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Cold Sake to Take the Heat out of July

Sake bottle and cups: traditional way to serve sake
Sake bottle and cups: traditional way to serve sake
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There are two reasons to opt for cold sake over hot sake. This time of year, heat is the last thing anyone needs, and cold sake is also premium sake and a world of difference from ordinary sake. As good as sushi is, it always tastes better with cold sake. The traditional hot sake most sushi lovers are familiar with is seldom served chilled. Herein are the basics of what makes sake a unique beverage and how to enjoy it better cold.

Sake is both brewed and fermented, making it a unique alcoholic beverage. Special sake rice (shuzō kōtekimai) is used, which is then polished to provide a pure starch product. The rice is polished to 50% to 70% and the rice is converted into sugar (glucose) using a special mold which becomes the koji. Fermentation takes place over a number of weeks at lower temperatures in what is called multiple parallel fermentations. It is then allowed to mature for nine to twelve months. If this sounds like a complex and expensive process, it is.

There are two types of sake, Futsū-shu (ordinary sake) and Tokutei meishō-shu, or special designation sake, which is commonly called cold sake or premium sake. Good thing, too, because most folks would be hard pressed to remember Tokutei meishō-shu. Premium sake comes in many different styles with different polishing ratios, different methods of production, different fermentation methods and so on. As with wine, the best method to decide which ones to chose is to taste them. Some Japanese restaurants and Sushi houses offer flights of sake, which makes this easier.

Premium sake if often available in 300ml or 375ml bottles, so a party of four could each order a bottle and swap tastes. Some premium sake is only available in large format bottles or casks. Although there are aged sakes, most sake is consumed young. Once a bottle is opened it should be consumed within two to three hours or stored in a refrigerator. It should also be stored in a cold dark place until ready to serve. A wine cellar is a good place to store sake if the consumer has one.

Many Asian cuisines pair well with cold sake, not just Japanese cuisine. Because of its potency (15% to 16.5% alcohol), one should be aware it has more of a kick than white wine and many red wines. Since sake is often served in small cups it is easy to lose count on how many one has had. In fact, it’s impossible, so count the empty bottles. Kanpai!