Sake Deserves More Attention—Here’s Why You Should Try It and What to Sip

Cold sake served with rice and ears of rice on the table

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If your only experience with sake, Japan’s national rice-derived drink, is to quickly sip a warm liquid to withstand its sassiness, you’re missing out on the drink’s elegant and versatile nature.

“I think the best sake is complex, multi-layered, and amazing,” says Weston Konichi, president of the North American Distillery Association. “Considering the different producers making different styles of sake, it turns out that the adventures are endless.” Plenty of options to pair with your meal. First, learn a little more about what sake is, how it’s made, and how it’s best drunk.

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What is sake?

Sake may be called rice wine, but that is incorrect. It may resemble wine in body and alcohol content, but it is not a true wine. “Sake is an alcoholic beverage traditionally brewed in Japan using four main ingredients: rice, water, yeast and koji mold,” says Konishi. “It is often called ‘rice wine’, but this is a misnomer because rice is a grain, not a fruit, and is brewed like beer.”

Milling and quality

Sure, sake is centered around rice, but it’s not just old table rice. A special variety is used for sake brewing. The grains go through a milling process called polishing to scrape off the outer layers and bring out the desired aroma and flavor. But how do you know what level of rice polishing your sake has gone through?

“Normally, rice that is polished without alcohol is more expensive and of higher quality. not Kira Webster, Beverage Director at St. Louis-based Japanese Southeast Asian restaurant Indo, said: /Futsushu that doesn’t need to be polished. Beyond that, explore options like honjozo and junmai, which are polished to at least 70% of the original size of the rice grain.

Types of sake to taste

“Alcohol is generally added to honjozo during the brewing process, but junmai is not. known,” says Webster. “Ginjo and junmai ginjo are ground grains to at least 60% of their original size. Usually alcohol is added to ginjo, but not to junmai ginjo. , Ginjo sake is quite fragrant, complex and fruity, while Junmai Ginjo sake is more balanced, with more umami and a more pronounced fruity taste.”

The best in the sake category are daiginjo and junmai daiginjo, which are ground to at least 50% of the original size of the grain. They are elegant and usually the most expensive. Looking for something a little different? Try nigori style sake. “They’re unrefined, which means they still have unfermented rice solids,” says Webster. “This gives it a cloudier look, a creamier, softer texture, and a light coconut scent.”

How sake is made

After polishing the rice to your liking, soak it in water and steam it (cooking rice is not cooking rice). Next is the introduction of koji mold. Don’t panic. bad type. It is a key and essential part of breaking down the starch in the rice grain, releasing sugars and making it ready for fermentation.


Unlike beer, just like wine, sake is made in a specific season – winter. (Rice is grown from spring to summer and harvested in autumn.)

brewery place

Japan is the birthplace of sake, but it is now made in many other places. Look for Norwegian, British, Canadian and American sake. Small craft brewers are popping up from Minneapolis and Texas to New York and Oregon. There were also some riffs. Renowned French Champagne master Regis Camus launched a collaboration with several respected sake breweries called Heaven Sake, blending them into the famous sparkling wine cuvée tradition. .

Brewers have made countless attempts to perfect sake. Along the way, a variety of styles have developed, says Webster. “From simple and humble to complex and luxurious, it’s a very versatile category. There’s a style for everyone and every occasion,” she says.

The best way to drink sake

Should I drink sake cold or hot? Our experts let the quality level of the drink inform its decision. increase. “Having said that, as a general rule of thumb, light-bodied, fruity sakes may be better chilled, while heavier-bodied, dry sakes may be better warmed up.”

Also consider the season and what you eat. “Warm sake is delicious on cold winter nights, but not so much in midsummer,” says Koichi. “But sake TRUE It shines when combined with food, demonstrating its versatility. ”


Cocktails are a fun way to find even more nuance in this drink.”Sake is easy plug-and-play to use with other neutral grain spirits, especially gin and vodka. It’s also low in alcohol, making it a great addition to cocktails.” It’s also an option,” says Webster.

Webster prefers to use sake instead of gin. “For example, sipping Conteki’s Tears of Dawn Daiginjo with Aviation is a lot of fun and interesting because it adds more umami as opposed to the herbal nature from the gin.” she says. “The dryness remains, which keeps the overall cocktail balanced. Sake is more versatile than you might think.”

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