Recently, sake has been growing in popularity along with the boom that Japanese food has been experiencing. We’re sure many of you have been able to experience Japanese sake. As with wine, the taste of a sake changes along with the region in which it’s produced.
In this entry, we’d like to introduce local sakes, a must-know if you are a fan of sake. We’ll explain the differences between local and normal sake, as well as what makes each region special.
Just what is local sake? The differences between local and normal sake
“Local sake” is a sake distinctive of a specific region. However, the differences between the normal sake that you can find almost anywhere and local sake aren’t well defined.
In many cases, the sake produced by major breweries for distribution all over the country is called “Nihon-shu.” In contrast, sake brewed in areas outside of Kyoto Prefecture’s Fushimi and Hyogo Prefecture’s Nada area, production areas for sake from long ago, are called “Ji-zake” or “local sake.”
There are also local sakes that sell for a premium
Before distribution channels were well established, local sake produced in areas other than Kyoto Prefecture and Hyogo Prefecture was sold at a lower price as a lower-ranked sake.
Lately, however, the trend has been reversed as local sakes are starting to see their prices rise. With a lower production volume and breweries often using local ingredients characteristic of their region, local sakes are growing in popularity.
Among these, there are even those that are sold at a premium thanks to the proliferation of the internet.
Differences between the characteristics and flavors of local sakes by region
Local sake in particular has a wide variety of types and it can be easy to lose one’s way when trying to pick the right one. That’s why we’re going to go over a number of characteristics for each region that you should know when picking a local sake.
Japan is a country spread out from the North to the South. The length of the country brings large differences in climate between northern and southern regions. These differences are reflected in the flavors of each sake. Generally speaking, dry sake is more common in the North, with sweeter sake being more common in the South.
A region with sake that is refreshing, dry and well-balanced. The climate is good for the making of sake, with cool summers and cold winters. In a region full of lush nature, sake is made with things like the water from melted snow.
・ Tohoku Region
With heavy snowfall and a low temperature, a fermentation process that takes place over a long time at a low temperature is what makes this region stand out. This long fermentation time produces many sake with a smooth flavor. This region produces a lot of rice, the raw ingredient in sake.
・ Kanto Region
It’s possible to find sake from all over the country in this region that includes Tokyo. However, the climate isn’t well suited for fermentation and there are not many sake breweries. Having said that, of the breweries that are in this region, many are high quality. This comes as they are able to get delicious water from Mt. Fuji and because the region attracts information and people with a high level of skill.
・ Chubu Region
The humidity is high, making the climate well-suited to sake brewing. The region produces rice well-suited to sake brewing and is rich in delicious water. A large number of unique breweries help this region stand out. For example, there are those that sell well-aged sakes left to mature for many years and those that sell unpasteurized sakes, which haven’t been heated to stop the fermentation process.
・ Kinki Region (Kansai Region)
This region has areas like Kyoto, famous for sake production, and Nara Prefecture, known as the birthplace of sake. It also has a rich history of sake brewing that dates back over 1,000 years. It’s also where Hyogo Prefecture is located. The prefecture is famous for its “Yamada Nishiki” rice, the rice most often used to make Japanese sake.
・ Chugoku Region
A region with a lot of sweet sake. This region features many sake that are smooth and easy to drink thanks to their usage of soft water.
・ Shikoku Region
As this region has a warm climate that isn’t particularly suited to the brewing of sake, brewing is done at high elevations in the mountains and so on. It also has the river with the cleanest water in all of Japan.
・ Kyushu / Okinawa Region
This region has a warm climate that isn’t well suited to the brewing of sake. This is why shochu, distilled spirits, are more commonly produced here. However, there are shochu breweries that also produce sake. Techniques unique to a warm climate can be found here, like brewing sake with the black rice malt typically used in shochu.
If you are not good at picking out differences between the flavors of different sake or would like to try local sakes, we recommend trying to find the sake of a region you would like to visit or are interested in. To those of you who already have a sake that you enjoy, we recommend searching for other sake produced in the same region.
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