Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sake Day: Fun Facts & A Freebie

Happy Nihonshu no Hi, Sake Day!

Today, October 1 is Sake Day, a holiday that has been celebrated since 1978. It is a day to celebrate Sake, to drink this tasty and intriguing alcohol and to learn more about its wonders. For some basic information about Sake, check out my new article, 10 Things To Know About Sake, in the latest issue of Beverage Media. You can also find plenty of additional Sake articles in my post, All About Sake, or check out my Collected Sake Reviews.

As a special gift to all my readers on Sake Day, I am making The Tipsy Sensei & Others FREE all day. This book contains nine Sake, Food & Wine related short stories, including the first three Tipsy Sensei tales. You will also find a special, historical tale of Hato, one of the important characters from Demons, Gods & Sake. As the next Tipsy Sensei novel, Hand Fed Tigers, will likely be published later this month, you should jump on this opportunity to read the original tales of the Tipsy Sensei. The book will only be FREE today so don't wait and lose out.

Enjoy the following 10 fun facts about Sake.

1. Japanese mythology claims that a god, Sukuna-bikona, created Sake. Sukuna means “small” or “few” while bikona is an honorific, and probably refers to the the god's small stature as he is commonly depicted as a dwarf with moth wings and tiny feathers. Sukuna-bikona was sent to assist Okuninushi in creating the world, and ihe is supposed to be responsible for not only creating Sake, but also medicine. It is even said that on October 10, Sukunua-bikona threw a Sake party, inviting all of the other gods to taste Sake.

2. Around 1191 AD, Myoan Eisai, a Buddhist priest, founded the first Zen temple in Japan. In addition, he brought tea seeds from China, wrote the first Japanese book on tea drinking and encouraged people to consume tea rather than Sake. Eisai felt that tea possessed great medicinal abilities. Numerous Zen Buddhist temples still possess a stone pillar outside their entrance with an inscription: “Garlic and sake never to be admitted into the gate.”

3. In September 1252, during a drought, the Japanese shogun instituted a Sake prohibition. Not only could Sake no longer be sold by anyone, but the general populace was also ordered to destroy all of their own Sake, except for a single container. It is said that over 37,000 pots of Sake were destroyed. 

4. Sake was late to the glass bottle. The first Sake wasn't bottled until approximately 1878 and the industry was slow to moved towards bottles. Around 1940, only about 40% of Sake was being bottled, the rest generally being stored in wooden taru. Customers would bring their own ceramic bottles to the Sake shop, which would be filled from a taru barrel. 

5. In a Japanese tradition extending back to the Edo Period, on each January 7, a ceremony is held in certain Japanese areas where captured carp are fed Sake. Once they have finished the Sake, the carp are released back into a river, and at first, the carp float belly-up in the river. They soon recover and swim away. The carp was intended to symbolically take on the bad luck and tragedies of the people, kind of like a scapegoat. Those who participate in this ceremony are of certain ages thought to be prone to calamity and tragedy, men aged 25 and 42 and women aged 19 and 33.

6. There is a Sake custom called Kaketsukesanbai, where latecomers to a party must rapidly drink three cups of Sake. It is supposed to be a punishment, intended to get the newcomer as drunk as those already there. Many Sake lovers may not see it as much of a penalty.

7. What is Goldfish Sake? Known as Kingyo-zake, Goldfish Sake is a derogatory term that refers to Sake that has been diluted so much with water that a goldfish could live in the Sake. The term originated during World War II, when due to rice shortages, sake was often diluted with water, some producers diluting it much more than others.

8. You may be familiar with the terms Ginjo and Daiginjo, but what about Chuginjo? This is a rare term, unlikely to be found on a Sake label, and basically refers to Sake that is in-between Ginjo and Daiginjo, generally Sake polished 40-50%. It is not a legal term so does not have a precise definition.

9. Katsu-zake, roughly translated as “Bone Sake,” is hot Sake where the bones or fins of fish are added to the cup to provide some additional flavor. For example, I have seen hot sake with the fin of a fugu in it.

10. Don't have a cup? You can still drink Sake and the Japanese sometimes use various sea creatures as drinking vessels. The kegani, the hairy crab, may be sliced in half and not cleaned out. Sake is then poured into the crab halves and drank, giving you a fishy taste. The tentacles of dried squid or cuttlefish can be used as cups, most often with warmed Sake. Sake may also be given to live abalone though it won't be used as a cup. Instead, the abalone actually drinks the Sake, gets drunk, and then the Japanese will eat its meat which has a flavor of Sake.

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