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Demystifying Sake - Try something new in 2017

The delights of wine made from pure white Rice!

Akashi-Tai Sake

Sake is one of those mystical beverages, shrouded in custom and steeped in history. A rice wine most commonly associated with Japan, there are actually a number of different types of sake, which can be made from around 50 different varieties of rice - no Basmati here. Rudimentary forms of the drink would have been made by grinding rice up with your teeth and spitting it into a container to allow a natural fermentation to take place. Thankfully the process is a little more rigorous these days.

First you need to select the rice. The best type for premium sake is Yamada Nishiki as it absorbs water easily. The rice must then be polished to get rid of the husk and expose the fats and proteins in the centre. The degree to which the rice is polished affects the body and flavours of the sake, with higher polish giving a lighter, more citrussy drink. To the polished rice the brewer adds koji-kin, a mould which breaks down the starches into sugar, allowing the fermentation to take place. Once fermented the brewer can choose whether to dilute, fortify or flavour.

But how do you know what makes a good sake? It is generally accepted that a good sake has floral and fruity qualities that do not overpower, and that the five ‘flavours’ (dryness, bitterness, astringency, sweetness and acidity) are in balance. They vary considerably from light and fragrant, to medium bodied and rich, but balance is key to a good sake, much like with wine.

How should you serve a sake? There is much debate as to whether or not sake is best hot or cold. Traditionally most Sakes would be served warm, but more and more they are being served at room temperature or below to allow the subtler flavours to come through without being masked by the smell of alcohol which is released when heated. Junmaishu or pure sake is still generally considered to be best heated to about 45 degrees.


Akashi-Tai brewery has been brewing since 1886, and they still brew by hand with the expertise learned by several generations of family run business. Since Kimio Yonezawa took over they have put the emphasis on innovation to bring their quality Sakes up to date. We currently stock 4 of their range. The Honjozo Genshu is a rich, mellow and creamy sake with a woody aroma. Junmai Ginjo Sparkling Sake is a light, clean and citrussy sparkling rice wine made in the Champagne method for a delicious aperitif. We also stock two flavoured Sakes - one steeped with citrus and one with plum. Both make fantastic dessert wines. We particularly like the Plum Sake with mince pies, and the fresh hit of the Citrus Sake with lemon meringue pie.
So why not give sake a go this New Year? The Japanese have a tradition where they spice the sake with cinnamon and pepper, rather like a mulled wine, and drink from the cups in order of youngest to eldest. Give that a go if you’re sick of Auld Lang Syne…

Have a closer look at our Sakes......