World Sake Day is tomorrow, folks! To celebrate this delicious Japanese drink, we’ve put together The Urban List’s Sake 101 — a quick-fire guide to the tasty rice beverage, along with the best sake bars in Melbourne. Not sure what you should be ordering? Read on for the essential know-how…
What is sake?
Sake is a Japanese drink traditionally known as a rice wine, although the process of making it through fermentation is much more like brewing than wine-making. It is usually colourless and transparent, but unfiltered, milky-coloured sakes are also found on the market, and are just as delicious.
What should I be taking about?
All sake is graded using a system, which reflects its ingredients, and the process used to mill the rice when making it.
The more of each rice grain that has been ground away before fermenting it, the more premium the sake (and the slower the techniques used to ferment it, resulting in a more well-rounded and complex flavour). And, when it comes to ingredients, some sakes have distilled alcohol added to them at the end of the fermentation process — this doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of the sake, but in general cheaper, low-quality sakes are made up of more distilled alcohol that has been added after fermentation.
The type of sake
There are 5 main types of sake…
- Nigori, which is ‘cloudy sake’ that tastes sweet and gentle in flavour.
- Nama or Namazake, which is unpasteurised sake that is tangy and can taste almost sparkling.
- Genshu, which is undiluted sake that is around 20% alcohol, instead of around 15%, which most table sakes are.
- Muroka, which is unfiltered sake that is rich and darker in colour. One for the braver sake fiends!
- Kōshu, which is aged sake that tastes sweet and is reminiscent of brandy.
- Yamahai or kimoto, which taste earthy and are made using very old methods.
In short, try a few and discover what you like!
The acidity and sake meter value
All sakes have an acidity rating and a sake meter value. It all sounds very scientific but essentially, these two values tell you whether a sake is sharp and dry, or sweet.
If you like things dry, ask for a sake with a high acidity and a high SMV. If you want something that’s sweet and easy-drinking, ask for a low-acidity, low SMV sake.
Whether it’s warmed or not: If you’re drinking an expensive sake, warming can sometimes destroy its flavours, so it’s always best to check if the sake you’ve ordered is best warm or cold.
Where can I find the best sake in Melbourne?
Sake Bar & Restaurant, Melbourne CBD
One of Melbourne’s best Japanese restaurants on the south-side riverbank, Sake bar and restaurant serves up some incredible food, as well as a range of sakes designed to be served solo and some tasty sake cocktails. Our top tip is the Kozaemon Junmai Daiginjo for something delicate that’s a great example of a crisp sake.
Nihonshu, Melbourne CBD
Nihonshu Sake & Shohu Bar carries an epic variety of sake, from prime mid-range examples to some of the best sake in the world. If you’re dropping in for a bevvy on a budget, it’s worth asking what their sake of the week is, which is available by the glass. If you’re high-rolling, go for the Kitamohorame Gokutaiho—super-light and perfectly balanced sake at its best.
One of the newest additions to Melbourne's Japanese restaurant scene, Toko on Greville Stret keeps an incredible selection of sakes that can be served warm or cold. With over sixty varieties and styles to choose from, it's the ideal venue for trying a few different styles over some delicious sharing plates. Great for kicking off the weekend in Japanese style.
Izakaya Den, Hihou and Kappo, Melbourne CBD
Restaurateur Simon Denton owns this trio of impeccable Japanese venues, which all serve a fantastic selection of Japanese sake, whisky and food. If you’re looking for a sake date spot, we would recommend Hihou or Kappo, and for a traditional dining experience with matched sake, visit Izakaya Den.
Robot Bar, Melbourne CBD
Tucked down an alleyway, Robot Bar serves mouth-watering sake, Asian beers, cocktails and bar snacks. Again, the staff here are very knowledgeable, so if you’re dropping in for a tipple, it’s best to ask for advice.
Monkey King, Melbourne CBD
We can’t remember exactly what we were served here, and it doesn’t seem to be on the menu, but Monkey King serves a delicious fruity sake cocktail if you like your rice wine shaken, stirred and sipped with ice.
Looking for more sake hot-spots? Check out our full list of Melbourne’s Best Sake Bars.
Image credit: Luxurious magazine