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How to pour sake—mokkiri vs wine glass

| Alice Hama

Have you ever seen sake being served with a wooden box and wondered how you should drink it?

This wooden box is called masu. It was originally used as a measuring cup by vendors selling rice and sake. It comes in different sizes but the standard one is 6.1 oz. (=1 go). Even though in modern days, Japan has adopted the Western scale, we still use these traditional measurements in certain areas, especially for cooking rice.

What do you usually drink your sake with? Exploring different vessels could bring out a new discovery from the same sake bottle.

When you see a sake-filled glass sitting in this masu, this style of sake service is called mokkiri. The word is derived from morikiri, which originally means “filling full to the rim.” Izakaya (Japanese bars) and restaurants used to sell sake by one serving in masu (6.1oz.) but they started placing a glass inside to pour more generously and to make it easier for customers to drink, and this practice gradually became part of a cool drinking tradition.

The important thing to note is that you need to overpour the sake. The overflowing sake reflects hospitality, signifying gratitude towards your guest (this is the spirit of omotenashi).

In this article, I will explain in detail how to serve and enjoy sake in two ways: 1) mokkiri and 2) wine glass.

Getting ready

  1. Wipe down the bottle to make sure it is clean.
  2. Many sake bottles sold in the US come with screw caps. Make sure you open the bottle and remove the unwanted metal part for your safety.

Mokkiri service

  1. Hold the bottle in the palm of your hand, label facing the guest (your thumb on the right side of the label).
  2. You can also grab the bottle in the following position to provide more stability to your grip.
  3. Slowly pour the sake into the glass. Make sure you do not splash the sake outside of masu.
  4. Overpour the glass. You can choose how much you would like to overpour but usually do not exceed the 1/2 depth of the masu. You will also need to consider the size of the sake glass. The goal is to make sure you pour more than one serving (6.1oz.) in total.

How to enjoy mokkiri

  1. Take the first sip directly from the glass in the masu. You can also take out the glass from the masu for the first sip. It is recommended to wipe the bottom of the glass before placing it on the table to avoid making a mess.
  2. Finish the sake glass first. Never place the glass back in masu once you take it out.
  3. Transfer the remaining sake in the masu to the glass.
  4. You can also drink the remaining sake directly from masu by sipping from the flat surface, not from the corner. However, it is a general custom and looks more elegant to transfer sake to the glass. Please note that the masu is made with natural wood and can stain easily, so if you have lipstick on or are eating some greasy dishes, it is always better to avoid direct contact. Some restaurants use plastic masu for these reasons.

The benefit of using the wooden masu is that it provides a pleasant woody aroma which offers a fun way to change up the sake experience as you drink.

How to clean

The best way to clean the masu is by plain water. Try to stay away from fragrant dish soap, but if you have to, use a bit of baking soda and salt. Do not leave it in water or heat for a long time and never place it in the dishwasher. Make sure to air dry after washing.

Where to buy in the US

I purchased my masu on Amazon.com. Though the price varies, the one I got was $12 for a set of 2.

Wine glass service

I am pretty sure you have at least one wine glass at home. I personally love enjoying sake in a wine glass as it provides more space for air which helps bring up the aroma of sake.

  1. Hold a bottle in the palm of the hand, label facing the guest (your thumb on the right side of the label).
  2. Pour the sake to the widest point of the glass. This will be where the sake has the greatest amount of surface area, which allows the sake to be exposed to air and release its aroma.

How to choose a wine glass

I use Riedel’s restaurant series white wine glass to pour my sake. This glass can be used for a variety of sake from sweet to dry. If you are pouring extra aromatic sake, you can experiment with their Chardonnay glass, which is rounder and larger in size compared toa regular white wine glass. Riedel also sells sake-specific glasses, so you might want to check those as well.

Where to buy a wine glass

I purchased my Riedel glasses on Amazon.com. You can easily find those at wine shops and department stores.

Featured sake

Ichinokura “Mukansa Ex Dry”

Miyagi Prefecture

This is an aromatic sake with nuances of melon, white peach, and white bouquet. It is made in a dry style and the finish is very smooth and clean. Suitable to serve in both mokkiri and in a wine glass. This sake is very food friendly.

Recommended pairing
  • Asian pairing: Sashimi, yakitori, gyoza
  • Western pairing: Oyster, carpaccio, sauteed lemon chicken
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