Think sake is a spirit or a kind of wine? Or that it has to be served warm? Think again. Sake has been a staple of Japanese dining culture dating back to 712 AD, yet the mystique surrounding the popular beverage has lead to a number of myths and misconceptions.
We caught up with the sake experts at Akachochin – Assistant Manager Mason Skipworth and Manager Eriko Kono (pictured) to debunk five of the most common myths about sake.
- Myth #1 – Sake is “rice wine”
Sake is often referred to as “rice wine”, however in actual fact sake is not a wine at all. Sake is alcohol made from fermented grain, and the evolution of starch to sugar to alcohol is most similar to the process of making beer. Sake is also made in sake breweries, and sake producers are referred to as brewers.
- Myth #2 – Sake can only be served warm
Sake can be served either warm or cold and the choice depends on the particular type of sake as well as personal preference. Certain types of sake should never be heated as it will completely destroy the flavour – for example, Namazake, which is a type of sake that has not been pasteurised.
- Myth # 3 – Sake is extremely potent in alcohol
Sake is nowhere as alcoholic as spirits. Although the exact proportion varies slightly depending on the brewer, the percentage of alcohol in sake is roughly the same as red wine – 14 to 15%.
- Myth #4 – Sake should only be drunk in small cups
Since sake is often served in small ceramic cups, a common misconception is that it should be drunk as a shot. Although sake can be drunk in many ways, it was designed to be sipped and savoured like a wine, and can also be served in a larger glass. Japanese tradition favours the smaller cups for a couple of reasons – first of all because drinking sake was considered the drink of the Gods, and hence something that is quite precious. And secondly, to facilitate the Japanese social tradition of never topping up your own drink – keep an eye on your table-mates to make sure their cup is never empty and they will keep an eye on you.
- Myth # 5 – Sake should only be drunk with Japanese food
Although sake and sushi go together like fish and chips, sake is not strictly just for Japanese food and can be served with many other dishes. More chefs and sommeliers are looking to Japan for inspiration, and there are many restaurants in Melbourne that are now using sake for degustation dinners and to complement dishes from international cuisines. Its clean, neutral flavour makes it a great accompaniment for a wide range of cuisines, so don’t be afraid to mix and match.
To learn more about sake head down to Akachochin on Monday evenings for their sake and edamame night, and a sake degustation.