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The word sake in Japanese can refer to any alcoholic beverage, but in general, it is used in English to mean a specific type of rice alcohol, also known as nihonshu. Sake is sometimes called rice wine, but in truth, it is not a wine, nor is it exactly a beer, nor a spirit. Sake is a rather unique type of fermented alcohol.

After fermentation, sake is naturally cloudy from bits of particulate left from the grains. Some sake, such as nigori, is allowed to remain clouded, but the majority is filtered so that it is clear like a spirit. Sake is best enjoyed while fresh, so unlike wine and more like beer, sake is rarely aged. Sake is fairly high in alcohol for a fermented drink, ranging from 14% to 16% alcohol – as compared to 8% to 14% for most wines, or 4% to 6% for most beers. When produced, sake usually contains around 20% alcohol, but most producers add water to dilute the sake to a more palatable 15%.

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