Made from a simple set of raw ingredients, sake gains depth and complexity through the preparation of rice, choice of brewing yeast, and variations in the the brewing process.
The term sake (酒) in Japanese has a much wider meaning than in English, and indicates alcoholic drinks in general. 酒飲みますか？(sake nomimasu ka?) means "Do you drink [alcohol]?", not "Do you drink sake?"
In Japanese, the drink is called nihonshu (日本酒, Japanese alcoholic drink) or seishu (清酒, clear alcoholic drink). Seishu is a tax classification, so although it appears on sake labels it's not used in conversation.
Sake is defined under the Japanese Liquor Tax Law (Shuzeihou, 酒税法), which limits the raw ingredients that can be used for any alcoholic drink with that name. (Not unlike the "German Beer Purity Law".) The law also defines "special designations" (tokutei meishō, 特定名称), often referred to in English as "premium sake", based on what rice is used, how much is milled away, and the specifics of the brewing process. Any sake that does not meet the requirements for a special designation is "ordinary", non-premium or table sake (futsu-shu, 普通酒).
Click on an ingredient below to find out more:
- Aspergillus oryzae, called koji or koji-kin (麹 or 麹菌) in Japanese, a filamentous fungus or mold that grows on rice
- Brewing yeast
- Optional: distilled alcohol (jōzō arukōru, 醸造アルコール)
- Allowed for sake without special designation: shochu, sugars, organic acids, amino acids