Sake Shorthand

Everything you need to know about Japanese rice wine
By Linda Burum for


Rich and mellow, crisp and dry, or as floral as a perfume—the wide-ranging flavors of   sake, Japan’s traditional rice-based alcoholic beverage, often surprises those who’ve experienced only futsu-shu—mass-produced sake served heated in ceramic flasks. Premium sakes, frequently consumed slightly chilled in stemware to reveal their subtle nature, are known as jizake, which translates roughly as “country style.” But for Japanese connoisseurs, the term implies much more.

Jizake makers employ time-consuming, detail-oriented procedures eschewed by futsu-shu producers. In some cases regional rice varieties, local water, and specific yeasts may contribute to a sake’s individuality and distinctive flavor. Of the nearly 1,500 sake makers—known as kuras—scattered across all but one of Japan’s provinces, most have been family-run for many generations. Now their sakes are finding a sophisticated international audience of devotees who are discovering their tantalizing nuances and low acidity, and how sake can equal wine in the way it enhances many foods.

[[