Imagine rounding off a night with friends, like buccaneers in a pub - bringing down your fists on the table so drinks jump up an inch. In an average Japanese pub, this behavior wouldn’t be considered raucous, but good form. It’s part of the venerable sake bomb ritual – which is set up by balancing a shot of sake between two chopsticks placed atop a glass of beer. Guess what you get when you pound the table? A pretty enjoyable cocktail and a ritual called the sake bomb. 

Only a few weeks into my first visit to Japan several years back, it became clear to me that sake was more than just a drink. I was told by my Japanese friends that in times past, sake was consumed strictly on religious occasions and the first cup of sake was placed as an offering to the gods before the rest was poured out for the gathering. Sake anoints just about every important event – housewarming, births, the launching of new ventures and even the onset of seasons. In a traditional Japanese wedding custom that has been observed since ancient times, the nuptial bond is sealed with a toast of sake sipped from three cups. I call that a capital idea to steady a couple for the ride that marriage promises. 

So just what is sake? While it’s commonly referred to as a rice wine, it’s actually a brew that’s made from a special rice called sakamai, yeast and a mould called koji. In fact, koji mould is also used to make two typically Japanese seasonings – miso and soy sauce. It’s this little spore that’s responsible for breaking down the starch in rice and setting it on its way to becoming an alcohol of no mean repute. 

Japan boasts several thousand brands of sake, all with a distinct taste. However sake can be broadly classified according to how far down the rice has been milled – premium sake uses rice that has been milled to the maximum. Premium sake itself may either be pure sake or sake that has been fortified with extra alcohol. 

When it comes to serving, there’s the matter of temperature. I’ve had a few friends back home ask me if it’s really true that sake is warmed on occasion. It’s true and winter’s the perfect time to try out some warm Junmai. And where else but at the Japanese restaurant and bar that has the largest range of sake in the country – Edo, at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru. Enjoy it along with a selection of traditional grilled meats or even sashimi. 

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