Sake – The more you know about it, the better it tastes

“Magic water” is a match for any cuisine
Like beer and wine, sake ingredients are fermented to produce alcohol. Whether it has been heated up to a piping 55°C, or cooled to 5°C, sake can be enjoyed in a range of temperatures. An excellent companion to food, sake complements any kind of cuisine. For example, with either fish or shellfish, sake tends to amplify the delicious elements of food while neutralising any fishy smells. Unlike many other drinks, it also harmonises nicely with fresh fruit. Sake goes well with soup dishes and blends superbly with soy sauce and miso.

The 1,700 sake breweries spread throughout Japan create sake with a variety of different flavours. Sake flavour depends on the quality of the main ingredients: a special type of rice, and water, which constitutes 80 percent of a typical brew. The brewing process itself plays a key role in determining sake flavour.

Sake production methods
Sake can be broadly divided into the three categories of Ginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu and Junmai-shu, depending on the amount of polishing that the rice has undergone. For example, if the rice is polished to 60%, this means the outer part of the brown rice has been taken off by 40%. Rice polished as close to the core of the grain as possible creates a clear, clean taste. Ginjo-shu sake uses white rice polished to less than 60%, koji yeast, water and brewer’s alcohol and employs the Ginjo method of brewing. It has a fruity aroma and a clean taste.

The ingredients of Honjozo-shu sake are white rice polished to less than 70%, koji yeast, water and brewer’s alcohol. It is usually reasonably priced and has an appealing clean flavour. The final category, Junmai-shu sake places no limitations on the degree of rice polishing and is made using only rice, koji yeast and water. Compared to Ginjo-shu and Honjozo-shu, Junmai-shu has a true rice flavour and acidic characteristics.

Niigata's big three quality sakes

These can then be split up into further categories called: Daiginjo-shu, Junmai daiginjo-shu, Ginjo-shu, Junmai ginjo-shu, Junmai-shu and Honjozo-shu.

Taste, aroma and smoothness
Sake can be classed into four main taste categories:
1. rich aroma
2. light and smooth
3. mature
4. full flavoured
Each type matches well with different types of food. Essentially, a light and smooth type of sake suits cuisine that is delicate and subtle, whereas a full flavoured sake suits rich, hearty dishes.

Sake bottles come labelled with a number that shows the Sake Metre Value (SMV). This number gives an indication as to whether the sake is sweet or dry. The lower the number, the sweeter the sake, while a higher number indicates a dry sake with less sugar. Dry sake has a crisp style and sweet sake tastes softer.

Should sake be heated or drunk cold?
Compared to other types of alcohol, the temperature for drinking sake is varied. In Japanese, the terms hiya (chilled) and okan (heated) are used to describe the two different ways to enjoy sake. So should it be hiya or okan? Sake types that taste better chilled are those with a lovely aroma and clean, clear taste such as Ginjo-shu. But be warned, if chilled too much, the aroma vanishes so the best temperature is between 10°C – 15°C.

Full flavoured or acidic sake , like Honjozo-shu, taste better heated. A good way to heat it is to warm the sake bottle in hot water. When sake is heated it becomes sweeter so it’s not recommended to heat more than 35°C. On a chilly winter’s night, nothing tastes as good as a piping hot drink of sake. However, if you enjoy a natural sweet flavour, it is better to keep it to a lukewarm temperature.

Delighting all the senses

cuisine and sake

A traditional Japanese multi-couse “Kaiseki” dinner


Cuisine and Sake

Japanese cuisine is famously light and healthy with very little sugar, salt, fat or oil. It is based on a rice, fish or noodle staple served with mountain or sea vegetables. It is made as much for taste and presentation as it is to fill you up, but even then Japanese people say “Hara hachi-bun”, which means they eat only 80% of what they can. Expect smaller servings, except if you’re trying Chanko-nabe (a hot pot), which is what sumo wrestlers eat to gain their bulk.

While sushi is the most recognisable Japanese food in Australia, it isn’t as celebrated in its native home. Instead, there are Ramen bars that serve noodles which are significantly better than the instant variety, and izakaya, which are reasonably priced corner restaurants with local vibes. Yakiniku (BBQ) is also popular with locals, as is other local styles such as Teppan-yaki. A battered mix cooked in Osaka on a hot plate is called Okonomiyaki, and Monjayaki, which is a Tokyo variation. Preparation of the battered mix is entirely up to the customer, meaning that the resulting pancake is only limited by one’s tastes and preferences, though helpful staff are always on hand to cook the house special. Besides Ramen, there are many types of soba, which is thicker with variations made from rice. Every area has famous specialties: Hokkaido is famous for king crabs and a salmon stew called Ishikari-nabe. Nagoya is renowned for Miso Katsu, fried pork fillet with sweet miso sauce. There are also fast food outlets, but with a Japanese twist, such as mayonnaise on pizza. A Japanese kind of fast food is Gyudon, essentially beef on rice that is tastier than it sounds. There is also high cuisine and specialty food to suit the most demanding gourmet, whether it is high-end sushi restaurants or Wagyu premium beef. For thrill seekers, there is fugu, a poisonous blowfish that is expertly prepared by a certified chef.

Sake (called Nihonshu in Japanese), or Japanese rice wine, comes in a wide range of qualities and distillation methods: micro-distilleries, premium aged types and local styles. Niigata Prefecture is known for its premium sake made from pure alpine water from melted snow. Another variation is Shochu, a kind of Japanese Vodka.


Enjoy Japan’s iconic drink on any occasion!

With an unmatched tradition dating back some 2,000 years, sake is one of Japan’s most enduring products. Its unique qualities have been enjoyed throughout Japan for centuries but have only recently begun to attract international attention. On top of its newfound fame as a fashionable drink in both the United States and France, in 2007 in England a special sake category was created in a wine competition, further boosting its profile and popularity.

A perfect match for all cuisine

Like beer and wine, sake ingredients are fermented to produce alcohol. The drink can be enjoyed either hot or cold, with a temperature range from 5oC to 55oC being suitable for drinking. This “Magic water” also combines amazingly well with almost any kind of cuisine, making it the perfect accompaniment. For example, when drunk with fish or shellfish, sake works to amply the natural flavours while neutralising
any fishy odours. Unlike many other alcoholic drinks, sake harmonises nicely with fresh fruit and also blends superbly with miso, soy sauce and most soup dishes.

The 1,700 sake breweries spread throughout Japan are known for creating sake with a wide variety of flavours. Sake flavour depends on the quality of the two main ingredients: a special type of rice and water. Typically, water makes up 80% of a brew. The brewing process itself also plays an integral role in determining the flavour of the sake.

Sake production methods

Sake can broadly be divided into the three categories of Ginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu and Junmai-shu with the classification of the sake dependant on the degree of polishing
of the rice. The polishing of the rice is based on a percentage level.

For example, if the rice is polished to 60%, it means 40% of the outer part of the brown rice has been removed. Rice polished as close to the core of the grain as possible creates a consistently clean and clear taste.

Ginjo-shu sake uses white rice polished to less than 60%, koji yeast, water and brewer’s alcohol.

The Ginjo brewing method is then employed to produce sake with a nice, fruity aroma and clean taste.

Honjozo-shu uses the same ingredients as Ginjo-shu but the rice is polished up to 70% to give an appealing flavour of sake that is clean and very well priced.

Unlike Ginjo-shu and Honjozo-shu, Junmai-shu places no limitations on the amount of rice polishing and also does not use brewer’s alcohol as an ingredient. This gives the sake a true rice flavour with acidic characteristics.

The three main sake types can also be split further into the subcategories of
Daiginjo-shu, Junmai daiginjo-shu and Junmai ginjo-shu.

Sake from the sacred peaks of Mt. Hakkai – Hakkaisan八海山


The ranges of Mt. Hakkai form a string of craggy peaks that run through Minami Uonuma City of Niigata Prefecture. At an average height of 1,778m at their highest peaks, the mountains have long been worshipped as one of Japan’s sacred sites. The Uonuma basin that spreads out from their foothills is covered in the wintertime with a heavy snow so deep, you can not see over the top of the snowbanks.

Japan’s regional varieties of sake, collectively known by the term jizake, are a
product of the environment and customs of the region in which they are produced, and each region in Japan is the proud owner of its own unique flavor. The sake of Niigata and Uonuma City in particular is known for its sharp flavor and almost complete lack of any overpowering notes,made possible by the incredibly soft water that flows down from Mt. Hakkai and the constant low temperatures found in Japan’s snowiest regions.

Brewers often describe the land as if it had been gifted by the gods purely for the production of sake.
Hakkaisan sake is one of Niigata’s most famous local sake varieties from the city
of Minami Uonuma, produced by Hakkai Brewery Co., Ltd. Ever since its establishment
in 1922, this brewery has striven to produce only the finest sake. Taking the
greatest care in selecting ingredients, no expense is spared in the methods and
facilities used in production, with the aim of delivering the highest quality sake to as broad an audience as possible. To achieve this aim, Hakkai Brewery ensures that the rice malt used to create all its sake, not just the higher-grade daiginjoshu and junmai daiginjoshu varieties, is prepared entirely by hand. While the rice malt itself is undoubtedly a highly important element of sake that greatly influences its end taste and overall quality, the brewers of Hakkai Brewery believe that only rice malt that has been prepared by hand is fit to meet their exacting standards.

Needless to say, producing the best possible sake means using the best possible
ingredients. In this case, that means water and rice. The water used in brewing Hakkaisan is a clear water known as the water of the lightning god Raiden-sama that runs from the peaks of Mt. Hakkai and is used not only as brewing water, but in all stages of the brewing process. The rice, too, is taken from the local gohyakumangoku and yam adanishiki varieties that are highly suited to sake production, another of Hakkai Breweries efforts towards promoting local production and local consumption.

These carefully selected ingredients are then combined using traditional methods that consist of countless steps to produce a sake of the highest quality that is humanly possible.

The culmination of these efforts to create the best possible product with only the
greatest ingredients is a sake that is free of overpowering flavors, as well as a palate that is perfectly balanced and a flavor and aroma that is clear. The sake’s taste is strong enough to let it stand on its own, yet subtle enough to make it the perfect partner for any meal, with a taste that is fresh and new no matter how many times you have tasted it before. Hakkaisan has a unique taste that lingers not only on your palate, but also in your memory.

Outlets for Hakkaisan sake and related goods
Izakaya Masuya
A Japanese restaurant in Sydney’s CBD and specialist spot for junmaishu sake, Izakaya Masuya is one location where you can enjoy a special brand of Hakkai Brewery’s Hakkaisan sake that is made especially for the overseas market. The bright blue bottle is decorated with a label that shows a likeness of the Mt.Hakkai ranges, and its contents has a clear look and a smooth taste. The sake’s characteristic soft aroma and junmaishu taste have gained it high regard with sake
fans the world over.

Address: Ground Floor, 12-14 O’connell St., Sydney NSW
Tel: (02)9233-8181
Mon – Sat 12PM – 2PM, 6PM – Late

Uonuma no Sato

A multi-purpose facility operated by the Hakkai Brewery, Uonuma no Sato includes stores for soba noodles and Japanese sweets throughout the peaceful countryside of Minami Uonuma City.

Amongst the foothills of Mt. Hakkai, a mini library with a collection of books on sake and food can be found, as well as places to take a rest. Here visitors can purchase Hakkaisan sake, along with a variety of other local specialties from the Uonuma region.

What’s more, summer 2013 is set to bring a new addition in the form of the largest snow room in all of Japan. This enormous freezer with its low temperature, humidity and dim lighting all year round, afforded by over 1000 tons of snow, is perfect for storing not only sake but also carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables. The snow room will host a shop for food under the theme of rice, rice malt and fermentation called Snow Room – Sennen Koujiya, with a shop called Okatte that handles kitchen goods. The snow room’s beautiful decorations representing all of the four seasons are sure to evoke nostalgic memories, allowing visitors to sample what many characterise as the true face of the Uonuma region.

415-23 Nagamori Minami-Uonuma City, Niigata
Tel: 81-(0)25-775-2975
Trading hours may vary depending on stores

Sennen Koujiya
Sennen Koujiya is Uonuma’s brand of food and culture produced by the Hakkai Brewery. In addition to its head store in Niigata and the snow room, branches can also be found in Tokyo’s Azabujuban and Kagurazaka. Not only do they offer carefully selected traditional food and ingredients from the Uonuma region, the stores also stock original foodstuffs created by Sennen Koujiya and numerous other popular items. The meticulously produced rice malt created by the brewers of Hakkai Brewery, as well as other select items such as salted rice malt, are a hit with customers.

Head store 627-8 Nagamori Minamiuonuma-city Niigata
Tel: 81-(0)25-775-2604 7 Days 9AM – 6PM / Azabujuban
1-6-7 Azabujuban, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 81-(0)3-5772-3930
7 Days 11AM – 8PM /

Kagurazaka 109 Porta Kagurazaka, 2-6-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 81-(0)3-5227-8130
7days 11AM – 8PM /

Snow Room
(set to open in summer 2013) 415-23 Nagamori Minami-Uonuma City, Niigata