|Food 99/1: Is sake a beer or a wine?|
|Wednesday, 16 May 2012 18:35|
At Flying Fish, we have a 4-course prix fixe menu that has the option of “wine pairing”. This means that we tailor a pairing menu according to the menu that you choose for yourself. Sometimes the first and last course are something other than wine, depending on the best pairing for the chosen dish is. A few options from our first course section are paired with sake.
Sake seems to be unilaterally known as “rice wine”, but technically, in Japanese, sake means alcoholic beverage. So, is sake a beer or a wine?
It’s actually neither, but if you had to categorize it, it is closer to beer than it is to wine based on its method of production. According to Sommelier Matthew Citriglia, “sake is not a wine, nor is it a beer, although it is similar to beer in the fact that both are fermented from a type of grain. The difference is that in beer the enzymes needed to convert the starch into a fermentable sugar are created during malting, whereas in Sake the enzyme to convert the rice into a fermentable sugar is a special mold known as koji, which must be propagated and added.
Also, during Sake production, saccharification (the conversion of starch into sugar) happens at the same time and in the same vessel as the fermentation (these are two separate stages in beer production). As the rice is being converted into sugar, the yeast is converting the sugar into alcohol. This is what makes Sake fermentation so difficult – if saccharification happens too slow, the yeast will starve, and if it happens too fast, the yeast is overwhelmed and can’t function so the sugar is not converted to alcohol. This process is known as “multiple parallel fermentation” and is the reason why Sake can ferment naturally to 20-22% alcohol.”Just like wine and its many grape varieties, sake can come from several rice varieties. Sake, however, is not categorized by its rice varieties as wine is by grapes. Sake is broken down into categories based on the polishing rate of each grain of rice. By polishing the rice to a certain percentage, the categories of sake are determined:
Ginjo labels often possess fruity and floral flavors. They tend to be light and refreshing. To receive the ginjo designation, the rice used must be polished to 60% of its original size.
Junmai sakes possess a robust rice flavor, range from dry and sharp to soft and rounded. Much attention is paid to their balance and structure. To be labeled as a Junmai, the rice used is polished until 70% of the grain of rice remains.
Daiginjo sakes tend to be made in smaller batches in more traditional methods than Junmai and Ginjo sakes. Flavor and aroma tend to be richer while possessing more complexity and finesse. The rice used is polished until 50% or less of the grain of rice remains.
The process by which sake is made is a brewing process. First, the rice is polished to its designated level for the type of sake being made, it is washed, cooked by steaming it and then cooled. The special mold for sake, mentioned above, koji, is introduced into the rice creating a mixture, commonly known as a “mash” or “starter”. This starter is allowed to ferment for up to month adding more rice, koji and water along the way. The finished fermented product is then pressed to separate the liquid from the mash, filtered and blended to specifications set out by the brewmaster.
At Flying Fish, when I serve sake as a pairing it is always cold and this often surprises the guests. Sake is often assumed to be always hot. While you can serve sake hot, only the Junmai variety that can be served hot. Because the polishing rate leaves more of the rice grain in tact, it has the ability to stand up to the heating process without losing its integrity. If you are serving your sake warm, make sure it does not come to a boil. Often, lower priced sakes are served hot because they don’t have the same delicate flavors as a higher priced, smaller batch sake. The Ginjo and Daiginjo varieties cannot be served hot, they should always be served cold.
When you go to your favorite sushi restaurant or restaurant that serves sake, it is proper etiquette to not pour your own sake and to not let your friend’s glass get empty. Always “cheers” with your guests by saying “kanpai”. Sake is intended to be drunk as one would drink wine, sip and enjoy its individual characteristics, not to be drunk in a shot where you will not be able to appreciate the subtle flavors it possesses.
As always, savoring the flavors of wine (or sake!) is all about creating flavor memories so that you draw on those memories to create food and wine pairings.
And as always if you have any other wine or food questions drop by our website at www.ninetynineone.com and drop us a line in the Q&A section of the site. We’re always happy to answer any questions you have.
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Cheers and happy quaffing,
99/1 Food Service Management in Freeport is owned & run by Tim & Rebecca Tibbitts. 99/1 is a full service catering business serving scrumptious offerings with top quality ingredients. 99/1 also specializes in cooking classes, guided wine tastings & tutorials, drop off dinners & in home catering. www.ninetynineone.com 242.373.4363
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