Ways To Properly Drink Sake

Despite its delicious taste and fascinating culture, sake, or nihonshu, remains an enigma to many.

What really is ‘sake’?

Sake is a Japanese drink that is made by fermenting rice. It is often referred to as wine but is brewed quite differently. Also, the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of sake is far higher than that of wine or beer. The sake rice is milled so that it mostly contains starch. To the rice mash, the fungus is added and it helps to convert the starch into sugar. Thereafter, the sugar is allowed to ferment in the presence of yeast.

How sake is produced?

Making quality sake involves 4 key ingredients Rice, water, kōji, and yeast.

The brewing process begins with polishing the rice. It is called “milling,” and there are various machines to help in the process. This step in the sake brewing process removes proteins and bran from the rice that can affect the flavor.

There are about nine basic kinds of special rice used to make sake. Each of them produces a unique flavor. The king of these sake rice breeds is Yamada Nishiki Rice which gives a fragrant, well-blended, soft flavor. The best grains are grown in Hyogo and Toyama. To produce aromatic sake, rice needs to be polished between 50% to 70%. 

Pick your preferred sake

Daiginjo – Super premium, fragrant Sake with a minimum 50% polishing ratio and a very small amount of distilled alcohol added to enhance flavor and aroma. Often best served chilled.

Ginjo – Premium fragrant Sake with minimum 40% polishing ratio, similar to daiginjo.

Honjozo – Light, mildly fragrant premium Sake polished to a minimum of 70% with a small amount of distilled alcohol added to extract aroma and flavor.

Junmai – Sake made with nothing other than rice, water, yeast and koji with no minimum polishing ratio. When appended to daiginjo and ginjo, no alcohol has been added.

Broadly speaking, daiginjo and ginjo, with their beguiling fruity and floral fragrances, tend to be popular as chilled drinks while honjozo and junmai can often offer a broader range of value and versatility, especially when drunk with food, and can be served at a wider range of temperatures.

Properly serve sake

Sake is served out of porcelain flasks that are known as tokkuri. It is poured into small ceramic cups called sakazuki or choko. Chilled sake may also be served in wine glasses. For special occasions and rituals, the drink is poured into cups that are saucer-like. An interesting way of serving this drink is in a masu. 

Sake may be served at room temperature, warm, hot or chilled. This often depends on the season, the quality of the alcohol, and the drinker’s preference. On cold winter evenings, you may prefer hot sake and on hot humid days, chilled sake would be enjoyable. 

Properly drink sake

If you aren’t drinking alone, sake should be served to you and vice versa. When your friend or the server pours the sake do hold your cup slightly ahead. Similarly, if you wish to request a refill, hold out your cup, slightly. Don’t forget to return the favor for your dining partners. Kampai is the toast that usually goes with drinking this traditional Japanese brew. Hold the cup close to your face and take in the aroma. Take a small sip, and let it linger in your mouth before you swallow it.

If you wish to warm your sake, simply place the tokkuri in a pan of boiling water. About 40-45 degrees Celsius is a good temperature to enjoy this drink. Some people like to mix their sake with fruit juices and with other liqueurs. 

It is important to note that it is potent alcohol and you need to be sure you can consume and hold your drink. This is especially true of sweet sake, which you may enjoy consuming quickly.