8 Best Tips for Drinking Sake

  • 01 of 08

    Know Your Alcohol: What is Sake?

    Koji Hanabuchi/Image Source/Getty Images

    Sake is a Japanese rice wine that is made during a brewing process by fermenting rice, during which the starches are converted into sugar, and then alcohol. The alcohol content of sake generally ranges from 14% to 16%, with the exception of the "genshu" variety of sake which has a higher alcohol content of 18% to 20%. For reference, sake is pronounced "sa-keh" not "sa-kee". In Japanese, the term "sake" refers to all alcoholic beverages, not just sake as we know it. Finally, in Japanese, "nihonshu" actually refers to Japanese rice wine, or sake as we know it in the west.

  • 02 of 08

    Know Your Sake: What are the Different Types of Sake?

    Major Varieties of Sake. James Worrell/The Image Bank/Getty Images

    Although most sake is ordered as "hot" or "chilled", there are actually many different types of sake available. 

    1. Amazake - This is a traditional, sweet, low-alcohol sake.
    2. Genshu - This is undiluted sake has no added water with an alcohol content between 18% to 20%. Most sake is diluted with water to bring the alcohol content to 14%  to 16%.
    3. Jizake - This refers to regional, or locally micro-brewed sake.
    4. Koshu - This is sake that has been aged so that it has a sweet almost honey-like flavor with a yellow hue.
    5. Kuroshu - This is sake made of brown rice, or unpolished rice and its flavor more closely resembles Chinese rice wine.
    6. Muroka - This is an unfiltered sake that is clear in color and tends to have a stronger flavor and aroma over filtered sake because filtration tends to dilute bot flavor and aroma.
    7. Namazake - This is an unpasteurized sake which requires refrigeration for storage.
    8. Nigorizake or Nigori Sake - This is popularly offered at Japanese restaurants in the west as a chilled sake, and is a cloudy sake that is unfiltered with the exception of mesh which is used to loosely separate the starter mash from the sake. There is still quite a bit of sediment in the finished sake, so this is often shaken before serving.
    9. Shiboritate - This refers to sake that hasn't been matured the traditional nine to twelve months as other sakes. As such, the sake tends to be more acidic.
    10. Taruzake - This is an aged sake that is stored in wooden casks or barrels. It tends to have a strong wood-like flavor due to the influence of the wooden casks. Taruzake are often used at ceremonial events such as building inaugurations and events.
    11. Teiseihakushu - This is a speciality sake with a stronger rice flavor. It is produced by polishing the rice grains much less than when rice is polished for traditional sake. In other words, it has a high rice polishing ratio.
  • 03 of 08

    How Do Sake and Cooking Sake Differ?

    How do Sake and Cooking Sake Differ?. Fotosearch/Getty Images

    Sake and sake that is used for cooking (referred to as cooking sake) are both produced similarly, with the exception that cooking sake tends to utilize rice that has a higher polishing ratio, or one that is polished less so that it has a bolder, rice flavor. Cooking sake often has a lower alcohol content and it has the added ingredient of salt.

    While both drinking quality sake and cooking sake may be used as an ingredient for cooking, I recommend using a sake with a decent quality flavor (in other words simply don't use the cheapest drinking sake), so that it imparts good flavor to food.

    Here are some examples of recipes that use sake as an ingredient. Follow links for recipe.

    1. Sake steamed clams
    2. Easy Japanese Simmering Sauce for Fish
    3. Teriyaki Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune)
    4. Tuna Braised with Soy Sauce and Ginger
    5. Shio Koji Salmon
  • 04 of 08

    When Do You Drink Sake?

    Occasions to Drink Sake. Artparadigm/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    Sake is often enjoyed during appetizers, or izakaya (tapas) style dining. It is sipped while enjoying light appetizers such as sashimi (raw fish). It is not often enjoyed as part of a large meal; although in the west today, sake is often enjoyed similarly to wine that is paired with foods.

    Sake is still associated with ceremonious or formal occasions such as weddings, and major celebratory events. At weddings, a sake ceremony often symbolizes the unity of two families.

    Modern drinks often incorporate Japanese sake as an ingredient in mixed cocktails, for example, sake-tini, sake mojito, svadka, sake gimlet, and many others!

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    What is Sake Served In?

    "Tokkuri" Ceramic Sake Flask and "Ochoko" Cups. Richard Lathulerie/E+/Getty Images

    Japanese sake is typically sold in large bottles, but it is poured into smaller vessels or ceramic flasks, known as "tokkuri". A sample of a traditional tokkuri is displayed in the attached photo, along with small drinking cups called "choko", or "ochoko". Other styles of drinking cups include the popular wooden box, known in Japanese as "masu". Another popular cup, which actually looks like a flat saucer, is often used in more formal sake ceremonies such as weddings, or as part of a multi-course feast, is "sakazuki".

  • 06 of 08

    How is Sake Served?

    How to Serve Sake: Hot, Cold, Room Temperature. Eiichi Onodera/Emi Kimata/Getty Images

    Sake may be served either hot, cold, or at room temperature ("joon"). This usually depends on the drinker's preference, the type of sake that is being enjoyed, and the season. Often, hot sake ("atsukan") is preferred during colder weather, and chilled sake ("reishu") is preferred in hotter weather. Tricks of the bar trade include serving older or lower quality sake hot, in order to mask taste. Typically, high quality sake is served at room temperature.

    To prepare hot sake, first sake is poured into a ceramic tokkuri, and then the tokkuri is placed in a bath of hot water. The ideal temperature for hot sake is about 120 degrees fahrenheit  (50 degrees celsius). The ideal temperature for chilled sake is 50 degrees fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius).

  • 07 of 08

    What is Proper Sake Pouring Etiquette?

    How to Properly Pour Sake. DAJ/Getty Images

    Proper sake pouring etiquette has many nuances that one should be mindful of.

    1. Always pour sake for others, but don't fill your own cup. It's best to allow someone else to pour and fill your sake cup for you, even if you were the one that poured sake for everyone else in your party.
    2. In general, when pouring sake for others, make sure to place two hands on the tokkuri ceramic flask, regardless of how small it is. If for some reason only one hand is on the flask, be sure to place your free hand on the arm that is pouring to show respect.
    3. On the receiving end of the sake, one should cradle the small ochaku cup in the palm of one hand, and gently rest the fingers of the free hand on the side of the cup.  The cup is then lifted slightly towards the pourer. Again, this shows respect.
    4. If you're drinking sake in a work or business related function, be mindful of seniority and status when pouring sake. When pouring for a colleague who has seniority or higher level status, make sure to use the two-handed technique as mentioned above in Point #2. If you are pouring sake for someone who is your junior or lower level status, only one hand may be used to hold the tokkuri ceramic flask and pour sake. Similarly, if the recipient of the sake is of higher status, their ochaku cup may be held with only one hand. However, if the sake pourer is of higher status, the recipient should cradle their ochaku cup using the two handed technique as described above in Point #3.
    5. If you're drinking sake among friends and the situation is informal, it's not uncommon for one-handed pouring (especially amongst male company), and holding the ochaku cup with one hand, but always remember to lift the cup off the table and hold it towards the pourer.
  • 08 of 08

    Don't Forget to Raise Your Cup for a Toast!

    How to Toast with Japanese Sake. Datacraft/Getty Images

    Regardless of the type of alcohol (sake, beer, wine, hard liquor) that is being enjoyed, it is often polite to wait for everyone to be served their drinks and then to raise your glass for a toast. The traditional Japanese term for "cheers" is "kanpai!" Ochako sake cups are raised and gently touched together.

    In a business situation, be mindful of seniority and status, because the lower status employee should make sure the rim of their cup touches below the rim of their colleagues cup.