Sake: The History of Japanese Rice Wine
Image Credit: Shutterstock, Did you know about this rice wine?

Served in ceramic pots at Japanese restaurants and bars, ready to be poured into tiny ceramic cups, sake has been a mainstay of Japanese culture since ancient times. Sake may be served hot or cold; the former makes a pleasant drink on a cold, rainy day, especially when accompanied with sushi. 

Sake is essentially rice wine. It was developed a few hundred years after rice was first cultivated in Japan more than 2000 years ago. One of the earliest versions of the drink that was recorded was called kuchikami-zake. Kuchikami-zake required no machinery, but just strong teeth and jaws. Grains of rice were chewed and spat into a vat. Enzymes present in human saliva coupled with natural yeast produced a kind of alcohol. According to the ‘Kojiki’ or ‘Record of Ancient Matters’, more traditional means of sake were developed in the eighth century. In A.D 689, a brewing department was formed at the Imperial Palace in Nara.

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Hyogo prefecture in Kobe has been deemed the most important area for the production of sake. The region led technological innovation and bigger-scale sake production during the Edo period.

Premium sake, which has a high polishing ratio and very little distilled alcohol added to it, has become available only since the 1960s. Even with advancement in the technology used for sake production, certain smaller breweries still use traditional, age-old methods that require more human effort than modern production techniques. Hence, different sake is produced by different breweries. Experienced brewers are even able to gauge and control the flavour of sake. The drink is a reflection of their craft, and its production is no less than an art.