Japan's favorite sake gaining ground in Australia


 As for drinks, Japan's favorite sake is one of the most interesting. Its history spans more than 2,000 years and in its homeland more than 1,500 factories make fine products. On paper, sake is simply rice, water, yeast, and koji, a type of Aspergillus oryzae fungus used for culinary purposes. But the process produces complex and exciting results: clear, cloudy, bright, sweet, savory, so there's a lot to explore.

A vacation in Tokyo piqued my curiosity. I followed up with a one-day WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) sake course for beginners, where I met master and sake expert Yukino Ochiai of Sydney-based Deja vu Sake Co. (dejavusake.com.au).

Ochiai is a tiny powerhouse with electrifying enthusiasm for a recession. In 2017, she was named Australia's first female Sake Samurai, a prestigious industry award and one she is proud of.

"I've seen the popularity of sake increase in Australia," she said.  They don't have to spend it on shopping...on the contrary, on food and drink."

The growing interest in Japanese food at home is another reason why we drink more sake. "It's not just about sushi and sashimi," says Ochiai. "Ramen is soul food here now and omakase [chef's choice] is very popular in Sydney."

Most sake is made from polished or ground rice and a small amount of distilled alcohol. From everyday styles (futsushu), to premium styles including traditional junmai (made with only rice, water, koji and yeast and no added alcohol), aromatic daiginjo, and lighter, dried honjozo.

Fruity, aromatic sakes like daiginjo or ginjo are best served chilled (10-15°C), while rich, earthy sakes like junmai and futsushu can be gently warmed. "Our body temperature is around 36-37 degrees, so if you drink sake near this temperature, your body will appreciate it because it doesn't need to adjust the temperature of the sake," says Ochiai. 

The ceramic tokkuri (bottle) and ochoco (cup) can be used for both hot and cold sake, although wooden vessels and cups are also used, the latter especially for cold sake in summer.

You don't have to spend a fortune to immerse yourself in the world of exciting flavors.

Ochiai recommends the widely available and inexpensive Dewazakura Adultsan Junmai Ginjo Sake, which he compares to a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. "There's a lot of green in it."

Pro Tip Once opened, sake bottles should be tightly closed and stored in the refrigerator. Try to polish an open bottle within two to three weeks.

three to try

Sake Sake Sake junmai is fun, accessible and naturally bubbly from Sekiya Brewery Japan. $69/720ml, 15 percent alcohol. sakesake.me

Houraisen Junmai Ginjo Wine Cask Sake Limited Edition Matured in Voyager Estate Winery French Oak Cask - Only 300 bottles made. $115/720ml, 15.9 percent alcohol. wine.qantas.com

Dewazakura Adultsan Junmai Ginjo Sake Its surprising freshness and acidity make this a good place for newcomers to start. $25.99/300ml, 15.5 percent alcohol. danmurphys.com.au

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