Sake Ain't Easy

Remember TRON?

I love how TRON anthropomorphized computer processes to take something complicated and make it theatrical and exciting.

I want to talk to you about Sake, but hopefully in a way no one ever has before, like TRON.
Before I jump into what Sake is, this post will be to share what I see as unhelpful. The Japanese, national alcohol gets the occasional mention in newspaper articles recommending this or that, but explanations still feel shrouded in outdated Oriental Mysticism or airs of snobbery. These are the pitfalls I recommend avoiding on your Sake adventure:

- Wine Scores: Sometimes referred to as "Rice Wine" and scored at wine competitions using the same metrics, the intention to measure Sake as a premium beverage with complexity, depth, and a value on par with fine wine is well-meaning. Ultimately the scores are given by wine experts with barely any more experience than you. The scores mean no more than Yelp reviews of Pho restaurants, written by someone who has never left Arizona. My point being, unless you really understand Japanese expectations of Sake, these scores are skewed by a lack of perspective.
Here is an excellent, affordable
Kimoto Daiginjo by Kikumasamune

- Sake Grades: Sake grades start from the inexpensive "futsushu" (which can also be labeled "honjozo", "seishu", or "junmai") and increase incrementally up to "Daiginjo". The terms and grades are based on polish-ratio of the rice used. Without explaining that further, here is my primary concern: not all Daiginjo (pronounced "Die, Green Joe!", minus the "r") are better than the so-called "lower" grades.
Example (**Shade Alert**): "Hiro" makes a Daiginjo that I find poorly balanced and not worth the premium cost. I would much sooner recommend Shiragiku Brewery's "Ohkagura", a Futsushu that I find superior in many ways and costs a magnitude less. 
(Uh-oh! Did Greg just put Hiro on blast? Yes. I do not set out to, but I will name names if I think there is a Sake you should not try.)
The important takeaway: not all Ginjo and Daiginjo are better than lower graded Sake. Pairing with food is another matter to consider that I will discuss in a future post.

- Dry Versus Sweet: Most beginners start off enjoying sweeter sake, especially cloudy "Nigori" (pronounced "Knee Gorey"), while beginners who like spirits might prefer dry "Karakuchi" Sake. Unlike wine, Sake has a range including neutral - neither sweet nor dry - Sake that are more universally appreciated. Also, dryness in Sake does not come from tannins, like wine, so depending on your pallet, a neutral or semi-dry Sake might even taste sweet to you. For these reasons, some try to steer restaurants away from describing Sake in terms of sweet or dry, in favor of "fruity, minerally, earthy" -- even "funky". These can be helpful too, but casual drinkers of Sake in Japan still commonly use "sweet or dry", even by those who work in Sake breweries. For that reason, I disagree with avoiding the more basic descriptors completely.

That's enough ranting out of me, for now. Next time I promise some fun extended metaphors for how Sake is made.


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