Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Sake Wine?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Even though sake is often called 'rice wine,' something can be wine only if it is made from the fermented juice of some fruit. So, strawberry wine, plum wine, apricot wine and [insert gagging sounds] even watermelon wine are all genuinely wine (even if not all genuinely good). Since sake is made from a grain rather than a fruit, it has much more in common with beer than with wine.

Whether a distilled spirit is made from a fruit or a grain is also what determines whether it counts as brandy or whiskey. Brandy (from the Dutch word brandewijn, meaning 'burnt wine') is any distilled spirit made from fermented fruit juice, whereas whiskey is any distilled spirit (with the exception of vodka) made from fermented grain sugars.

The primary distinctions between types of sake are based not on the varieties of rice that are used but rather on how much each grain of rice has been milled or polished. The core of a rice grain has a greater concentration of starches than the exterior region or "husk." Rice grains that have greater percentages of this exterior portion removed through polishing can produce sakes with more intense and complex flavors. Serious sake begins when at least 30% of the rice grain has been removed. 40-50% polishing is common. Less polishing results in a cheaper, lower quality sake with less flavor and complexity.

Good sake should be served chilled. Cheap sake is often served hot at sushi bars to mask the poor quality of the product being served.

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