How much do you know about Sake? I know that I enjoy drinking it, as well as learning about it! I first dove into sake while working at Hakkasan as a Sommelier, where we served a lot of sake. It was interesting to learn about because, like wine, sake has aromas, flavors, and body.
For those new to sake, first and foremost… what is it? Sake is a beverage that is made from fermented rice. It is embraced widely in the world of wine and spirits and Americans actually consume about 35% of all sake exported from Japan according to John Gauntner’s Sake World. Luckily if you don’t know much about sake, most places can make great recommendations from their lists. But, what happens when you want to go BYOB? That’s why, thanks to Joto Sake, we will debunk some of the common sake myths.
“Sake is not that simple, nor should it only be consumed warm. A great entry point for sake is Joto, a hand-selected sake portfolio of top Japanese brewers comprised of representative styles at varying price points. Whether for novices seeking a fun, approachable introduction to sake or for aficionados desiring a delightful sampling set, Joto is the perfect place to start. With a new year, the time is ripe for setting the record straight (and reaping the epicurean benefits!) when it comes to sake!” – Kobrand Fine Wine & Spirits.
Here are some of the Sake myths we are debunking in this article thanks to Kobrand Fine Wine & Spirits and Joto Sake!
- Sake is Served Hot – FALSE!
In Japan, sake was originally served warm in order to mask certain not so pleasant flavors present in the sakes produced prior to the rise of premium and artisanal sakes in the 1970’s. Many Americans have had the experience of warm sake, but that’s just an old habit that hasn’t died. I have had sake hot before, and enjoy it hot when I have a head cold, but on a normal basis, I sip my sake chilled because I really enjoy the vegetal flavors and fresh aromas that sake has to offer, especially Joto Sake.
**Note- Sake is very temperature-sensitive and its flavors will show differently based on slight changes in degrees. Try a rich and lively sake, Joto Junmai “The Green One” $22.99, chilled, at room temperature, and warm to understand these differences. Now, if you do want to warm your sake at home, bring a pan of water to boil and place a mug directly in the pan. Slowly pour the sake into the mug and use your finger to test the temperature as it heats. It should not exceed “hito-hado”, the Japanese term for body temperature.
2. Sake Is Too Strong – FALSE!
While sake usually has a higher alcohol content than table wine, it maxes out at 20% ABV and typically stays between 15% and 20%. This makes sake a great drink to enjoy a glass of on its own and with food. Sake is also an excellent cocktail ingredient and will make a delicious drink that is not as strong as a typical cocktail made with liquor.
**Note: Sake Martinis with cucumber slices are the perfect summertime sipper, especially here in Manhattan where we enjoy sushi and saketinis weekly!
3. Sake is Simple – FALSE!
When I first started tasting sake, I assumed it was simple. Sake is not simple- TRUTH. It is the product of complex production methods involving polishing rice grains and employing special yeasts which yield a variety of flavors from fresh and floral to aged and mature. Texture and body also range from rich to light and smooth. Take, for instance, Joto Daiginjo “The One with the Clocks” $44.99. This sake is produced by the Nakao Brewery with a proprietary apple yeast developed in the 1940’s. Made with rice that was milled, removing 50% of its outer coating, this sake is delicate, soft, and clean with hints of green apple. Just like me for wine, there are sake sommeliers who devote themselves to the study of sake’s intricacies.
Beyond flavor, sake is also connected to Japanese culture and history. History buffs, culture lovers, and adventure seekers would love the interesting sake history and tours while visiting Japan. Clearly, in this article, we have only begun to scratch the surface of sake’s depth, range, and complexity!
4. Sake is Only Available at Sushi Bars or Japanese Restaurants – FALSE!
Who else had their first taste of sake at a sushi bar or Japanese restaurant? I know I did! With a rapidly growing export market of top quality products to the United States, you can find now find excellent sake in restaurants serving Western cuisine, at specialty shops, or at your local wine and liquor store around the country. Pick up a bottle to try at home! I suggest Joto Junmai Ginjo “The Pink One” $26.99, which is delicious with light foods or on its own and is available nationally. It is brewed by Huchu Homare Brewery in Ishioka with two kinds of yeast that deliver light, fruity and floral flavors. Experiment with sushi pairings, or go further and pair them with fish tacos, ceviche, and some other cultural fish and vegetable dishes!
5. Sake Demands Special Glassware – FALSE!
Until the Edo period in Japan, sake was served only in stoneware and ceramic cups, and later cedar masu boxes were employed. Today, glass which you can find at many home stores and glassware stores has been deemed acceptable by sake professionals and aficionados. but in some sake bars, especially in NYC, you will find the wooden boxes as well as ceramic cups and stoneware. If you’re at home and don’t have a sake set, it’s ok because you don’t need one to enjoy sake to the fullest. You just need a great bottle, good friends, and delicious food! Also, the wine glasses you have at home will do the trick. Try Joto Junmai Nigori “The Blue One” $22.99, which is an unfiltered sake, so in order to see its full beauty, enjoy it in your wine glass (ps. don’t be alarmed, it will look cloudy).
If you’re not into unfiltered, but want to enjoy something with expressive tropical fruit notes, go for the Joto Junmai Nirgori “The Blue One” $22.99. This will easily pair with a night in and spicy Asian take-out! All that said, if you do want a sake set, these special handle-less cups are called choko, and can add aesthetic value and a ceremonial feeling to the drinking experience.
Want to try sake for yourself? I recommend Joto, one of the new go-to sakes that I pair with many styles of food including sushi, Thai, and even cheeses! Always remember, eat what you like and drink what you love… please pair responsibly!