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Okinawa Market introduces Ozeki sake to bases

Date Posted: 2009-08-20

Ozeki sake has been around since 1711, has infiltrated the American market, and now is in the hands of American GIís thanks to Okinawa Market.

Okinawa Market has brought the Ozeki product line to its concession at Camp Foster, explaining how the mainland Japanese-brewed liquor compares to local awamori, and accents the fact sake goes well with Japanese foods to include sushi and sashimi. The Ozeki sake now at Okinawa Market will also be featured at Septemberís Okinapa Wine Fest hosted by Marine Corps Community Services.

Ozeki, one of Japanís leading sake manufacturers, has been around for centuries, founded in 1711 in Imazu and brewed in the villages of Hyogo Prefecture. Itís now exported to 40 countries, and actually brewed in Hollister, California for Ozekiís American clientele. Sake, which is often used generically as the word for any alcoholic drink, is called Nihonshu when actually referring to genuine sake.

So, exactly what is sake? Sakeís a smooth alcoholic beverage made from selected brown rice thatís polished, washed, soaked, steamed and cooled before heading into a Koji Room where itís cultivated and then left to ferment for 20 days. As the steamed rice, Koji and yeast work their magic, the rice is pressed and fresh sake packing an18-19% alcohol content is born. Itís not ready, though, as it must first undergo pasteurization, a six-month maturation storage period, final blending and final filtration before heading into the bottles and off to stores. The process is not too different than that applied to brewing beer.

Without complicating the issue, the essential element is the rice, but Ozeki brewers emphasize the quality of the water is equally important. The rice goes through a Koji mold process, making glucose from starch before fermentation. There are four characteristic sakes; Nama-Sake, a draft sake, which has not undergone pasteurization, Nigori Sake, a milky sake made cloudy by filtering sake mash through rough mesh cloth and pasteurization, Taru Sake, a barrel sake stored in a wooden barrel that gives it a woody aroma, and Gen-Shu, an undiluted sake in which no water is added after pressing.

Sake can be enjoyed cold, warm or at room temperatures. Cold or room temperatures are recommended for Ginjo, draft and Taru-sake to best appreciate the aroma. Kan, or warm sake, is an alternate way of opening the sake flavor, but Ozeki cautions too much heating destroys the delicate aroma and sake flavor.

Awamori, Okinawaís homegrown favorite, is well established. But how does awamori compare to sake? Awamoriís also make from rice, but rather than undergoing a brewing process like sake, it is distilled like shochu, vodka or whiskey. Awamori is also typically stronger and more flavorful, with most brands running 30% alcohol. There are exceptions, with lower alcohol versions being shipped to mainland Japan, while others such as Hanazake are a whopping 120 proof, 60% alcohol.

Awamori is most popularly consumed as a simple mix with water and ice. It can also be drunk straight, on the rocks, or in cocktails, much the same as sake. Okinawa Market features a wide variety of both Ozeki sake types, as well as numerous Okinawan awamori products. Okinawa Market staff are well versed in the tastes and traits of both, and can offer assistance in choosing just the right sake for a given occasion.

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