Discovering the World of Sake: A Journey Through History, Craft, and Flavour

Let's start with what most of us may know about sake: it's from Japan and made from rice.

But, there is so much more to discover about this centuries-old drink...

It offers a unique and complex flavour profile, and can be made in a wide variety of styles. Depending on the sake, the setting, and food pairing, the serving temperatures vary too.

But don't worry, by the end of this blog post, you will hopefully have a better understanding of the fascinating history of sake, how it is made, the different styles available, ideal food pairings, and why everyone should experience this remarkable drink.

A Brief History of Sake

Sake’s origins date back to ancient Japan, with its production beginning around 700 AD during the Nara period. Initially, sake brewing was an exclusive activity of the imperial court and Shinto shrines. Over time, the methods spread across the country, and by the Edo period (1603-1868), sake had become a staple in Japanese culture.

The 20th century brought modernization to sake production, with advancements in technology and quality control. Today, sake is enjoyed worldwide and continues to be an integral part of Japanese traditions, such as weddings, festivals, and religious ceremonies.

The Art of Sake Brewing

The meticulous brewing process has been passed down through generations, ensuring the preservation of its exquisite taste; each step requires precision and skill:

  1. Rice Polishing: The rice used in sake, known as "sakamai," is polished to remove the outer layers, which contain proteins and fats that can affect the flavour. The degree of polishing, or "seimai buai," plays a crucial role in determining the sake's quality.

  2. Washing and Soaking: The polished rice is washed and soaked in water to achieve the desired moisture content.

  3. Steaming: The soaked rice is then steamed to make it suitable for fermentation.

  4. Koji Making: A portion of the steamed rice is inoculated with koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae) to convert the rice starches into fermentable sugars. This koji rice is a vital component in sake brewing.

  5. Fermentation: The koji rice is mixed with steamed rice, water, and yeast in fermentation tanks. This process, known as "moromi," typically takes about 20-30 days and involves multiple stages.

  6. Pressing, Filtering, and Pasteurization: After fermentation, the sake is pressed to separate the liquid from the solid rice lees. It is then filtered and pasteurised to ensure stability and preserve flavour.

  7. Aging and Bottling: Some sakes are aged for several months to develop deeper flavours before being bottled and shipped.

Exploring the Different Styles of Sake

Sake comes in various styles, each with its unique characteristics. Here are some of the most popular types:


Junmai sake is made with only rice, water, koji, and yeast, without any added alcohol. It tends to have a rich and full-bodied flavour with a slightly higher acidity.


Honjozo sake has a small amount of distilled alcohol added during brewing. This addition can enhance aroma and flavour, resulting in a lighter and smoother sake.


Ginjo sake is made with rice that has been polished to at least 60% of its original size. It is known for its fruity and floral aromas, with a delicate and refined taste.


Daiginjo sake is the pinnacle of premium sake, with rice polished to at least 50% of its original size. It offers complex aromas and flavours, often described as elegant and sophisticated.


Nigori sake is unfiltered or coarsely filtered, leaving some rice solids in the drink. This results in a cloudy appearance and a sweet, creamy texture.

Sparkling Sake

Sparkling sake is carbonated, either naturally through fermentation or by adding carbon dioxide. It is light, effervescent, and often slightly sweet, making it a great option for celebrations.

Perfect Pairings: Sake and Food

Sake is incredibly versatile and pairs well with a wide range of dishes. Here are some food pairing suggestions for different types of sake:

  • Junmai: Complements hearty and savoury dishes like grilled meats, tempura, and miso soup.
  • Honjozo: Pairs well with lighter fare such as sashimi, grilled fish, and vegetable dishes.
  • Ginjo: Ideal with delicate flavours like sushi, shellfish, and lightly seasoned dishes.
  • Daiginjo: Best enjoyed with high-quality seafood, fine cheeses, and elegant appetisers.
  • Nigori: Matches perfectly with spicy foods, desserts, and creamy dishes.
  • Sparkling Sake: Great with appetisers, fried foods, and light desserts like fruit tarts.

Why You Should Experience Sake

Experiencing sake is more than just tasting a beverage; it's an exploration of Japanese culture and tradition. Here are a few reasons why you should give sake a try:

  • Cultural Connection: Sake is deeply rooted in Japanese history and customs, offering a window into the country's rich cultural heritage.
  • Flavour Diversity: With its wide range of styles, there is a sake for every palate and occasion. It just may take some time to narrow down on which one!
  • Versatility: Sake's ability to pair with various foods makes it a versatile choice for any meal or celebration.
  • Craftsmanship: The meticulous brewing process and dedication of sake brewers result in a high-quality product that showcases the art of fermentation.

Whether you are a seasoned sake enthusiast or new to this delightful drink, exploring the world of sake promises a unique and rewarding experience. So, why not pour yourself a glass and embark on a journey through the flavours and traditions of Japan? Kanpai!

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