One of the most common questions we received was “ What is Sake?” Rice wine, Japanese wine, Japanese liquor was the standard answer; but when one more astute gentleman followed that question up with “how is it made?” I casually replied, “It’s brewed in a brewery.” To which he responded with， “so then it’s more like a beer…” well, no…
This got me thinking about 2 big problems, how to explain what Sake is and describing its taste by comparing it to something else.
My personal belief, after having learnt and taught languages for many years, is that terms like Sake should not be translated and “You can’t get wet from the word water.” (Alan Watts)
When I hear the word wine, I automatically imagine a dark red liquid gently swirling around a delicate glass with a long stem and round bowl. I imagine grapes and vineyards and large oak barrels… Maybe some of us think of white wine, but in general, I think it’s safe to say, that, Australians, when hearing the word, wine, will think of the traditional alcoholic beverage made from grapes. So when we hear the term rice wine for the first time, I think it’s inevitable, and perfectly understandable, that we, as Australians, will consciously or subconsciously use our images of wine as a point of reference, to try and figure out rice wine, which will, no doubt lead to comparisons with our preconceived notions of wine, and judging Sake by the standards of wine.
Sake, as many of us know, and many of those who tried Sake for the first time at the show found out, is nothing like wine. It’s not like anything! Sake is like Sake. It tastes like Sake and it looks like Sake. Therefore sake should not and cannot be judged against the standard of wine, because the properties of what makes good Sake are completely different from wine. Just like you wouldn’t judge a white wine against a red or even less a wine against a beer!