Sake is probably the best know of all Japanese beverages. It is an alcoholic brewed drink which is produced from rice.
Sometimes called rice wine, sake dates back around 6000 years when the Chinese first experimented with fermented rice. It is believed Japan started producing sake or kuchikami as it was known around the 3rd century. It was more of a porridge like product, and the alcohol was a lot lower than we are accustomed to today.
Today there are two basic types of sake, futsu-shu is the normal sake and the premium special designation sake is known as tokutei meisho-shu. Normal sake makes up about 90% of all sake produced and is used as a table wine. Tokutei meisho-shu sake is made out of finely polished rice kernel without the outer parts. It makes a clearer colour and taste, it is traditionally used for special occasions.
Sake plays a major part in Japanese culture and is used in many rituals. Sake is served during Shinto festivals and ceremonies and after sporting victories. It is served to spread good fortune.
Sake packaging is usually beautiful. It is distributed in bottles similar to wine but with decorative Japanese labels. Larger quantities are distributed in wooden barrels which are again decorated with fancy labels.
Sake can be served chilled, hot or warm depending on how the drinker likes it. Usually it is served hot during the colder months. It is said that warm sake is absorbed by the body faster. Usually sake is drunk from shallow cups called choko. During ceremonies there is usually sakazakis used which are special footed glasses.
There are some 1500 sake breweries in Japan and they are starting to pop up in other parts of Asia and South America. Many of the breweries are becoming boutique and turning back to the older methods of production, making some superior quality beverages.