Chances are, you’ve had hot sake or sake bomb before, or you’ve tried a flight of sake at a restaurant and you’re curious to find that experience again. Sake may seem difficult at first because of the foreign labels, terminology, and lack of information and selection available at most restaurants, but actually, it’s an incredibly approachable drink! We believe you don’t have to be a sake sommelier to enjoy sake. You can enjoy it any way you want—even if you really do love that sake bomb! Here at Tippsy, our mission is to provide access to a good selection as well as information to make sake easy and fun. There’s so much to know about the world of sake, but for those seeking an introduction and just a little more knowledge to enhance the dining experience, we’ve put together a Sake Guide to give you a better understanding and appreciation for this centuries-old work of craftsmanship.
Here’s what you’ll find in this guide:
Sake (also spelled saké) is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice that has been polished and fermented with a special ingredient called koji. The correct pronunciation is “sah-keh” (not sah-kee). Known as Japan’s national beverage, there are over 10,000 variations of sake produced all over the country. The average ABV (alcohol by volume) is between 14–16%. Sake is a very versatile drink with great pairing abilities for all types of cuisine. Here we look at the brief history of sake, how sake is made, and the unique regionality of Japan that influences the variety of sake we enjoy today.
Japanese sake is made from sakamai, rice that is suitable for brewing sake. A grain of rice consists of the exterior layer (bran) and the interior (starch). The proteins and fat from the outer layer and the sugars from the starchy center both play a role in the brewing process and flavors of the sake. Brewers determine the level of rice-polishing and gently mill away these elements using large vertical rice polishing machines to achieve the desired taste profile of the final product. Rice polishing ratio (seimaibuai) is the percentage of rice that remains after the external layers have been polished away. Here, we discuss the purpose of rice polishing, how it’s done, and the categorization of sake.
There are so many different kinds of sake to choose from, each with unique flavor profiles that highlight the distinct regions of Japan. The categorization of sake can be a little overwhelming so we’ve simplified it into three main types—junmai, ginjo and daiginjo—and some subcategories that represent sake with other unique characteristics (flavored, nigori, sparkling, nama and more). Nothing is as important as enjoying the sake itself, but knowing more about how ingredients, rice polishing and brewing techniques contribute to sake classification can enhance your dining experience.
Different types of sake require different kinds of storage and handling. Some can be maintained in a dark area at room temperature, and other delicate sake require refrigeration to keep the flavor fresh and intact. Unpasteurized sake is best refrigerated, and all sake, once opened should be refrigerated. Avoid light, fluctuating and extreme temperatures, and strong smells. We’ll show you the best ways of storing your sake before and after opening, as well as some key things to remember, and expiration dates.
Most people are introduced to sake through hot sake and sake bombs! The beauty of sake, however, is that it is an amazingly versatile drink. In Japan, it is said that sake tastes different at every 5 degrees Celsius and each interval has a unique name! Many sake can be enjoyed at different temperatures—chilled, room temperature, warm and hot. What’s the best way to warm up your sake? (Hint: The microwave should be your very last resort!) Learn about the proper way of setting up a hot bath, kettle or ice bath, and enjoy your sake the way the brewers intended!
Sake has a reputation for being a ceremonial drink. While this is partly true, sake culture is evolving with the sophisticated, modern tastes of global consumer culture. These days, it’s not surprising to find enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike drinking sake from a wine glass. In fact, the type of vessel can influence one’s experience and perception of sake aromas and flavors. In this lesson, we’ll introduce you to ochoko, masu and different styles of drinking sake, as well as some fun etiquette for pouring and serving sake!
“What do I eat with sake?” Sake is well-designed for sushi, sashimi and all kinds of Japanese food because of its umami element, but many are surprised to learn that it has incredible potential for pairing with other kinds of global cuisine (and pizza)! There is a saying that sake “does not fight with food” and this is because of how sake is made: its lower levels of acidity and no tannins make it a complementary addition to any meal, or the highlight of the evening. There is such a vast variety of sake, ranging from entry-level to more complex, and a wide spectrum of flavor profiles (rich/sweet, rich/dry, light/sweet, light/dry). Generally, lighter sake pairs best with seafood and vegetable dishes, and fuller-body sake goes well with flavorful spicy, fried, or hearty dishes. Whatever is on the menu, there is a perfect sake pairing! Read more for our tips on pairing sake with your favorite food.
For more on sake news, trends, and recipes, you can also check out our blog. From all of us at Team Tippsy, KANPAI!