See also: Wine
Unique japanese alcohol made from rice. Its starch is converted to sugars by a mold (aspergillus oryzae) put on the steamed rice, which is then called koji. Then regular steamed rice, koji rice, water and yeast are put in a vat at the same time, making for "multiple parallel fermentation": starch to glucose to alcohol. The process is left to finish naturally, with a brewed product hitting 18-20%.

It can unfiltered (nigori) or filtered. It can be unpasteurized (nama), partially or fully pasteurised. The rice can be milled down to leave over 60% of the original grain (regular), 50-60% (ginjo) or 50% or less (daiginjo). It can have lots or some distilled alcohol added, or none (junmai). It can be undiluted (genshu) or brought down to 15-16%. Many other terms exist, but those are the main types - and the purer the grain, process and taste, the rarer the product. Prices and taste profiles vary wildly. Your tongue is the only final arbiter of whether you like it.

Where to get Saké

2014 Oct 2
Since it bills itself as a saké bar, I had to check it out, since I know a few things about the drink by now. Being on Elgin and a small space, I was not expecting too much, and so was not disappointed - and after consideration, quite satisfied.

The selection will likely vary with availability (either LCBO or private import), but all current bottles are on display at the bar counter. (They are full, not empty, bottles, meaning they will spoil, which is a shame.) The price for each bottle should be marked on the bottle itself, often at the back near the top of the neck.

When I went at the end of September, there were nine bottles total: seven of 300ml and two of 750ml. I was impressed at the variety, far wider than I've seen at most places in town serving saké:
- one sparkling (Zipang from Gekkeikan)
- two nigoris, unfiltered (Hakutsuru, Momokawa 750ml)
- two junmais, no brewer’s alcohol added (Gekkeikan Black and Gold, Haiku 750ml)
- two ginjos, rice milled between 40-50% away (Hakutsuru junmai ginjo, Masumi Tokusen)
- two daiginjos, rice milled 50% or more away (Hakutsuru junmai daiginjo, Murai Family)

Usually, I've found restaurants with three types, and one of them will be low-grade “draft” or regular saké without anything special to it (low milling done, added brewer’s alcohol, fully filtered, etc). Here, care was definitely taken for a representative sampling of better types of saké. Prices are reasonable for markup, from $14 to $40 (and the large bottles aren’t necessarily in the highest price range).

Several of those are made in the US (Hakutsuru nigori, all Gekkeikan, Momokawa) but other than the cheap large boxes of warm sakés, it is no longer a mark of cheap plonk or devoid of flavour. One of the key points to check for more carefully-brewed sakés such as the ginjos and daiginjos is freshness; many, but sadly not nearly all or even most, bottles will carry a bottling month and year, and anything past 18 months is taking a chance – if it’s been left at room temperature, its flavour profile is likely altered by then. I admit I did not check for dates, but they are very likely restricted by what the LCBO carries.

I had tasted nearly all of these already (the Murai Family is expensive but definitely top-notch), so decided to try the Masumi Tokusen. The bottle was already cold, so it was stored properly, excellent point for the owners. While I’m not a big fan of the added alcohol (non-junmai), I found it more than fine with the bowl of ramen I was slurping happily, and by the halfway point it developed a few very nice flavours on the tongue.

I can definitely recommend any of the selection available here for neophytes, with the usual caveats: sparkling is not for everyone (normal saké has no CO2 added), unfiltered nigoris can be really weird on the tongue, and the extra price point of the Murai is not in everyone’s budget; but it still leaves plenty to check out, especially for two (300ml) or three-four (750ml) people sharing, which can bring the price per person down nicely.