The Inaba Brewery, Ibaraki, Japan

What is Sake?

Though I don’t completely understand the fermentation process used to make sake, sake (酒, さけ, sake/日本酒,にほんしゅ, nihonshu) is Japanese, alcoholic beverage made from rice grains.

Often called rice wine, because of how smooth it is (from what I’m told anyway) it’s quite easy to become inebriated. I’m sure this also depends on other factors like size, weight, general alcohol tolerance, and the type of sake you drink. Raw types of sake (undiluted by water) have a higher alcohol content so I’m sure those can really put you past your tolerance levels much more quickly. One type of sake that is known for it’s potency is an Okinawan sake called awamori, which can have an alcohol content exceeding 30%. I’d probably be drunk if I even took a whiff of awamori.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably know that I don’t know a whole lot about alcohol. Despite my lack of knowledge and general experience with alcohol, I agreed to go to the Inaba Brewery as a part a tour with about ten of my students. We arrived around 3:00pm on February 11, 2011. To me, the outside of the building didn’t look like much, but once you went inside, the place had a very classy feel to it. There were refrigerated bottles of sake and “raw” sake on the left, room-temperature, bottled sake on the right, content information on a board on the left wall, and this very small door at the front of the room. Why was this door so small? Was this an illegal operation going on behind the small door that was used to slow down the authorities? Were there Inaba Oompa Loompas waiting on the other side? I was really excited to find out.

After going through this tiny doorway, I didn’t find any illegal operations or Oompa Loompas, we were seated at this wooden table, with a calming ambiance being created by the soft, yet comfortable “wine-cellar” lighting. There was a woman who brought out three different types of sake to test. She stood in front of the group and explained in Japanese, the details of the the types of sake that she would carefully pour into our blue and white, porcelain cups. We tested, we talked, we laughed, it was just a fun time.

I can’t say that going to the Brewery turned me into a sake fan, it’s not terrible, I just haven’t really acquired much of a taste for it. But I will say that I am REALLY glad I went. Even for those who don’t drink I would highly recommend going. It’s not necessarily just about drinking sake. I think if I didn’t have one drop of sake, the Inaba Brewery still would have been cool. They had the different types of rice that they use to make the sake, boards and information about alcohol percentages, these big water containers that hold the highly purified water that they use to make the sake. Everything was in Japanese, so I couldn’t catch all of it, and at certain times…any of it. But I am still working on my Japanese, and when it gets better, I’ll definitely go again.

Donald Ash


Tiny Inaba Brewery Door

Notice the extended pinky. I wasn't trying to be classy, the cup was too small and I didn't know what to do with my pinky.

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