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Sake is the traditional rice wine of Japan. It comes in several different varieties, and was first made at least 2,000 years ago. Since then, sake has played an important role in Japanese culture and history. From its origins as the "drink of the Gods" to its current status as one of the most popular drinks in the country, the history of sake is steeped in tradition, innovation, and custom. 

Sake was first brewed in Japan after the practice of wet rice cultivation was introduced in that country around 300 B.C. Though the origins of sake can be traced in China as far back as 4,000 B.C., it was the Japanese who began mass production of this simple but delicious rice concoction. The basic process of making sake involves "polishing" or milling the rice kernels, which were then cooked in good, clean water and made into a mash. The earliest "polishing" was done by a whole village: each person would chew rice and nuts and then spit the mixture into a communal tub – the sake produced was called "kuchikami no sake," which is Japanese for "chewing the mouth sake." The chewing process introduced the enzymes necessary for fermentation. Although it was part of a Shinto religious ceremony, this practice was discontinued when it was learned that Koji (a mold enzyme) and yeast could be added to the rice to start the fermentation process. Click here to read more.

Sake is one of the most popular drinks in Japan, and plays an integral role in Japanese culture and tradition. Sake has been made in Japan for over 2,000 years, and significant advances have been made in the production process throughout the years. Though it is called rice "wine," the process of making Sake has more in common with the brewing of beer. The parallels with beer are many, because unlike wine sake is not aged for more than six months. But sake should not be compared too closely with beer, because it is not carbonated, and is also considered a healthy drink because many of the impurities in the rice are eliminated during the lengthy and complicated brewing process. 

Sake has basically four ingredients. The first and perhaps most important is rice, and there are approximately 46 types of rice used to produce sake. That may not seem remarkable until you consider that there are more than 120,000 different varieties of rice in the world. Sake rice is selected because it is has a larger kernel, and also because it is easier to work with than other grains. In the first step of the brewing process, the rice is "polished:" machines mill the grain of rice to eliminate the outer layers, leaving only the starch-rich "packet" in the center of each grain of rice. Interestingly the milling process was once completed by hand, or rather by mouth. Ancient sake production saw "chewing parties" as part of a Shinto fertility rite: a whole village would chew the grains of rice with nuts and spit the chewed product into a large tub. Fortunately for quality control standards and hygiene, this practice of producing kuchikami no saké ("chewing in the mouth saké") has long since been discontinued. Click here to read more.

Sake has several different import uses in Japanese culture and tradition. Though this delicious and savory beverage has been around for more than 2,000 years and has over 10,000 varieties, up until the last twenty years or so sake has been mostly produced and consumed in Japan. But a recent surge in popularity has brought sake to new markets around the world. This has meant that along with traditional ways of drinking sake there are a wide variety of new sake drinks to sample and enjoy. 

Sake is used for many purposes in Japan's most prominent religion, Shinto. A Shinto bride and groom consume 9 drinks of sake during their wedding ceremony to seal their vows. The image of the moon reflected in a sake bowl is also significant in Shinto, and sake is also consumed on special occasions to promote good health. But sake is more than a religious drink: sake is consumed in everyday life, as well. Sake is generally served before a meal. Because it is made with rice, most Japanese people will not drink sake with a rice dish, but sake can accompany other dishes. Click here to read more.

Sake was first made in Japan over 2,000 years ago, and in the intervening years there have been many different types of sake produced. The first makers of sake would probably not recognize the rice wine of today: evolution and revolution have radically altered the sake brewing process and, indeed, the final product. Nowadays, there are more than 10,000 different varieties of sake produced, and with so many to choose from it can be hard to figure out which sake is right for which occasion. But fortunately there are different classifications to help you choose the sake that is right for you. 

What separates the different types of sake is the production process, where two factors determine the quality of the sake. The first is the "polishing" process, where rice is gently milled to remove the unnecessary fatty acids and impurities in the outer layers of the each grain of rice. Most sake rice is polished to about 80 percent of its original sized kernel. Rice that has been ground to 70 percent or less of its original kernel size is considered high quality. The other factor that influences quality is whether or not distilled alcohol is added during the final stages of production. Alcohol is typically added to increase the yield of each batch, but many of the best types of sake are still made with only water, rice, koji (mold used to convert the rice's starch into sugar), and yeast. Click here to read more.

There are lots of ways to enjoy sake. Whether you want to drink it straight up or as part of one of the many new mixed sake drinks available, sake makes a great aperitif, dinner companion, or dessert wine. But what you may not be able to determine easily is whether you should be serving it warm or cold. While you may have believed that all sake should be served warm, there are a few varieties better suited to cooler temperatures. By finding the right temperature, you can enhance your sake experience. 

Sake can be enjoyed at a variety of temperatures, from just above freezing to approximately 130 degrees Fahrenheit. At each step of the temperature gradient, a single type of sake can have a subtly different taste. In general terms, sake becomes dryer and more flavorful when heated, and crisper and more aromatic at lower temperatures. Click here to read more.

Sake is an alcoholic rice wine that is native to Japan. It is believed that sake production dates back to the 3rd century, around the same time rice planting methods in Japan became common practice. There are many different varieties of sake, which are classified based on whether or not alcohol has to be added after the initial rice fermentation, and exactly how much rice is milled prior to sake brewing. 

Sake can be served either warmed or chilled. Traditionally, sake was served warm because the heat helped bring out a sweeter flavor. This is due the brewing practices at the time that involved fermenting sake mash in cedar vats. The wooden containers produced a cruder, less refined taste than modern brewing techniques, and the heat helped mask this less refined flavor. Many modern-day brands of sake have a more elegant, fruitful flavor to them, and these should be chilled to bring out these lighter tastes. Click here to read more.

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