• Introduction
  • Types of Sake
  • How to drink/serve Sake
  • Popular Brands
  • Trivia
  • Guest Column


Sake  is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin that is made from fermented rice. Sake is sometimes called “rice wine” but the brewing process is more akin to beer, converting starch to sugar for the fermentation process, by using Aspergillus oryzae ( a type of fungus).

In the Japanese language, the word “sake” is also pronounced ‘shu’ generally refers to any alcoholic drink, while the beverage called “sake” in English is usually termed nihonshu (“Japanese liquor”).

The origin of sake is unclear. The 3rd-century Chinese text speaks of the Japanese drinking and dancing. Bamforth (2005) noted that the probable origin of sake was in the Nara period (710–794 AD). Sake is mentioned several times in Japan’s first written history, which was compiled in 712 AD.

Unlike wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting sugar that is naturally present in grapes and other fruits, sake is produced by means of a brewing process more like that of beer. To make beer or sake, the sugar needed to produce alcohol must first be converted from starch. True Sake is made from rice, water, and kōji mold (Aspergillus oryzae-a type of fungus or mold).

The brewing process for sake differs from the process for beer, in that for beer, the conversion from starch to sugar and from sugar to alcohol occurs in two discrete steps. But when sake is brewed, these conversions occur simultaneously. Sake making is distinguished from other brewing methods by its use of a process called “multiple parallel fermentation”. Sake also undergoes maturation for 9 to 12 months in Japanese Cedar wood barrels. Aging is caused by physical and chemical factors such as oxygen supply, the broad application of external heat, nitrogen oxides, aldehydes and amino acids, among other unknown factors. Furthermore, the alcohol content differs between sake, wine, and beer. Undiluted sake contains 18%–20% (although this is often lowered to about 15% by diluting with water prior to bottling).

Types of Sake

There are two basic types of sake:

  • Futsū-shu: (Ordinary sake) Futsū-shu is the equivalent of table wine and accounts for the majority of sake produced.
  • Tokutei meishō-shu: (Special-designation sake). Tokutei meishō-shu refers to premium sakes distinguished by the degree to which the rice has been polished and the added percentage of brewer’s alcohol or the absence of such additives. There are eight varieties of special-designation sake:
    1. Junmai-shu: rice only; no adding of distilled alcohol.
    2. Honjozo-shu: A tad of distilled alcohol is added.
    3. Ginjo-shu: Highly milled rice, with or without alcohol added.
    4. Daiginjo-shu: Even more highly milled rice, with or without added alcohol .
    5. Nama-zake: Refers to sake that is NOT pasteurized and basically is mutually independent of the above four.
    6. Nigori-zake: This is cloudy sake, sake that has not been pressed fully from the fermenting rice solid. Nigori-zake, which simply means “cloudy sake”. ”The clouds” are nothing more than unfermented rice solids deliberately left floating around inside..
    7. Kimoto: is made by using the traditional orthodox method for preparing the starter mash, which includes the laborious process of grinding it into a paste. This method was the standard for 300 years, but it is rare today..
    8. Yamahai: is a simplified version of the kimoto , introduced in the early 1900s. Yamahai skips the step of making a paste out of the starter mash. That step of the kimoto method is known as yama-oroshi, and the full name for yamahai is “yama-oroshi haishi” , meaning “discontinuation of yama-oroshi.” While the yamahai method was originally developed to speed production time, it is slower than the modern method and is now used only in specialty brews for the earthy flavors it produces.

How to drink/serve Sake

In Japan sake is served chilled , at room temperature , or heated , depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake, and the season. Typically, hot sake is a winter drink, and high-grade sake is not drunk hot, because the flavors and aromas will be lost. There are gradations of temperature both for chilling and heating, about every 5 degrees, with hot sake generally served around 50 degrees C, and chilled sake around 10 degrees C, like white wine.

Sake is traditionally drunk from small cups called choko or o-choko and poured into the choko from ceramic flasks called tokkuri. This is very common for hot sake, where the flask is heated in hot water and the small cups ensure that the sake does not get cold in the cup, but may also be used for chilled sake. Saucer-like cups called sakazuki are also used, most commonly at weddings and other ceremonial occasions.

Sake is traditionally served in units of 180 ml (one gō), and this is still common, but other sizes are sometimes also available.Traditionally sake is heated immediately before serving.

Aside from being served straight, sake can be used as a mixer for cocktails, such as tamagozake, saketinis, nogasake, or the sake bomb.

Popular Brands

Some of the most popular in the world are:

  • Juyondai
  • Isojiman
  • Kubota
  • Koshi no Kanbai
  • Michizakari
  • Kikusui
  • Hakkaizan
  • Urakasumi
  • Koro
  • Kokuryu
  • Denshu

Brands Available in India

  • Kiku Masamune Taru
  • Masumi


The roots of Japanese Sake goes back to B.C. 500~1000 and is said to be made by “chew and spit” method, where the ingredient (raw rice) is once chewed and spit back by a human in a container to be fermented into Sake. It is believed that the chewing and spitting was done by one of the female attendant of a religious belief back then.

Refined sake is made by filtering nigori sake but another strange ingredient is added at this time which is “Ash” . It’s said that a sake master in the Edo period put ash into the sake to take out his anger. This is the unexpected success story behind this delicacy.

Most sakes that appears in Japanese mythology are actually fruit liquers. Only after the Japanese began to plant rice did “sake” come to refer to rice sake. That means it might be a drink that came over from China or Korea.