Other Articles You Might Like
There are not so many rules surrounding the etiquette of sake drinking, but it is helpful to acquaint yourself with a few basics. It is polite to fill your drinking partner’s glass first usually the younger person fills the older’s glass, and then your partner in turn fills yours a custom known as henpai – . However, by the end of a night’s drinking, everyone usually ditches polite etiquette in favor of tejaku, pouring your own.
Cold sake is sometimes served in a wooden, square, open-topped box, or masu. Thus, it’s known as masuzake. The gentle pine aroma of the container mingles with the sake. Often, a small amount of salt is piled up on a corner of the masu, and the sake dissolves the salt as you take a sip.
At rural inns, sake may be served hot in freshly cut hollow cylinders of green bamboo, which are placed in the ash of hearth to heat. This gives the sake a pleasant bamboo aroma, and is known as take-zake. Visitors passing through Kyoto Station on a visit to Japan can sample this along with a fine washoku meal at the excellent restaurant, Kyoto Wakuden, on the 11th floor of the Isetan depatment store.
A professional sake expert, or kikizakeshi, will judge a sake using a kikijogo a small white o-choko (pictured in the banner for John Gauntner’s Sake Files) , which has an appraisal mark two concentric circles imprinted in the bottom, for judging color and clarity. The best color for sake is aozae, a slight yellow with a tinge of blue. If sake has a brown shading it most likely has too many sub-flavorings. A completely colorless sake will have a flat, two-dimensional flavor.
Bouquet depends on a number of factors, and will indicate whether a sake is to be served by itself or with food. As with a wine sommelier, a kikizakeshi comes with an impressive arsenal of specialist phrases with which to praise or damn. Some of the simpler sake judging terms include amakuchi sweet, karakuchi dry, koku ga aru a phrase implying an earthy depth, kuchi-atari a sake’s initial impression or impact, and its opposite, kire the tail, and oku-bukai which suggests deep complexity.
Seriously rural communities produce their own home made sakes, mostly drunk for their supposedly invigorating (read ‘aphrodisiac’) propensities. The habu shu of Okinawa (pictured here) is quite a common sight in the markets of Naha, and is a reminder of that island’s close cultural affinity with its mainland Asia neighbors..
This writer has sampled mamushi-zake, sake containing a coiled poisonous pit-viper, in Gunma Prefecture, and, at a fire festival on Notojima island in Ishikawa Prefecture, mukade-zake – sake containing a mukade, a poisonous biting centipede related to the scorpion. However, in neither case did we notice any major improvement in our mojo. The mukade-zake resulted in a fairly serious breach of etiquette: a midnight nose-dive into a rice paddy. Come to think of it, the many glasses of normal sake consumed earlier in the evening may have been a contributing factor.