Beginner’s Guide to Sake

Are you thinking of branching out from the traditional and giving sake a try? Want to see what all the fuss is about with this classic alcoholic beverage? If you’ve ever found yourself wishing you could sample some sake but not sure how to go about it, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll give you a quick rundown of what sake is and how to go about choosing it when you’re ready to purchase. You’ll find out why this drink is so popular and what to expect from trying it, too. Check out our beginner’s guide to sake to learn more.

Variations
Some people believe the different terms used to describe sake refer to the quality of the drink. However, they actually refer to the way the sake is brewed. To some, though, this still means that certain variations are better quality than others, because they may taste better thanks to their brewing process. Whether you believe this or not, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the types of sake you might encounter when you go shopping. This can help you narrow down the right choice for your specific needs when the time comes to buy, too.
The types of sake include the following:

  • Junmai-shu: This type of sake is often considered the best or highest quality. The reason for this is that Junmai-shu sake is made with only rice and doesn’t include any other types of alcohol that might cloud the flavor. It’s a “pure” sake, and it often has a slightly higher acidity as well as a fuller flavor than the others. This sake is likely to be the most expensive on the shelves, although this may not always be true depending on other variables.

  • Honjozo-shu: With this type of sake, a little bit of distilled alcohol is added to the rice sake to make the end result lighter than Junmai-shu. This type of sake is especially nice for those who are new to drinking it, since it can be more palatable overall. It may be drier, however, so those who don’t like dry sake might prefer to choose something else.

  • Ginjo-shu: This is a sweet sake that is much different from the previous two types. It’s made with a different percentage of rice than the other types, and a lot more goes into the process of creating this sake, too. It has to be kept colder than the other styles and goes through a much longer fermentation stage. The end result is something much lighter, more delicate and fruitier in comparison to the others. This style of sake is ideal for those who like cold sake or who want to ease into drinking it with something that has a very mild taste.

  • Daiginjo-shu: This type of sake is even more intensive than Ginjo-shu and includes even less of the original rice grain. It’s important to note that Daiginjo-shu and Ginjo-shu both can also be Junmai if they are made without distilled alcohol added to them.

  • Namazake: This type of sake is not pasteurized and therefore has to be kept cold. This is a term that can be used to describe any of the other types of sake and doesn’t actually refer to a specific, standalone variation. The flavor is much different when drinking unpasteurized namazake, and it may not be ideal for everyone. It can be overpowering and isn’t the best choice if you’re looking for a cocktail base.

  • Flavored sake: This is a type of sake that deserves an honorable mention. Flavored sake usually comes in plum or “umeboshi” flavor, but it may also be found in peach and other similar, light flavors that work well with the drink. This is usually a sweet sake, although if you choose the plum variation, expect it to be tart and sour. Flavored sake can be made of any variation from the list above, although they’re more commonly made with Ginjo-shu sake since it is already light and fruity to begin with. These drinks are popular finds on restaurant menus and may make a nice addition to some cocktails.


Serving Options

There are several ways to serve sake, but they all boil down to either hot or cold. The right way to enjoy your sake depends on several factors—including your own preferences! Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to decide which option to go with for your sake experience:

  • Hot sake: The most traditional way to drink hot sake is “atsukan.” This refers to the process of pouring sake into a ceramic sake tumbler and then heat the sake from the outside in. One of the most common modern ways to do this is to set the ceramic container into a small pan with water, then heat the water to boiling and let it simmer until the sake warms up. This tradition dates all the way back to the 3rd century BC, when it was heated with ash instead of in a pot of water.

  • Cold sake: The majority of sake is enjoyed chilled in the refrigerator or in an ice bucket. Cold sake helps allow the flavors to change considerably from what they are at room temperature or when heated. When sake is very high quality, it should be served chilled and should not be heated, as heating will remove some of the more complex flavors and aromas of the drink.

Do you feel like you learned a little something about sake here today? We hope we’ve been able to help you gain a better, more thorough understanding of this drink. From here, you might want to go out and buy a bottle to try on its own, as sake is intended to be enjoyed. On the other hand, you may be feeling creative and might want to give some sake cocktails a shot instead. Whichever way you choose to try it, take your time selecting the perfect sake and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying this new experience.

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