During a recent tour of the saké brewery, SakéOne, in Forest Grove, a valid question arose: Is saké wine or beer? It’s brewed in a similar fashion, yet can be enjoyed like a wine, so that doesn’t easily answer the question. However, saké can be substituted for spirits in a number of cocktails (hence the saying, “sakétini”), so is it a spirit? Although this age-old question may not be answered today, let’s take a better look at this often misunderstood beverage.
What is saké, anyway?
Saké (pronounced sock-ay) is a traditional Japanese rice-based alcohol beverage, which is presumed to have been around for at least 2,000 years (some texts claim that the beverage originated as early as 712 A.D.). Today, it is consumed globally, and is produced in several countries throughout the world, including the United States. This diverse beverage has numerous categories, all of which explain the purity of the saké, the style of the saké (e.g. sweet, dry, aged, unpasteurized, etc.). Learn more about terminology here.
Many Americans think of saké as a hot beverage; however, this type of saké is low-quality and is heated to mask the inferiorities of the beverage. High-grade, premium saké, such as the labels produced by SakéOne, are meant to be consumed as a chilled beverage, thus enhancing the flavors and aromas of the saké.
Is saké wine, beer or spirits?
Saké has a higher alcohol content than wine or beer (15-20% for saké, vs. 3-9% for beer and 9-16% for wine), and has a lower content than most spirits (35-60%). While some maintain that saké is “rice wine,” the production process closer resembles beer brewing, rather than wine making. Saké is crafted in a kura (brewery), and the main ingredients consist of rice, water, koji and yeast. The complicated process of turning rice into saké is explained here.
So, perhaps the answer is that saké is neither wine, beer nor spirit; it just is.
Taste for yourself!
Experience saké with a visit to SakéOne, an American owned-and-operated brewery which employs many Japanese saké brewing customs. Their tasting room is open 11am-5pm daily (closed on select holidays). Free daily tours of the kura happen at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.
This month, don’t miss the annual Kura Blessing and International Saké Day Celebration, September 29, 2012. Join this symbolic ceremony with ancient Shinto roots as the Rev. Koichi Barris of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America cleanses the kura in this traditional ceremony conducted in both Japanese and English. After the ceremony, pop into the tasting room to celebrate International Saké Day with a flight SakéOne’s brewing partners in Japan, the Murai Family and Yoshinogawa.