So you’re ready to start discovering all that sake has to offer. But where to start?
With sake’s magic number. It won’t tell you everything, just like a single data point for a wine could never tell you everything. It’s a tool. Like a compass, only able to guide you in one dimension, but enough to help you get your bearings and start exploring.
All premium sake has a number on the label – some will even have it in their name. It could be low (like Dassai 23), it could be high (Kirei Shuzō Karakuchi 80). This number tells you how much of the rice grain was used to make the sake.
Imagine a grain of brown whole rice, and one polished white. Polishing removes the outer layers, which contain lots of protein, and leaves the inner layers which are packed with starch. The higher the number, the more protein, the more savoury amino acids and umami. The lower the number, the more starch, resulting in sweeter, clearer flavours.
23% and 80% are both outliers – most premium sake will fall between 40% and 70%. (Any number under 22 is probably alcohol content, and 100 normally refers to the origin or type of rice – using the whole grain is very rare.) Use this number to start drawing your personal map of sake. Start with a small number, see how you like it. Jump to a big one. Wander around in the middle for a bit, you have nothing to lose. It’s all good, just different.
This number is also part of the Japanese classification system for sake, but even if the Japanese terms slip your mind you’ll always have the magic number to fall back on. So check the label and get started! See what numbers in the shop look lucky, sample sake from both ends of the scale (Dassai 23 and Kirei Shuzō Karakuchi 80) or pick up the Kikizake Set which is specially selected to show you how the amount of the rice grain used influences flavour.
Click Here for our current Sake offer from Retro Vino