Jan 10, 2023

HOW TOFrom Sake Skeptic to Sake Lover

Getting to know sake can seem intimidating at first, and the effort is often held back by poor initial experiences. An open mind and a little bit of exploration, however, can ignite a lasting love of Japan’s national drink.

Jan 10, 2023

A little knowledge leads to a lot of love

Sake can seem daunting. It’s often hidden behind confusing labels, where even when the words are in English, the meanings are often challenging to decipher. But have no fear! Most sake terms are relatively simple to say and understand with just a little practice. And think back to beer and wine: were you born knowing what brut, lambic or qvevri meant? No! You learned by exposure, and the same is true of sake.

There are now websites, books, and communities sharing sake knowledge to clear the way, including Reddit’s r/sake, books like The Japanese Sake Bible by Brian Ashcraft, and Discover Sake on Instagram. We have also published articles explaining sake basics like rice polishing and the role of koji, so take a look to get started. Learning is the perfect gateway for your path to falling in love with sake!

The truth about temperature

Many first sake experiences outside of Japan seem to go wrong. People often get a poorly kept drink served super hot, which leaves a pretty bad first impression. This has led to backlash against warm sake as some equate it with poor quality. This is a mistake!

In Japan, drinking sake warmed is a treasured tradition, and all but the most delicate premium sake will express a different, yet pleasant flavor when warmed.

In fact, many consumers drink sake over-chilled, which will mute much of sake’s real flavor notes. This is not to say that you must drink sake warm, just that the way flavors transform with temperature is one of its unique charms. To explore, try starting chilled and let the sake warm to room temperature, checking the shifts in flavor and aroma as you go. Next, heat it – ideally using a hot-water bath, although a microwave in 10-second bursts also works – to a comfortable temperature and check it as it cools down. Enjoy the changing flavor profiles and reference them next time you pour a cup.

More variety means more excitement

Another of sake’s attractions is all the variety to explore. Despite the simple ingredient list, the complex brewing process allows huge variation in flavor, mouthfeel, and aroma. From delicate, fruity daiginjo to rich, savory junmai, there is a sake to satisfy any palate. And the lack of tannins and overall lower acidity make sake quite easy to match with food. 

Are you looking for something elegant to go with fruits like strawberries or cherries? Try a junmai ginjo like Ohyama Junmai Ginjo Fu-In.

Want a heartier drink for a steak dinner? Give Kenbishi Kuromatsu Honjozo a try!

How about something rich, complex, and heavy to sit and contemplate on a winter’s evening? Tamagawa Time Machine is a next-level experience.

In the end, the best way to learn to love sake is experiencing it yourself. Sake shops like True Sake in San Francisco or Sakaya in New York will have a carefully curated stock of sake and knowledgeable staff to guide you in your journey toward sake love. Just remember, don’t let anyone tell you how to drink sake – it’s yours to enjoy any way you want.