However, one of my favorite genres is the samurai movie. Some excellent movies to watch are mostly the ones starring Japan’s equivalent to Clint Eastwood: Toshiro Mifune. His works with Akira Kurosawa are some stellar pieces of cinematography. ‘Yoshiro,” ‘Sanjuro” and ‘Seven Samurai” are amazing movies and ‘Mifune” is a total bad-ass.
Thus, it would make sense to honor the complete awesomeness of these movies with an appropriate drink. For me, this drink is a traditional Japanese drink: sake. A delicious amalgamation of rice, mold and yeast, this beverage is the beer of Japan and it’s awesome, to boot.
How is sake made? A large quantity of rice is polished, literally by scrubbing the rice to remove unwanted proteins and non-fermentable portions. This rice is then rested, rinsed and finally cooked to a particular doneness. Then the magic happens. A small segment of the cooked rice is infused with ‘koji,” or Aspergillus oryzae, a mold that breaks the complex starches in the rice down into fermentable sugars.
Since rice is the end-product of plant growth, there aren’t any natural enzymes that break down starches, like in malt production, into sugars so the mold is used to do it for them.
This seeded mixture is added back to the rice, along with a healthy dose of yeast and chemicals (usually lactic acid) that prevent growth of other molds, yeasts and bacteria. This huge batch undergoes multiple fermentations, since the koji mold has to first break down the starches to sugars for the yeast to digest the sugars into good old fashioned booze. The resulting product is a murky, creamy liquid that is pressed out of the digested rice at the end of fermentation. The lees (the particulate junk left over) is filtered out, the entire batch is sanitized, cut to bottle proof and bottled.
The quality of sake mainly depends on three things: the rice, adjuncts and what’s known as brewer’s alcohol. The quality is often determined by how much the rice is polished. Most high grade sake is polished to a certain percentage of its original weight, which may be 50 percent. Secondly, the highest quality sakes are only made with koji, water, rice and brewer’s alcohol and nothing else. Finally, the addition of brewer’s alcohol is a determinant of quality. Many flavor compounds are soluble in alcohol, so small portions of high proof alcohol are sprinkled over the rice prior to pressing, in order to remove the flavors. The amount of brewer’s alcohol used determines the quality: the more used, the lower the quality generally as the alcohol is used to boost the ending proof instead of remove flavors.
But, dear readers, how does it taste? There are two types of sake, really. There is filtered, and there is non-filtered. Filtered is crystal clear and very clean. Light and fragrant, it has a lot of fruit and slightly cooked rice flavors. The unfiltered is a murky white and is creamy with strong cooked rice flavors, almost like an alcoholic rice pudding. Yum.
There are some excellent brands out there, with my personal favorites made by the Oregon sake brewing company SakeOne (www.sakeone.com). If you’re looking for some sake, check Marketview Liquor, which is where I get most of my stash (and you can usually find me in there on a Friday afternoon as well).
As always, my e-mail is at the bottom of this article. Any questions, comments, concerns, recommendations (both beverage and movie-related), shoot me a line. Kampai!
Spolverino is a member of the class of 2010.
His e-mail address is email@example.com.