(n.) References to sake, a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice, date back over a thousand years. The production of sake is most similar to beer: rice grains are harvested, milled and polished, then soaked and steamed. A cultivated microbe, koji, is introduced and the rice is simultaneously broken down into glucose and fermented for up three to six weeks in large vats. The resulting liquid is then filtered and diluted with water to around 16 percent AVB.
Polishing the kernels of rice before fermentation results in several different quality levels of sake: junmai, made from rice whose hulls have been milled down by 30 percent at the more rustic end; and junmai ginjo (40 percent) and junmai daiginjo (50 percent) on the more refined side. The junmai designation indicates that no distilled alcohol has been added. There are also unfiltered sakes (nigori), aged sakes (koshu) and sparkling sakes.
Other factors affecting the quality include the water from the particular region, temperature at the brewery (the colder the better) and the strains of yeast and rice used. Pairing sake with food can be an intricate game, but an easy rule of thumb is to match sakes with their regional cuisine, though there is plenty of room to cross-pollinate pairings with Western food.
The best sakes are served chilled or at room temperature, and more and more often good examples are showing up on the best wine lists in the world. Sake also makes a fine mixer for delicate cocktails.