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Food For Thought Sake 101
(Entered Nov. 29, 2006)
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Perhaps no other alcoholic drink is as representative of a country as sake is of Japan. When you think of wine, you probably think of France but there's also Italy, Spain, California, etc. Same goes for beer which is famous in many countries around the world, but no one would disagree that sake belongs to Japan and Japan alone. However besides the fact that sake is made from rice, what do you know about it? Speaking for myself, not much, so Kumi and I decided to visit a sake factory to find out more about Japan's national drink.
First part of the tour was a little class on the finer points of sake brewing, how sake differs from beer and wine, etc, all in Japanese of course. The techincal aspects would have been lost on me but the professor here kindly gave me a brochure in English so I could follow along somewhat. I'd tell you about it but to be honest, the brewing process isn't exciting enough to warrant being included here. In fact it's so techincal that one wonders how sake was ever invented in the first place. If you really want to know the step by step brewing process go to the sake factory yourself.


This thing is called a sakabayashi, a traditional ball made from cedar branches and hung under the eaves of the brewery. The brewery makes a nice new green one each year which is the signal to customers that the sake is ready to be sold. I guess at the end of the year it is a rotted, dry, brown ball....


The factory was a dark, chilly place with little action and nothing much of interest. Mainly we saw a bunch of vats. Here's vat 214 8101 doing what it does best.


Next to karaoke and karate, sake is probably one of the most mispronounced of all words borrowed from the Japanese language. It is not pronounced with a silent 'e' as in 'for god's sake', nor is it pronounced 'saki' as in 'key'. Instead the 'ke' at the end is pronounced like 'kay' rhyming with 'day'.
Rows upon rows of bottles ready to go to market! The professor told us that all the sake in the factory together represents something like 200,000,000 yen, about $2.0 million.


Finally, the real reason why the tourists come here in the first place, free sake tasting. Hardcore alcoholics would have a great time since it was basically all you can drink. The professor put out some bottles and cups, stood back, and we of the tour group went at it. The cup's blue and white circles are supposed to help you determine the quality of the sake somehow, or something like that. Peering into my cup I pronounced that everything about the sake seemed to be in good order. It was colourless and smelled like sake, what else could you ask of sake? It was also mentioned that this sake had a distinct melon-like taste, and true enough, it was melony. But was it good?


It's ironic that I don't even like sake to start with, yet here I am in a sake factory. My introduction to sake goes way back to the plane flight which first brought me to Japan. When I took one sip I grimaced in disgust and left the rest of the bottle for the stewardess to take away. Since then I've never liked it, not even really good quality sake. Sad to say but this factory's sake didn't do anything to change my attitude. Still, it was an interesting learning experience. Cheers!




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