Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

June 28, 2017
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Hakutsuru sake

Pure and subtle

All sake (pronounced "sah-keh") is not created equal. This may be obvious, but nonetheless is worth stating upfront. If to date your sake experience amounts to a steaming beverage served from a ceramic carafe alongside sushi, it’s time to expand your horizons. For sake is just as complex as wine, yet it too often remains shrouded in misconception.

For starters, the notion it’s “rice wine” (as commonly transliterated in English) is misleading. Sake is actually brewed rather like beer, with special sake-specific rice gently cooked so its starch can be converted to sugar to facilitate the fermentation process. Perhaps the wine comparison arrives from a similar alcohol content, as finished sake normally checks in at 12 to 15 percent alcohol-by-volume.

There is also myriad types of sake, with strict regulations outlining quality levels and designations. Craft-brewed sake, oak aging, and so on, the variety is downright exciting. For example, the amount of rice polish and the allowance of (or lack thereof) distilled alcohol dictate are two significant factors affecting sake’s quality. The more the rice is polished or milled, the more rice that is required for brewing, and typically the better the final sake.

The bottom line is that the hot sake on draft at most Japanese restaurants is the sake equivalent of white zinfandel. Certainly not unpleasant, but not altogether memorable either. Quality sake deserves to be served cold, or at least cool. It also demands to be sipped rather than slurped.

If you are interested in determining the difference between bulk-boxed and special-designation sake, a good starting point is Hakutsuru’s Junmai Ginjo. The Junmai Ginjo designation ensures that the sake is produced completely from rice with no addition of distilled alcohol, and also that the rice in this sake has been milled to a minimum 60 percent level — removing almost half of each grain!

The Hakutsuru Junmai Ginjo is widely available and accessibly-priced, yet offers great fruit and a silky, smooth flavour profile complemented by a light, balanced finish. There is no burn with this sake, and therefore no need to quaff. Serve chilled in a white wine glass alongside take-out sushi, or even try sipping with roast chicken or steamed fish.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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