What is Sake… Really?

By now, you’ve heard of sake. It’s that clear… sometimes, cloudy drink that you sometimes get at Japanese Restaurants. It is served cold, and sometimes hot. You don’t really question why they do that, but you enjoy being part of something delicious. So, you go with the flow. Maybe?  

But, If you secretly had this question: “…what is Sake….really?” 

Don’t worry! You are not alone!  

By definition, Sake is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from rice. If you combine rice specifically grown for Sake, with Water, Yeast and Mold, you can create Sake.   The alcohol level usually is around 15-20+ %, depending on the kind of Sake. 

Japanese people have been enjoying Sake from the Nara Period, or about the year 700 AD.  It’s intertwined with Shinto, Japan’s national religion, and used for purification at many rites and festivals.  

As the national beverage of Japan, Sake is served at traditional ceremonies, including official occasions, weddings, funerals, New Year Greetings and Tea Ceremonies, Groundbreaking Ceremonies, and many more family occasions. The drinking gesture (i.e., the cleansing gesture) actually is more important than the drinking.

Sake is more than a drink – it’s a lifestyle!

Here are some special seasonal times when sake holds extra significance:

  • Hanami:  Hanami (花見) literally means “flower viewing” and commonly refers to the most important Japanese flower, the Cherry Blossom. In the spring, it is a tradition for friends to gather, sitting underneath spectacular displays of lighted spring cherry blossoms, and drink Sake throughout the night. The chance for this springtime tradition lasts only a few short days each year, but the history of Hanami goes back more than 1000 years.
  • Tsukimi: Tsukimi (月見) , literally means “moon-viewing”.  In the fall, at the time of the largest moon in September or October, there is a tradition for friends to gather in a place where the moon can be seen and enjoy a glass or two (or more…?) of Sake. The chance for this autumn tradition lasts only a day, but it was a way of expressing gratitude for a good harvest and hopes for a similar bounty in the future, while enjoying the beautiful light of the moon.

But…. at the end of the day, do we need a reason to enjoy delicious Sake? 

I’d say the answer is……… “Not at all!”

Let’s all enjoy exploring delicious sake!