Sake Facts – Sake Isn’t Scary …… Or Is It?
In the spirit of the Halloween season I wanted to touch upon the dark or scary side of sake that should scare the pants right off of you! Was that a good intro? Are you sort of nervous? Are your pants on the floor? Ummmm forget that! Okay now for some very interesting “scarry” sake bullet points:
- Did you know that Kamikaze pilots in the Japanese air force during WWII drank sake as the last thing they did before boarding their doomed planes? Scary right? I’m sure the bartender had to cut them off!
- Earlier this year the owner of a sake brewery from Fukushima Prefecture came to the store and presented me with a bottle of sake. Is that scary? No! But what he said in broken English scared the pants off of me. He looked me in the eye and said, “This bottle is all that is left of my brewery, my kura is dead!” Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! He said dead! His three hundred year-old brewery sadly was greatly impacted by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku area in Japan in 2010, and now rests within the restricted “Highly Radioactive Danger Zone."
- It has been said that in the Noto peninsula in Western Japan, many elderly farmers still perform “Ae no Koto,” which in a word is talking to invisible gods who are present to protect their crops, farms and families. Say what? Yes! The farmers in each of their households prepare a meal and offer sake to the god when it enters the house, but only after a bath. After the god has eaten the head of the household encourages the god to retire to the family alter in a special part of the house, where the god will remain protecting the family until the next planting season. This one gives me goosebumps, you?
- Okay! Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Are you ready? Sure? Sake is made with mold! Ewwwwwwwwwww! That’s more gross than scary! But wait. A portion of the sake process where the special – read scary – brewing molds are used to break the steamed rice grains down into fermentable sugars (breaking the long chain starch molecules into sugars for the yeast to ferment) are used in hot humid rooms that basically do what your shower floor does – get moldy! Ahhhhhhhhhh! However these rooms are impeccable, unlike a disgustingly scary 50 year-old YMCA shower! Ummmm. Nevermind...
- Demons and goblins play a very large role in the names of many current sakes on the market. Dance of the Demon – Demon Slayer – Big Demon – Demon’s Dry Sake – etc. Why? Why the heck not! Demons are pretty cool and in Japan they were used to protect areas and shrines and communities. Sometimes demons were used to scare off invading forces. How? Well the next time that you are outnumbered and you know that your enemy believes in superstitions, make huge lanterns that look like demons and fill them with light and march them towards your enemy at night and you may very well scare the pants off of them!
- Sake Kills Part 1: Yes it is true. Sake can kill. I’m not talking about the tragic drunk driving scenario rather I’m talking hot death by sake. Huh? Many Japanese hot springs hotels and resorts (Onsen) mix volcanically hot bath water with hot sake offerings. Yup! How cool is that? Taking an amazing hot bath – usually outdoors with some beautiful views – and sipping on hot sake to get the wonderful warm glow. Well! Some folks don’t glow. In fact they bob, as a result of heart conditions or circulation issues that kill the content bather. Bummer!
- Sake Kills Part 2: Sadly sake kills in other ways as well. One of the lingering problems in the sake industry is death by sake itself. No I am not talking about drinking yourself to death, but rather the tragic scenario when sake makers actually fall into vats of fermenting sake. Cool! You mean like a sake pool? No quite the opposite. A fermenting tank of sake is an absolute killer, as there is zero oxygen in that environment. One or two brewers die each season as they teeter and walk on slender wooden planks around very large fermenting sake vats that resemble massive soup cans. One slip, one fall and welcome to instant death. Think carbon dioxide in abundance and oxygen deprivation in extreme fashion. Spooky right? It’s so bad that even a tank that was recently emptied still contains no oxygen and several workers over the years have gone in to clean the vat and thump – out like a light!
- Rocky Aoki is the owner of the Benihana chain of Japanese restaurants, and I hold him almost personally responsible for the lack of sake education historically in the US. He was in a position to educate long ago, but did not! And adding insult to injury he penned a terrible book about sake in 2003. Why is this scary? Well sit right back and listen to Rocky in his own words and this will scare the bejesus out of you. “What all this means is that drinking sake can also be a very sensuous activity. Yes, the alcohol in sake affects the brain just like the alcohol in beer or whiskey, but with sake, your brain is not disconnected from your psyche. Therefore, if your brain is trained to think sexy thoughts, when the alcohol in your bloodstream reaches your head, then you may also feel more sexy. I promise: sake can really give your love life a boost, providing you drink it in the manner of the Japanese.” Ahhhhhhhhhh! Terrifying! Oh My God! Help Me!