Americas,
The cultural significance of rice liquor
Sake has been an integral part of the life of almost every Japanese for centuries, faithfully accompanying him in all major events, from birth to death. Sake barrels appear at shinto celebrations , official state ceremonies, important family celebrations, Christmas and New Year celebrations, but also at casual, everyday meetings and private parties. The sake sharing ceremony called kagami-biraki is traditionally supposed to bring good luck. This Japanese custom was initiated by Shogun Iotsuna Tokugawa, who ordered the opening of a barrel of liquor before the start of a key battle for the country, hoping that it would bring him victory. And it actually happened. The battle is won, and the kagami-biraki it has become a common practice.
Sake served in a porcelain cup or in a mass , i.e. a small wooden vessel of square shape and decorated with herbs or flower petals, plays an important role in the setting and decoration of the ceremony. At Japanese weddings, newlyweds take turns sipping a drink from three different bowls, each one larger than the previous one. Drinking from one vessel is meant to symbolize sharing joys and sorrows.
Geography also undoubtedly contributed to the Japanese bond with sake. Japan's location on an archipelago cut off from the Eurasian continent by the sea meant that the country developed in almost complete political, economic and cultural isolation. Due to isolation, the Japanese islands were influenced to a very limited extent by foreign cultures and foreign trends. That is why sake was created only with Japanese tastes in mind by master brewers free from the influences of other cultures.
For the people of the Land of the Rising Sun, sake is more than just a drink to put you in a good mood. For hundreds of years, the drink has inspired and created the identity and national pride of the Japanese. The drink also greatly influenced the Japanese gastronomic culture. This is evidenced by dishes created only to be served with sake, a wide range of accessories and dishes made for it, an even wider selection of various sake drinks and the fact that the drink can be served warm. The great cultural importance of nihonshu is also evidenced by the fact that since 1978, October 1 has been celebrated as the world sake day.
Ingredients and types of sake
Sake is an alcohol made from fermented rice, or koji, also known as rice malt or rice yeast. Since the word sake in Japanese also means alcoholic beverages in general, the rice specialty is called nihonshu by the Japanese for a distinctive purpose .
Although sake production is complex, the list of required ingredients is simple. To produce the so-called Of course, you need rice (a special variety of sakamai ), water (the purest, preferably spring), yeast and the so-called koji , i.e. mold spores used to saccharify rice in fermentation processes. Sake is sometimes called wine or rice vodka, but the production process is more like brewing beer. The rice is ground first, then washed and steamed. Some of the cooked rice is used to make koji, and the rest is mixed with water and set aside for fermentation. After combining the koji with the mixture and waiting for the appropriate time, the drink is filtered and bottled. The resulting sake usually contains 18% to 20% alcohol content.
Sake can be eaten at room temperature, chilled or warm. Japanese rice alcohol is divided into four types in terms of flavor and aroma, each of which has its own best serving temperature:
• Kunshu Sake - a fruity drink, good for beginners, recommended for consumption at 8-15 ° C
• Soshu Sake - the most frequently chosen type of sake, light and mild, served at a temperature of 5-10 ° C
• Junshu Sake - for connoisseurs, traditional and heavy, served at a temperature of 15-18 ° C or 40-55 ° C
• Jukushu Sake - the most expensive type of Japanese sake, for special occasions, best at a temperature of 15-25 ° C
To obtain hot sake, the rice liquor should be heated in a tokkuri, i.e. in a special carafe placed in a pot of hot water. To cool it down, just put the bottle in the refrigerator - but never serve it with ice cubes. Interestingly, the same sake will taste different depending on the temperature of serving.
In terms of quality, sake is divided into two classes: futsuu , which is a bit euphemistic, the "regular" class, and tokutei, the premium class. About two-thirds of all nihonshu sold in Japan is of a lower "regular" quality. Therefore, when going to a roadside izakaya (Japanese tavern) or a Tokyo shot bar, we can be sure that when ordering sake, we will be delighted with a low-quality mass-produced drink, i.e. futsuu. The difference between the two types is the degree of polishing of the rice from the outer layers of the grains, which give the drink an undesirable aroma, and the degree of contamination of the drink's composition with distilled alcohol.
Premium Sake is distinguished by the quality of the ingredients and the effort put into the production process. The rule is simple: the more polished the rice, the better the taste and quality of the drink. It is assumed that in the premium class at least 30% of grain must be polished. And so the following types of sake are distinguished:
• ginjo - polish: minimum 40%
• daiginjo - degree of polish: minimum 50%
Ginjo and daiginjo are the most aromatic types of premium sake with a very rich and deep taste. For this reason, they are perfect as an aperitif or accompaniment to strong-tasting dishes, but not suitable for delicate dishes for which they may be too intense in nature.
Sake alcohol is produced in a time-consuming and expensive fermentation process. In order to reduce production costs, many producers add distilled alcohol to the drink. Sake premium prides itself on the fact that it contains little or even no amounts of it. In this respect, the following types of rice liquor are distinguished:
• junmai - sake without added alcohol
• honjozo - sake with a little alcohol added to enhance the flavor
Some of the above terms can be combined. For example: sake junmai ginjo does not contain alcohol and is made from grains polished to at least 40%.
Like wine, sake comes in many flavors that vary in complexity and nuance. At its most basic level, sake is either sweet ( ama-kuchi ) or dry ( kara-kuchi ). Sake sweetness is often expressed as a numerical value known as a measure of sake value ( nihonshudo ). The scale ranges from -15 (very sweet) to +15 (very dry).
Sake is also served at different temperatures depending on its type, season and individual taste. Most premium sake are best chilled or at room temperature (especially expensive ginjo and daiginjo ), while cheaper and less aromatic types taste good hot, especially in the cold winter months.
In recent decades, premium sake has been gaining ground, while its cheaper variety has gradually lost market share to other types of alcoholic beverages.
Accessories for drinking sake
In the past, sake was served in a mass , i.e. a small wooden square-shaped vessel. Tradition required to fill them to the brim as a sign of prosperity. The liquor was and is customarily served in the traditional unit of measurement called go , which corresponds to approximately 180 ml, and this is the capacity of the classic mass . In the past, it was believed that a wooden bowl fits perfectly with the brewing barrels in which alcohol was produced. Nowadays, however, sake purists avoid wooden dishes that affect the taste of the drink, so the mass are varnished or made of plastic. The traditional square bowl, symbolizing prosperity and commitment to tradition, is still used in Japanese ceremonies today. In some restaurants, waiters place the mass in a larger vessel and deliberately pour the sake over it so that it spills over. This is meant to symbolize wealth.
Japanese rice liquor is usually served in a 180 ml or 360 ml carafe called tokkuri . The vessel is usually bottle-shaped with a narrow neck. The drink is sometimes also served in a bowl called katakuch. The Japanese specialty is drunk from a small cup called sakazuki or from a small ceramic cup called choko . Hot rice drink, or warm sake, can be heated in special metal containers called chirori or tanpo . The people responsible for producing sake in Japan are called toji and enjoy great respect and recognition among the Japanese. In turn, the employees of the sake brewery are kurabito .
How to drink sake?
When drinking in company, offer the drink to all people present - it is wrong to serve only yourself. If, on the other hand, we have alcohol poured over us, we should lift the sake bowl with the drink towards the person offering it, take a sip, and then put the dish on the table. It is also important not to drink the contents of the dish all at once . Sake should be sipped to celebrate its extraordinary taste.