Pop Culture and Japan

Sake On Air Review: How To Discern The Aromas Of Sake

The sake flavour wheel shows the different aromas that can be applied to nihonshu.

Japanese sake offers drinkers some of the most diverse flavours in the world. But there’s a lot of misconceptions surrounding sake, and it’s helpful to hear from experts who can educate the public on what makes Japanese alcohol outstanding. Sake on Air is exactly the kind of podcast you want to listen to for expert advice.

An episode I’ve found extremely interesting is the aroma of sake and how our sense of smell contributes towards enjoying a drink. Hosted by Chris Hughes, Rebekah Wilson-Lye and Sebastien Lemoine, sake aromas is a must-hear episode for anyone with an interest in Japanese alcohol.

Separating taste from flavour

The episode begins with the presenters discussing the distinction between taste and flavour. Taste refers to what we experience on the tongue, such as sweetness, bitterness or sourness. Flavour refers to specific food sensations like fruit, meat or fish. Flavour plays a huge role in aroma, with the nose picking up food notes that can trigger specific memories.  

According to Hughes, the National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) has separate sake aromas into the following eight categories:

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Alcohol
  • Vinegar
  • Soy sauce/caramel
  • Japanese pickles
  • Rice koji
  • Wood and grass

Each category can be linked to different types of sake e.g. an apple aroma for ginjo and rice for junmai. The NRIB also have a more extensive flavour profile wheel that features sensations like umami, metallic and astringent.

Another interesting part of the podcast involved the explanation on the three types of aromas that sake produces:

  • Uwadachi-ka – The first aroma that floats out from the glass
  • Fukumi-ka – The second aroma/what you detect in the mouth
  • Modori-ka – The third aroma that you detect after swallowing

Hughes also goes into detail about how the aroma of sake has changed through the years. During the Edo period, many breweries used ash in the sake-making process, which led to the drink smelling like soy sauce or mirin.

It wasn’t until the modern day that the fruity aromas associated with ginjo sake started to dominate the market. And what’s remarkable is that ginjo sake has only been around for a short time. Translating to ‘precision brewing’ in English, ginjo was originally referred to as ginzo. This changed in 1884 when a brewery in Niigata decided to use the word ginjo and the name has stuck ever since.

Ultimately, the scent of sake is a reflection of the Japanese spirit. It doesn’t have to shout loudly to be heard. It’s ephemeral and will always leave you with an appreciation of life.

 Be sure to listen to the episode and let me know what you think!

4 thoughts on “Sake On Air Review: How To Discern The Aromas Of Sake

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