Today I have a new alcoholic beverage on my radar – sake (pronounced sah-kay). All I knew about sake before yesterday was that it is a drink popular in Japan and made from rice. Today, thanks to Michelle Wang of the M Gourmet Group (Miyo’s, M Kitchen, M Vista) and a bit of research, I know more. I visited her at the newly renovated Miyo’s on Forest Drive to sample sake, served warm in a slender white ceramic carafe with dainty sake cups (handle-less), and to learn more about this beverage.
As I sipped the sake, the warmth of the brew and the alcohol traveled down and spread across my upper body, giving me a sense of relaxation. Perfect for the chilly weather we’ve been having! The taste was not that of wine nor beer, but something light and pleasant. Michelle said that some customers order it with a splash of sour apple flavoring, which complements its flavor.
Michelle explained that her father used to brew his own sake in China. The drink is popular throughout Asia, and is gaining traction throughout the world. Sake has four ingredients – polished rice (with husk removed), water, fungi-spores (mold) and yeast. This is different from the beer-brewing process where barley is malted – germinated- to start fermentation. With sake, a special type of fungi spores is added to start the fermentation process, then yeast. Because there are nine varieties of rice used in sake production, each variety yields specific flavor profiles.
There are many thousands of sakes brewed in Japan. Sake is served cold, room temperature or heated, depending on the type. The table sake that I tasted at Miyo’s is served warm, and is a good way to be introduced to the drink. But I really enjoyed one of the two bottles of Ginjo sake that Michelle sent me home with. Ginjo means “premium”. Zipang Sparkling Sake, served cold, is from House of Gekkeikan. Lightly carbonated (it poured like an asti spumante), this sake is lively and bright, I’d say a bit fruity, medium-bodied and refreshing. It sells for $12 a bottle (typically serves 2) at Miyo’s. My husband tried the Ozeki Yamadanishiki Sake, a Ginjo brand that sells for $18 at the restaurant (typically serves 2), also served chilled. This sake is made from Yamadanishiki rice, considered the finest rice for sake. This is a more full-bodied drink, which my husband said would pair well with dishes that you think of going well with dry wines – like fish, crab cakes or curried chicken. If you drink Chardonnay, you’ll probably like this sake.
That was a big takeaway.. sake doesn’t just pair with Asian cuisine. It can and should be drunk with lots of different foods. Or sipped as an aperitif or as dessert.
The best way to try it is to visit one of Miyo’s locations. Table sake is served by the carafe (serves 2) and is $5.99 ($4 during Happy Hour). Their sake menu can be explained by one of their knowledgeable staff. Or act like you know what you’re doing, and order the Zipang or the Yamadanishiki… you won’t regret either!
Miyo’s on Forest Drive :: 3250 Forest Drive, Suite B
Columbia, SC (behind Mattress Firm)
Miyo’s Harbison :: 1220 E-2 Bower Parkway, Suite E-2
Columbia, SC (near Regal Columbiana Grande Stadium 14 Cinema)
M Kitchen :: 340 Columbiana Dr, Columbia, SC (between Harbison Blvd. and Lake Murray Blvd.)
M Vista :: 701 Lady Street, Columbia, SC (next to Entourage)
Miyo’s Lexington :: 5594 Sunset Blvd., Lexington, SC