The month of May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and reflect on the many cultures in that region. Today we thought we’d focus a bit more specificallty on a part of Japanese culture you probably know of, but may not be very familiar with - sake.
To learn more about this Japanese beverage, we spoke with Hajime Sato, the Executive Chef and Owner of Sozai in Clawson. Not only is he currently a James Beard Finalist, the winners will be announced in June, but he is also Certified Sake Advisor.
According to Sato, there are a lot of misconceptions about sake, including that it is a Japanese rice wine. While yes, the drink originates from Japan and is made with rice, it is not really a wine at all. The process of making sake is actually much closer to how they beer. Rice is a starch, much like the grains they use to make beer, and to the rice they add a mold called koji to break the rice down into sugars, then yeast is added to ferment the rice and turn it into sake.
Another common misconception is that sake is very alcoholic, like distilled liquor. In fact, the alcohol content of most sake is around 15%, perhaps this is why some people associate it with wine, as the alcohol content is similar.
Now let’s talk about drinking it. Sake can actually be served at a variety of temperatures, but it should never be served so hot that you cannot enjoy the taste of it. Some sake is best served chilled, and when that is the case, Hajime recommends using a glass vessel to drink it in. Other sakes taste better warm, not hot, and are served in clay vessels to help maintain the heat. Though, he says, you can get into way more detail about the style of cup for each sake as the shape of the cup can affect the mouth feel of the drink.
Before drinking you should smell the drink first, notice the aroma, and then sip it, similar to how you would taste beer or wine. Sake has a wide range of flavors going from fruity to almost creamy. Watch the video above to watch Michelle Oliver, Tati Amare, and Jody Trieweiler try a variety of different sake.
Sozai is located at 449 W 14 Mile Road in downtown Clawson. If you would like to dine and get sake expertly paired with your food, it is best to make a reservation.