Nothing completes an exquisite meal like a perfectly paired drink. Italian cuisine has wine, American and other cuisines turn to beer, Mexican has tequila and Asian cuisine has sake. Sake is commonly called “rice wine” and was developed in Japan. This national beverage of Japan has been around for centuries but until recently (relative to its timeline) the popularity of this drink finally made its way from Asia to the United States. When it comes to enjoying sake, there are several misconceptions and commandments that surround sake and can be interesting to know. So, the next time you find yourself out with friends enjoying some quality sake, you’ll be able to impress your company with your knowledge and familiarity of how to drink sake.
Not Actually Wine
Since wine is made from the fermentation of sugars found in fruit and sake contains no fruit, it technically isn’t wine. In fact, the two-step fermentation process of the rice is similar to the production of beer. So, from a chemical and ingredient perspective, sake is more like beer than wine. But don’t let yourself call it beer either because the special production process is unique and unlike any other alcoholic beverage in the world.
Temperature Does Matter
The second common misconception about sake is that only cheap, low-quality sake should be served hot. This, in fact, is false because there are different varieties of sake and each one can be enhanced by being served at the proper temperature. Heating high-quality sake typically brings out more of the alcohol notes, wonderful umami flavors and suppresses some of the aromatics. When in doubt, ask your server for suggestions (if more than one type of sake is offered). Hot sake isn’t just for the cheap.
Sake isn’t only for Sushi
Most of us have only experienced sake when we are indulging on sushi, which has led us to believe that only sushi can be paired with sake. However, there is an old Japanese saying, “Nihonshu wa ryori wo erabanai,” which translates to “Sake doesn’t fight with food.” The low acidity and high concentration of amino acids (evokes umami sense on our plates) makes sake a great beverage of choice for a wide range of cuisine choices.
Commandments of Sake
- Bombs and shots- We as Americans tend to be in a hurry with our food and drinks and we developed “sake bombs” and “sake shots.” But sake was not developed for this purpose of quick consumption. Instead, the Japanese culture enjoys the flavor, history, and culture that sake represents. So, the next time you think about going sake bombing, remember that sake was meant to be enjoyed like a fine wine rather than a cheap tequila.
- Avoid heat and light- while we already talked about the fact that good sake can be served warm, when you buy your own and store it at home you should avoid heat and light. Storing your personal sake supply in a cool, dark spot will not only extend the shelf life but also preserve the flavor.
- Cheap and Premium don’t describe the same sake- there is no sense in trying to bargain hunt for a premium sake like a hidden gem in the market. The higher quality the sake is, the more the raw materials cost. So, if you want to experience a high-end sake like a Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo, you’ll have to pay for it.
- Never pour for yourself- this is a cultural rule that should be observed because it will enhance the experience of sharing sake with people that you care about. O-shaku is the basic etiquette rule of serving sake and the main part is that you serve others but never yourself. The social interaction and bonding that is created by serving others are unique and important when consuming sake.
- Screw caps are universal- unlike in the wine culture where screw caps are a big NO-NO, screw caps on sake bottles are almost exclusively used. You’ll find the twist cap on everything from bottom shelf sake to the highest Junmai Daiginjo you can buy. Twist caps make it easy to open, easy to close and the best way to prevent oxidation in-between servings.
Head to the Noodle Bar for ramen in Phoenix for an amazing menu of noodle-inspired favorites like Hakata Ramen, Tsukemen, and Pomodoro. Also, don’t forget everything you just learned when you’re sipping on a great sake that pairs perfectly with your meal choice! Check out the full menu of our Downtown Phoenix restaurant.