Sake is an ancient, fermented beverage, known throughout the world as the perfect accompaniment to sushi and other Japanese fare. When asked about sake, most people will tell you it’s a “rice wine.” Well, most people happen to be wrong, because sake is not technically wine and, in fact, is much closer to beer. Simply put, wine is made by converting the sugars naturally found in grapes to alcohol through the process of fermentation. Beer is made by converting the starches found in grains into sugar, and then fermenting them into alcohol. Sake uses this same method of conversion, using rice that has been polished to remove the bran, instead of barley or wheat which is most often used in beer production.
There is a difference between how sake is made vs. how beer is made, however, and it has to do with an enzyme called, koji. Koji is a very special fungus used throughout asian cooking to ferment things like soy sauce, rice vinegars, fermented bean paste and alcoholic beverages. This enzyme allows the conversion from starch to sugar as well as the fermentation to happen in one step, rather than the two steps used when brewing beer.
So why does everyone call sake, rice wine? It has more to do with the countless different styles and types of sake than anything else. Also, many sake flavors are more similar to wine than beer because of their sugar content and taste. Overall alcohol content also plays a part in the perception of sake. There is a reason why those teeny-tiny cups are used to consume it. Whereas the average ABV of most beer is somewhere between 3%-10%, the average ABV on sake is much higher at 18%-20%. Wine ABVs are usually between 5%-16% so they are much closer in strength to sake.
Often, when the sake is bottled, water is added to the brew to make it more palatable. Speaking of taste, one of the crucial factors to how sake tastes is in the amount of rice milled to make it. The more milled or “polished” the rice is, the more delicate and clear the flavor of the sake is. Polishing the rice takes time and therefore costs more man-hours when making certain types of sake, raising the their quality and price.
What does all of this have to do with beer? Well, sake and beer are perfect companions and here at Thorn Street Brewery we are super excited to be offering a Sake and Beer pairing coming up on April 10th. Saiko Sake and Sushi Bar in North Park collaborated with us to bring you three different sake and beer pairings. The complex flavor profiles of sakes vary just as much as beer flavors do, so the opportunity to pair the two is truly endless. Here are the pairings we have so far…
Relay IPA with Chrysanthemum Meadow
Castaway Coconut Porter with Cranes of Dewa Kimoto
Abbey Wall Belgian Style Dubbel with Tears of Dawn
There is also a very special sake bomb made by the mad-sake-scientists at Saiko called the Saiko Bomb. They somehow wrap Beautiful Lily Honjozo sake in a gelatin bubble and when you place it in the Tropic Daze IPA and drink it, the sake bursts in your mouth like a delicious piece of fruit. You need to be on the 50 person list to get one of these, but if people who reserved their bomb don’t show up within the first hour of the event, we are releasing them to the general public, so make sure to get on the waiting list when you get here! Here’s a link to the FB event for more info…Kampei!