Roughly speaking, there are two categories of sake in Japan: one is made from just rice, water and koji mold, while the other is made with an additional ingredient in the form of distilled alcohol (brewer’s alcohol).
The first category is called junmaishu. There are purists who will swear that it is the best and that anything else just isn’t sake.
The second category is called honjozoshu (lit: alcohol-added sake), and because it is made with the same three core ingredients, and despite what the purists think, it tastes just as good.
Today’s article will attempt to argue the case for alcohol-added sake.
Reasons Why Alcohol Is Added to Sake
Most junmaishu lovers think that alcohol is added to sake just to increase the volume of the sake, or just to cut down the cost of brewing. However, these presumptions are wrong, since alcohol is usually added for positive reasons related to improving the flavour or tailoring it towards a different audience.
One of the best ways to improve the image of alcohol-added sake is to explains the reasons that alcohol is added in the first place, so here we go.
In the past, before the strict hygiene management of today had been established, sake was sometimes contaminated by unwanted bacteria and mold. Alcohol addition one way to prevent this.
These days, however, alcohol is added to maintain the quality of the sake, not for preservation.
・To Enhance The Aroma
Sake definitely has the nose to rival most aromatic wines, The aroma compounds which are called esters attach better to the molecules of alcohol than water. Thus, it is the fact that added-alcohol traps more of those precious esters that it is considerably more fragrant than junmaishu. In fact, most sake award ceremonies serve daiginjo sake (sake with alcohol added) instead of junmai daiginjo (notice the absence of the word junmai).
・To Tailor the Flavour Profile
The alcohol added to sake during the brewing process is called jouzou alcohol. The alcohol also reduces unpleasantly excess sweetness and acidity by decreasing the sugar levels. The result is sake with a sharp and dry after-taste.
・To Stop The Fermentation of The Yeast
Yeast is needed to turn the sugar into alcohol. It has a low alcohol tolerance, so to stop the fermentation, the brewers simply adds extra alcohol.
Will Alcohol-added Sake Get You More Drunk?
Some people think that alcohol-added sake gets you more drunk, but there is no scientific basis for this claim.
Since the alcoholic strength of junmaishu and alcohol-added sake is more or less the same, both types of sake have the same potential to intoxicate.
However, it is true that alcohol-added sake is less punchy and aggressive which makes is more quaffable, and people tend to drink more of it. So in that sense, it is easier for to get drunk on alcohol added sake.
Negative Image of Sanbai Zojoshu
The negative image of alcohol-added sake that exists today was inherited from the negative image of sanbai zojoshu, a type of sake produced after the second world war, when Japan was suffering from a shortage of rice.
Sanbai zojoshu was made by diluting the sake with two parts alcohol. The intention of this addition was definitely to make the sake stronger and not for any positive reasons.
Nowadays, the production of sanbai zojoshu illegal, and the alcohol content of sake is strictly regulated to less than 280 liter per 1,000 ton of rice. This is referred to as nibai zojoshu.
Is It Normal To Use Alcohol-addition for Sake Competition Entry Sake?
Most breweries adjust the flavor and aroma of the sake by adding alcohol prior to its submission for sake award ceremonies. Since the purpose of these competition is to win awards for quality and flavour, creating a high quality sake is important, and adding alcohol to the sake is one of the ways of snatching the crown.
Adding alcohol to sake is not a negative thing. On the contrary, it actually gives new flavor to the sake. In addition, there are many ways to enjoy sake made with added alcohol.
Even though the terms “added” and “artificially” will always carry a negative connotation in Japan, alcohol-added sake is not always bad.
The best way to get the full sake experience, is to keep an open mind and try everything until you find something you like. And there is no better place to do this than KURAND SAKE MARKET. We look forward to welcoming you soon!