Drink + Dine

Sake 101: An Expert Drinking Guide

January 26, 2015

For over 2,000 years, sake, the sophisticated rice alcohol, has played a pivotal role in Japanese culture and lifestyle. It is used to celebrate everything from weddings to corporate gatherings, to delicious dinners. Not only revered in the East, in recent decades sake is being embraced around the world as the perfect pairing for Japanese dishes, or to be enjoyed on its own.

Sake Mondays is kicking off at Katsuya with 50% off all sake bottles day and night. There will also be complimentary tastings with sake experts the last Monday of every month so you can learn more about this smooth drink. To kickstart this education, below are a few fun facts about the versatile drink. Cheers! Or as the Japanese say, Kanpai!

  • Made primarily from rice, sake is a fermented beverage brewed using a microorganism called koji and yeast.
  • Although sake is known as “Japanese rice wine,” it is quite different from wine. Rather, sake is brewed like beer (alcohol produced through fermentation of starches).
  • In Japan, food takes back seat to sake, where small dishes are prepared to enhance the enjoyment of sake, and not the other way around.
  • Often, a variety of sake will be served during the course of a meal to experience the full range of flavor combinations.
  • Delicate and light-bodied Daiginjo and Ginjo are the recommended starter sake. To best accompany the sake, simple and lightly flavored appetizers like salads, steamed seafood, tofu, etc. are most suitable as not to overpower the delicate flavor.
  • As meals progress with the introduction of stronger seasonings and heavier textures, sake should also progress to offer more pronounced flavors and distinctive characters. The super to ultra dry sake can balance off dishes with heavier sauces and oils.
  • In ancient Japan, the Imperial court and large religious institutions controlled the sake production, and sake was used as sacred life water for rituals and festivals.
  • The decanter used to pour sake is known as an o-choshi or tokkuri. The mouth of this container is made intentionally small, both to facilitate smooth pouring and prevent the warmed sake inside from cooling.
  • If you’re drinking with someone else, it’s good manners to pour servings for your partner – usually the younger person pours for the older person first.
  • Sake’s various aromas and flavors blend well with fruit juices as well as liqueurs. In fact, sake has given birth to a host of delightful sake cocktails.
  • Japanese sake is among only a handful of alcoholic beverages from around the world that are often heated before being consumed. It’s amazing how different the same sake tastes depending on whether it’s served hot or cold.
  • Drinking sake warm means that it produces a mild lingering “buzz” faster than it would if served cold. That means you can enjoy it to the fullest while drinking it in moderation.
  • Served at room temperature, warm, hot, chilled, ice-cold or iced, Japanese sake can be enjoyed in myriad ways. Try them out yourself and discover which you think is best!