Care and feeding of Sake

By Curtis Hoffmann
Converted to HTML by Rob Kelk

Subject: [Q] Care and feeding of sake

    I know this isn't directly anime related, but as a result my exposure to anime, I've also become curious about sake. I've checked the, soc.culture.japan, and rec.arts.anime faqs for information, but to no avail. If someone (or ones) with experience could send me a rundown on what to buy, how to store it, how to drink it, and whatever else one should know, I'd be very appreciative.

    Sake is pretty durable, and doesn't need to be treated specially, unlike expensive European wines. Storing it at room temperatures is good enough.

    What to buy depends strictly on your own tastes. There are four elements to sake: "sweet/hot", and "light/heavy." On the back of most bottles, there will be a chart, or graph, showing the approximate ratings of that given brand. Some charts won't have numbers on them, others will range from -2 to 2, or -4 to 4, for the two element combinations.

    Basically, by varying the ratio of water to rice, and controlling the fermenting time and temperature, the sake master can get some very unusual results in his finished product. Sake is usually nothing more than rice and water. Lightness can correlate to "dryness" ala a martini. The heavier the sake, the stronger the taste. Sweet/hot is a little more intuitive. The higher the sweetness number, the sweeter the sake. A high hotness number means that the sake will burn your tongue as if pepper had been added to it.

    There is some tradition to serving sake, but no real rules. If you like sake served hot, then feel free to heat up any sake you like -- there's no good reason not to. However, generally speaking, a light sweet sake is good served chilled during the summer, and a heavy hot sake is good served steaming hot in a small sake serving bottle (use a bottle with a narrow neck, and only pour a little amount into the cup at a time to keep it from evaporating too fast, or cooling down quickly.) Most people feel that sake tastes bad if drunk at room temp.

    You can't get many different varieties in the States, but there are quite a few labels in Japan. Most are very similar. But, the cheaper the bottle, the poorer the quality. The best thing to do is get a bottle each of everything you can get your hands on, and throw a tasting party. Have some Japanese rice crackers to snack on. Take notes, and keep buying the one that appeals most to you.

-- Curtis H. Hoffmann
Nov. 15, 1993

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