Sake: Busting the Myths

18 05 2009

Sake is the one spirit, maybe a close second to tequila, that is misunderstood and most often misrepresented when people drink it.  Here’s the truth…

1)  Sake is rice wine.

Sake is not wine at all!  Wine produces alcohol by fermenting natural sugars in grapes with yeast.  Sake is brewed much in the manner that beer is made.  There is one distinct difference in the two.  Beer has a two step process to convert starch into sugar and sake does both steps simultaneously.  So calling sake “rice wine” is incorrect.

2)  Sake has the same amount of alcohol as vodka.

False.  Sake is around 18% alcohol.  Vodka is, most often, around 40%.  Beer averages around 4.5%.  Wine varies from 10 to 15% alcohol.

3) Sake is made from grain.

Well, it’s kinda true if you call rice a grain.  Sake is made from rice and water.  It’s simple, it’s pure and it’s relatively neutral.  The rice is polished to rid the rice of oils and proteins, thus, leaving behind the true starch of the rice.  This starch is used to produce alcohol later in the process.

4) Sake must be served warm.

False.  The best sake is served slightly chilled or at room temperature.  Once sake is heated, the spirit looses it’s unique flavors and becomes, well, a hot mess.  Most warm sake drinkers and consuming lower grade sake and drink sake in the winter months.  So re-think drinking warm sake next time you are out.  Try a higher quality chilled sake.

5) Sake is a shot.

I hate this myth!  It almost disgusts me the way this pure spirit is abused from time to time.  Served, most often, in the small ceramic cups, you can see where the confusion sets in.  Traditionally, sake was served in a wooden box.  Sipping was expected and preferred by most drinkers.  Today, glassware companies are producing sake glasses with stems.  So, sake is not a shot!  Take your time with it.  Sip it, enjoy it and experience the drink.

I hope this clears up the myths that many have about sake.  I’ve had a number of sakes in my day.  For you NYC people, check out Ono in the Meatpacking District or, if you can find them, there are a few speakeasies in the Village that have amazing sake menus.  Being made of only rice and water, sake is notorious for not leaving you with a hangover.  Not that I’m promoting the consumption of too much in one sitting, but it does happen.  Cheers!

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