The new bubbly

This sweet, delicate refreshment is the beverage of choice for young women and racecar drivers across Japan.

Toast your next celebration with something other than the usual champagne by grabbing a bottle of Japan’s trendiest beverage—bubble- infused rice wine, or sparkling sake.

Although sparkling sake has been around for several decades, it has only recently taken the spotlight in Japan’s food and drink scene. Just like champagne, sparkling sake is created by a second alcoholic fermentation of the rice wine in the bottle or by injections of carbon dioxide. Referred to in Japanese as happo-shu, it typically has about a third of the alcohol content of traditional sake and comes in both unfiltered and filtered forms.

The popularity of sparkling sake has skyrocketed thanks to successful marketing targeted towards young women. Its labels are often pastel-coloured and beautifully designed, and the drink’s delicate flavours are an appealing alternative for those who aren’t fans of the strong flavours found in traditional sake. But while it’s the signature drink for a girl’s night out, sparkling sake has also come to carry a distinctly male appeal as the celebratory beverage for the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix. At all other venues, the F-1 races’ top finishers are awarded a bottle of champagne to victoriously spray all over the place, but in Japan, sparkling sake is the weapon of choice.

One of the most popular names in sparkling sake is Mio, created by Japan’s legendary sake producer, Takara. Mio isthe Japanese word to describe the wake that trails behind a moving boat, and the name inspires the image of dynamic and lively bubbles riding a gentle wave. The secondary meaning behind Mio: it’s the Italian word for my. Applied to the bottle, it’s meant to evoke personal ownership of the sake.

Although Mio has a crispness and fruitiness that resembles some sweet champagnes, it has a dis- tinct rice wine flavour that makes it unique. It also has an alcohol content of only 5 percent, so you can enjoy it without fear of getting too drunk and crazy at a company party. A perfect blend of mellow and sweet, Mio is best served chilled and is nice for some relaxed sipping as an aperitif. Or, because of its sweet and fruity aroma, Mio also goes well with hors d’oeuvres such as artisan cheeses and olives, and with sweet chocolates or tart fruits, such as strawberries. Luckily for us, we don’t have to be in Japan to get this drink—just hop over to the LCBO.

Against the traditional offerings of French cham- pagne and Italian spumante, sparkling sake is a worthy and strong contender. This bubbly, sweet and delicious drink appeals to a wide range of tastes and is an exciting choice for the sake lover or a terrific introductory drink for the sake beginner.

Fizz facts

While regular sake comes attached to a long history of tradition and etiquette, the sparkling newcomer is an exception to a lot of these rules. For example, there are specific vessels and cups for drinking sake, but sparkling sake can be poured into whatever cup, mug or glass you feel like.
Pouring and refilling the tiny sake cups of your table companions—but not your own—is a fundamental rule for sake drinking. But when it comes to sparkling sake, you’re free to fill and refill your own glass at your will.
Traditional sake is some- times heated and drunk warm, but you definitely don’t want to heat up your sparkling sake if you want to keep that refreshing fizz!