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Inhaltsangabe: This is a rack-sized edition of the guide to Japan's national drink - Sake.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.: The Drink of the Gods

The Kojiki, one of Japan's oldest historical chronicles, traces the origin of sake to the "age of the gods." Susanoonomikoto, the brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu, is said to have saved Princess Kushinada from the Great Serpent of Yamata Lake by brewing eight huge vats of sake, enticing the Great Serpent to drink, and then slaying him with his magical sword. According to some sake connoisseurs, especially those who have been imbibing freely, Susanoonomikoto's brewing techniques were adopted by early Japanese people and have passed down intact to the present day. More likely, sophisticated brewing techniques started coming to Japan from China in about the seventh century, probably by two routes: one directly from the southeastern provinces to Japan, and the other by way of Korea. The Kojiki itself records how a foreign brewmaster by the name of Susukori came to Japan as early as the third century A.D. and brewed rice wine for the emperor Ojin.

The Japanese, however, were drinking sake even before their first contact with China. Local histories written during the Nara period (710-94) suggest that the first sake in Japan was called kuchikami no sake, or "chewing-in-the mouth sake." As its unsavory name suggests, this sake was made by chewing rice, chestnuts, or millet and then spitting the wad into a large wooden tub, where it was allowed to brew for several days. We know today that enzymes contained in saliva will convert starch into glucose, which will in turn be converted into alcohol as airborne yeast grow on the mash.

The brewing of this most ancient of sakes was one of the rituals performed during Shinto religious festivals. There were many local variations. In some areas, the head of the village would lead all the members of the village in performing the ceremony of chewing the rice and spitting it into a vessel. In one of the most widespread forms of the ritual, said to have been practiced until recent times in some Ainu villages in Hokkaido and in rural areas of Okinawa, only young virgins were allowed to chew the rice. These virgins were considered mediums of the gods, and the sake they produced was called bijinshu, or "beautiful woman sake."

[Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of the book. The discussion of jummai-shu is followed by ten other types.]

Types of Sake

As was discussed in Part 1, modernization has led to an increasing exploitation of new techniques of adding alcohol, sugar, cultivated yeast, and other ingredients at various stages in the production process. These continue to be the subjects of intense debate. Purists insist that sake should be made from rice, Koji rice, and water only, while many brewers contend that the addition of alcohol and other ingredients enables them to respond quickly to changes in consumer tastes and produce excellent sakes at affordable prices. Whatever one's position on this issue, consumers have the right to know what they are buying. In 1975 the Japan Sake Brewers Association finally established self-governing rules for the industry, and these rules were further strengthened in 1982. While still a far cry from the French Appellation Controllee system, the labeling standards enforced under the Association system provide a much better idea than before of where the sake comes from, what is in it, and how it was brewed. Common Association and other frequently seen designations are outlined below.

In an important sense, all of the special labeling designations given here describe special types of sake. In addition to the brand name and advertising slogans, the labels on most of the sakes on the market contain only the information required by law: the address of the brewer, the date of bottling, the alcohol content, and ingredients. The point worth noting is that if the label doesn't mention any of the special designations, the sake is simply an ordinary brew-heightened consumer consciousness has given these designations advertisement value, and brewers will not miss a chance to display them. This is also important because designations are sometimes used together. For example, jummai taru-zake is pure-rice cask sake, and a sake that is only labeled taruzake is cask sake but almost certainly not pure rice sake.

Because these designations are usually not written in English on the labels, on the following pages they appear in both romanized transcription as well as the original Japanese.

Jummai-shu

This is "pure rice" sake in which only rice, koji rice, and water are used as ingredients, with no additions of alcohol, sugar, or anything else (water, however, is added at the end to dilute the sake to about 16 percent alcohol). While these sakes have become a special type in the Japanese market, this category is the most important for Americans because under American tax laws, only "pure rice sake" can be imported. At least in terms of ingredients, jummai-shu is closest to the traditional sakes of the Edo period, and it is becoming increasingly popular among young Japanese, many of whom have joined the natural foods movement with a vengeance. Jummai-shu tends to have a heavier taste than most of the better sakes produced by the large makers, which usually have added alcohol. Rice for the standard jummai-shu is polished to 70 percent of its original size, or reduced 30 percent. Two other designations, jummai ginjo-shu and jummai dai ginjo-shu, are polished to 60 and 50 percent respectively. The designation tokubetsu jummai-shu indicates a sake brewed with special care and a polishing of at least 60 percent.

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