sake cover

The pairing between cigar and sakè

Sake is a typically Japanese alcoholic drink obtained from the fermentation of rice, water and koji spores and can possibly be added with alcohol. It is erroneously called “rice wine”, in reality some production processes are very similar to those of beer.

Before analyzing the pairing of this drink with the cigar, all its components including the various classifications will be analyzed.

The water

Water is the main component of sake and represents 80% of the product. Sake companies have historically been located next to a source of high quality water.

Rice

Rice is the heart of sake production. In order to ferment, the yeast needs sugar which is originally concentrated in the rice grain center in the form of complex sugar (starch). In order to obtain an optimal quantity of starch from each bean, it is necessary to grind it up to the so-called heart, also called Shinpaku.
Low quality sake uses a table rice called Kakomai.
For the production of premium sake, a particular type of rice called Japonica is used.
The main difference between these two varieties is that in table rice starches, fats and proteins are more related to each other, making the grinding phase difficult and risking having unwanted elements in the production phase that would inevitably affect the aromas of the product.

The koji

Koji is a type of mold that is used in the production of sake to transform the complex sugars (starches) of rice into simple sugars so that fermentation can be carried out through the yeast. The type used for the production of sake is the yellow koji. Koji influences both the alcoholic and aromatic aspects of sake.

The yeast

Yeast is responsible for alcoholic fermentation by transforming simple sugars into alcohol. Some yeasts are considered classic, others are designed and still others are grown with flowers or even with mangoes. The type of yeast used affects the aromatic aspect of the sake.

Geographical indications

There isn’t international regulation that regulates the sake denomination, however since 2019 Europe and Japan have established an economic agreement guaranteeing the recognition of these three sake prefectures in Europe:
– Hakusan GI.
– Nihonshu GI.
– Yamagata GI.

The classification of sake

The sake is classified according to the quantity of rice left after the milling phase of the grain in relation to its original weight and is known by the term seimaibuai. The quantity of seimaibuai is expressed as a percentage on the label. The smaller the amount of seimaubuai in the sake, the more prized it will be.

Two styles of sake are defined on this classification:

Pure rice Sake (not fortified): Produced from rice, water and koji spores. Light-bodied Sake but aromatics.

Fortified Sake: Sake to which distilled alcohol called Jozo is added up to a maximum of 10% to strengthen the consistency of the product at the expense of less aromaticity. This style is certainly more valuable than pure rice sake.

Pure rice Sake

Junmai-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 70%. Sake rather intenses and rustics, with an important acid note.
Tokubetsu Junmai-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 70% and have carried out a traditional process called Kimoto during the production phase. Sake rather intenses and rustics, with an important acid note.
Junmai Ginjo-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 60%. Fruitys and florals saké.
Junmai Daiginjo-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 50%. Sake more delicates and aromatics.

Fortified sake

Futsushu: This lower category comprises about 75% of all sake produced in Japan. It does not have any type of limit for seimaibuai and the addition of additives is allowed. They are generally served hot in some Japanese restaurants. The heat in this case helps to hide any product defects.

Honjozo-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 70%. Sake rather intenses and rustics, with an important acid note.

Tokubetsu Honjozo-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 70% and have carried out a traditional process called Kimoto during the production phase. Sake rather intenses and rustics, with an important acid note.

Ginjo-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 60%. Sake with medium aromaticity and structure.

Daiginjo-Shu: They must have a percentage of seimaibuai equal to or less than 50%. Softs and aromatics sake.
Unlike other products, the price of sake affects its actual quality. The more expensive the sake is, the more quality it will be.

tipologie sake

The pairing between cigar and sake in detail

However culturally distant they may be, the pairing between sake cigars can be interesting and stimulating. The countless versatility of sake thanks to its delicate, fruity and floral aromas allows it to adapt to various types of cigar and more; during meals it can be eaten either as an aperitif or dessert. The presence of a few styles that are easily identifiable on the basis of their peculiar characteristics allow us to define which type of sake can best be moved with a specific cigar.

Pairing according to structure and persistence

As for other drinks the pairing according to for structure and persistence is also valid in the world of sake. Here are some rules:
– Light-bodied and slightly persistent cigars on the palate should be combined with light-structured and short persistent sake.
– Medium-bodied and persistent cigars on the palate should be combined with medium bodied and medium persistent sake.
– Full-bodied cigars, structured with long persistence on the palate should be combined with Full-bodied sake , structured, with long persistence.

Conclusions

In this article we have addressed the topic of the pairing between the cigar and the sake, two products that are completely opposite from a cultural point of view but which can have a fascinating positive encounter during the pairing phase. After analyzing all the ingredients that make up sake and having seen the few geographical names recognized at European level, we went into the classification terminology. The sake can be classified as pure rice sake or fortified sake, each with very specific and very similar styles. Finally, we went into the pairing by giving some advice based on the criteria of concordance on the structure and persistence.

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Image by quintonwu from Pixabay

Mirko Pastorelli

Sommelier professionista (ASPI Associazione Sommellerie Professionale Italiana) in sedia a rotelle pubblicato a livello internazionale con svariate esperienze nella ristorazione e nella organizzazione di eventi. Scrive di abbinamenti sigari - bevande su Gusto Tabacco.

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