Rice Wine: What’s the Deal?

You’ve probably heard of rice wine. While not technically ‘wine’ as it’s not made of grapes, rice wine is the staple alcoholic beverages of many parts of the world. While it’s likely that you’ve tried sake at a hibachi restaurant and have a passing familiarity with it, it might surprise you just how expansive the world of rice wine is! From Japan to India, the styles and varieties have almost as much variation as more familiar grape based wines.

How is it made?

Despite its alcohol content generally matching wine (most are actually a little bit stronger), the process for making Japanese sake or Korean Makgeolli is actually closer to that of beer. Rice and water is combined with a fungal culture that converts the starches and sugars into alcohol. The brewer can modify this process however they like to change taste, texture and alcohol content.

What are the varieties of rice wine?

Japanese sake is the most famous rice wine, and it comes in two general categories: a sweeter unfiltered variety and a smoother filtered variety. While it’s a little harder to find in the west, Korean Makgeolli can also be fairly easily acquired. It boasts a much lower alcohol content and has a thicker texture- while it is traditionally unpasteurized and thus continues to ferment in the bottle, some pasteurized varieties make up for the loss in flavor by introducing fruit juices and other outside flavors. If you’re interested in getting really deep into the world of rice wine, there are variations of it made and drank all across Asia: China, India, Vietnam, and more all boast several varieties that look and taste surprisingly different from the clear or milky liquid than you might expect.

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