Sake (writes Anthony Rose) takes many different shapes and forms: semi-sweet or dry, chilled or warmed, pasteurised or unpasteurised, still or sparkling, clear or cloudy. There are some 1,200 Japanese active sake brewers in Japan today, most of which, like Burgundy’s domaines, are family operations with many dating back more than 10 generations to the Edo period and before. While type of rice, rate of polishing (removal of the outer layers of protein and fat), quality of water and other aspects of the fermentation process are all important, perhaps the most significant contribution to the style and flavour of sake comes from the aims and techniques of the toji, the sake master brewer. At the brewery, the rice is washed, steamed and cooled and then spread out on mats where a proportion of the remaining starch is broken down into fermentable sugar by the addition of koji, or rice mould. Sake ends up after processing at around 16-17% (and up to 20%) and is brewed rather like beer. Rice is well suited to Japan’s temperate-wet climate and the main traditional areas for sake brewing include Nada and Itami in Hyogo, Fushimi in Kyoto, Ikeda in Osaka, Niigata and Hiroshima. Three main varieties, yamadanishiki, gyohakumangoku and miyamanishiki make up 71.6% of the total sake rice cropping area of 14,660 hectares.
Written by Decanter