No one is more excited than me to see a news article, restaurant review or blog post mention sake! This means there is interest in my favorite beverage and the more the word gets out there the better! I want everyone to know about sake. However, every time I come across such a sake article, my joy quickly turns to slight trepidation. Most articles get a lot right (yea!), but more often then you’d think, there are some mistakes, misstatements or downright misinformation about sake reported in the news. A big part of the job for people in the sake industry is to dispel myths and fallacies about sake. I thought it might be useful to put together a list of the most common mistakes I’ve seen mentioned about sake in the media. Let’s start to get this misinformation cleared up! Inspired by critical cats restaurant reviews, I thought it might be nice to have cute kittens help me to get my message across and clear the air about my sake article pet peeves!
Don’t refer to the Sake Production Process as “Distillation”
“The drinks list is dominated by sake, of both the ginjo and junmai variety (the difference being added alcohol in the distillation process). “ 1
Sake is a naturally fermented beverage. In English, we usually refer to sake as being ‘brewed’ and being made at a sake brewery. Distillation is used for distilled beverages such as vodka or shochu, which are usually much higher in alcohol. Imagine for a moment you read an article that said something like “The use of grape skins during the distillation process helps add color to the wine” or “This beer uses hops from both Germany and the US during it’s distillation process.” Meow!
Don’t call Nigori Sake “Unfiltered”
“Nigori Sake is unfiltered. Nigori sake leaves the grain solids that are usually removed after the fermentation process, which produces a cloudy liquor similar in appearance to milk.” 2
I usually describe nigori as coarsely-filtered sake. The word nigori simply means murky, turbid or lacking clarity. To legally be sold as sake in Japan, the law requires that the sake mash first be passed through a filter. Some nigori sakes are made by fully pressing sake until clear and then adding some of the unfermented rice solids back into the sake or alternately, by pressing using a coarse filter that will let little bits of rice solids into the final product. Sake that is truly unfiltered (from the mash tank to your glass with no pressing or filtering out of rice solids) is known as doburoku, and it is illegal to sell in Japan unless you have a rare special permit.
Don’t call sake a “Spirit” or a “Liquor”
“Sake is the traditional spirit of Japan. Always present in religious rituals and social ceremonies, this liquor made from fermented rice is also highly appreciated all over the world.”. 3
Both a “spirit” and “liquor” are defined as distilled beverages, such as brandy or whiskey, and they are by definition distinct from fermented alcohol, such as wine or beer or… you guessed it, sake. Calling sake a spirit or a liquor perpetuates the misunderstanding that sake is a distilled beverage with a very high alcohol percentage.
Don’t Misspell Sake Classification Names
“Dassai 50 Junmai Daijinjo. Aromatic sake with tropical fruit – pineapple, lychee and mango – and a creamy texture, though pleasantly astringent. “ 4
I get it! Spelling industry specific words from the Japanese language, or from any foreign language, can be hard and the terminology can be confusing. But doing a quick spell check for key sake vocabulary or classification names is easy and will go a long way to help people take your article seriously. “Daiginjo”, as in the example above, is a commonly misspelled sake word. If you need help with spelling any nihonshu terminology, you can always double check using the UrbanSake.com Sake Glossary.
Don’t write “Sake To Me” or “Sake To Me, Baby”
“Sake To Me: Sake Bewitches The Spirit World” 5
Dear God, no. Just no.
Don’t Assume Junmai Is More Premium Than Non-Junmai Sake
“Sake without added alcohol is the more premium and is identified by the word “junmai.”” 6
Some people learn that “Junmai” means “pure rice” and assume that non-junmai sake (aka alcohol-added) must be impure or in some way inferior. Nothing is further from the truth. In the world of premium sake, both junmai and non-junmai types are delicious, fantastic and wonderful. They are just stylistically different. Adding a small amount of distilled alcohol can boost aromas and create rounder flavors and the palate. This is not better or worse than Junmai type sakes – just different. And I feel the more various styles of sake, the better.
Do you have any sake info pet peeves you’ve seen in the media? Let me know!