It’s been a while.
I’ve missed you.
I could type up what I’ve been up to in the last 18 months but it’s not that interesting…at least for blogging purposes. But, I am back from the grave, i.e. not departed:
Anyway, one of the things I need to get off my block and do is start prepping for my sake exam in May. I am currently a WSET Sake Level 3 candidate and the course & exam are about 2 months out. Over the past year or so, I’ve been trying to do some more academic style studying in conjunction with the tastings:
If you’re remotely interested in learning more about sake, I recommend the book, Sake Confidential. It’s written in such a way that even if you’ve never had sake before, you would know exactly what you’d like to purchase and why when you’re done.
When I tell people that I am studying sake, I often get the same answer, “Oh, I don’t think I like it.” or “I’ve never had one I liked.”. I completely get it. More often than not, people’s experience with sake tends to be a hot carafe served with tiny ochoko cups at a sushi restaurant. While that type sake is not bad by any stretch, it’s not necessarily what I’d recommend to anybody. Hot sake tends to be the same level as “house wine” or cheaper, mass produced bottles of beer. Not terrible but not mind blowing either.
Should you be inclined to get to know sake a bit more, these are some key points that could help with your enjoyment:
1. Sake will not give you a hangover.
2. Sake will hold up to any meal whether it has intense heat or hard to pair ingredients like asparagus or artichokes. You will find something that will complement the whole meal.
3. Sake only lasts about a year, even in a sealed bottle. It won’t be “bad” or “spoiled” but it won’t be as aromatic.
4. Most sake can be served chilled.
5. There are few key items on a sake label that will give you an indicator as to whether or not you’re drinking a craft sake or a mass market one:
- Junmai – This means there were only 3 ingredients: rice, koji (mold for fermentation), and water. This level of sake also mills the rice to the smallest size, removing much of outer portion of rice grain before fermentation. These account for a very small part of the market and would be akin to a craft beer or wine from a small vineyard.
- Non-Junmai – This means there is a little of alcohol mixed with the rice, koji, & water. Also, more of the rice grain is used in the fermentation process. This would be the equivalent of maybe a Sam Adams level beer or $15-$20 bottle of wine.
- Regular Sake – This level indicates that more alcohol is mixed into the finished product. Most of the rice grain is used is used in fermentation vs. milling down to the best part. This level of sake makes up about 65% of the consumer market. It’s hallmarks are cost, consistency, & mass availability. Not bad at all but not special.
6. And, like any beverage, you don’t need a special glass to enjoy sake. In Japan, they tend to serve sake in the tiny cups as it’s customary to continue pouring for your guests. The ochokos, while often works of art, aren’t necessarily optimal for enjoying the aromatics. I, personally, prefer to use a wine glass…but, like everything, it’s truly a personal preference.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be buckling down with my tastings & studying so you should be hearing more from me. If you’re also studying, are an aficionado, or if you want to know more, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll need all the help I can get taking in knowledge or sharing the knowledge to reinforce what’s in my tiny brain.
On that note – かんぱい!!!!