The celebration of World Sake Day—or Nihonshu no Hi—is celebrated annually on October 1. World Sake Day coincides with the beginning of Japan’s sake—or rice wine— brewing season. At the conclusion of the rice harvest each fall, sake producers across the country begin their brewing process in preparation for winter—when sake undergoes fermentation.
Sake is an important part of Japan’s cultural tradition. References to liquor consumption in Japan date back thousands of years, with some historians believing that the first rice wine was brewed for a Japanese emperor in the third century.
Sake is also a central component of Shinto religious ceremonies. Beginning in the 10th century—and lasting for more than 500 years—temples and shrines were the primary producers of sake. It was not until the mid-1800s that Emperor Meiji declared that anyone with resources and knowledge could produce and distribute sake. More than 30,000 breweries opened in the course of a year, and production and distribution skyrocketed.
Stiff taxes—and a rice shortage during World War II—drastically impacted the sake industry from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Many low-quality, mass producers stopped brewing sake altogether. This created space for the emergence of small, craft breweries as the market began to rebound. Special designations have also been put into place to control the quality of Japan’s national spirit. Together, these changes have resulted in the production of high-caliber, artisanal, award-winning sakes with distinctive characteristics and profiles.
World Sake Day was officially recognized by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association in 1978. Since then, celebrations have been declared in major cities throughout the world. San Francicso’s Hotel Kabuki claims to host the largest World Sake Day party outside of Japan—their annual festival allows visitors to taste more than 200 sakes!
Today, there are eight varieties of Tokutei meishō-shu, or special-designation, premium sakes. They are brewed from more than 80 types of sake rice. Sakes are categorizes based on the degree to which its base rice has been polished—some brewers polish off more than 60% of the original grain, leaving only the starch in the very center. By removing the fats and proteins that inhabit the outer layers, they are also removing any flavors or roughness that accompanies them. Sakes are also graded on the amount of brewer’s alcohol that has been added.
Traditionally, sake is served from small cups called choko, and may be served chilled, at room temperature, or warmed. As a general rule, high quality sakes are usually not heated, as heat can mask the nuanced flavors and aromas of the delicate spirit.
Sake can also add a unique element to cocktails. We recommend skipping the sake bomb, and trying a cocktail where sake’s subtleties truly shine, like this Mojito Nihongo—a twist on the classic mojito, which features sake instead of rum, and substitutes Japanese shiso leaves for the usual mint.
However you prefer your sake, for heaven’s sake… don’t forget to celebrate World Sake Day this October!
World Sake Day is typically celebrated