Sake owes a lot of its current popularity to its attachment to sushi. Nine out of ten people who have tried sake did so for the first time at a sushi restaurant. This is not a bad thing as there are a number of sushi establishments, but it is also a double-edged sword as people tend to equate drinking sake solely with sushi! Sake can be paired with most types of cuisine. Anything off the grill, from the sea, from the air, pulled from the ground, or cooked in a fryer is a perfect match. Sake should be at any meal where there is beer and wine, and in most cases sake will pair better with what’s on your plate than beer or wine.
Sake is meant to be “shot.”
Sake is a sipping beverage like wine. When you speak about taking a shot of sake it is the equivalent of taking a shot of Merlot. By all means take shots of whiskey, tequila, vodka, and the like, however, sake should be exempt. A good rule of thumb is if you hear the word “proof” then it is more than likely a booze meant to be “shot.” Sake, wine, and beer are types of fermented beverages and are never discussed in terms of “proof.” Therefore, they should be considered as sipping libations.
Hot sake is bad sake.
There is a very good reason why most of us believe this to be true, but quite frankly it is not. Initially in the US, the first brews to grace our shores were not the highest qualities or the best representations of sake. In fact most were low grades that had been handled very poorly, and as a result, were a poor introduction for American consumers. The best way to mask cheap or damaged sake was to heat it! So it was served warm and a whole generation of sake drinkers now associate sake with overheated jet fuel.
In Japan however, the issue is a bit more “grade” orientated. In other words the lower grade Ginjo brews such as Futsushu, Honjozo, and Junmai are the most common types of sakes served piping hot. Conversely, these are neither damaged nor poor tasting sakes – they simply come into their own after being heated. Sakes of all temperatures are wonderful things! During the frigid winters in Japan, there is nothing more therapeutic and relaxing than drinking a warmed sake of good quality. Therein lies the most basic statement – bad sake makes for bad hot sake, and warm good sake is a treasure to behold.
Sake produces huge hangovers.
Well let’s cut to the chase, any booze without moderation will produce a hangover. There are several reasons why people feel that sake is a hangover producing alcohol. The first is that in more cases than not, they drink more than they realize. As tall carafes come one after the other, and those tiny cups get continuously filled, one tends to lose sight of the fact that they are quaffing a beverage with a 15% alcohol content. Now, there is a chance that one is drinking a low quality, cheap sake that has been intentionally brewed to get one inebriated but this holds true in the malt-liquors of the world as well. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely applies.
On the whole, sake does not rank highly on the list of hangover inducing beverages because it is simply fermented rice and water. Also, sake has no sulfites, 1/3 the acidity of wine, and very low histamines – all three of which have been known to produce hangovers in other libations. The final factor is that our bodies acclimate to your drink of choice, and when one imbibes an alcohol that is unfamiliar it affects your body in a different manner.
Sake should only be served out of a small wooden box.
Maybe 80 years ago! Those tiny wooden boxes are known as masu and were indeed a very important part of sake’s history, but that was back in the day when the typical brew was rather coarse and quite rough. The cedar tones of the wood acted as a buffer or mellower for some questionable tasting sake – almost along the lines of a masking agent. It took the edge off sweet, gooey, and boozy brews. It also represented a fair pour and you as a consumer knew that you were getting your money’s worth as opposed to a slick trick cup that appears larger than it actually is. But it is very fun to drink out of a square box – no question about that! Especially when they overflow the pour into a saucer to make you feel welcome and as a token of a restaurant’s appreciation for your patronage.
The point of sake is to enjoy it – however you want! There is no right or wrong. Drink out of whatever makes you happy. With that said some premium sakes that are served in a masu tend to lose their special qualities of nuance and gentleness. The subtleties get lost in the wood, as perhaps the subtleties of a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir would be lost if served in the same manner. The masu is fun, and it is novel with today’s premium brews, but to get the full function and flavor of a sake, a glass is best!
Sake is pronounced Saki or Sak-ee.
Nope! Sake is best pronounced “sa-kay.” Not saki, like ski! And when you see that little accent above the e – giggle because it doesn’t belong there!
Sake bottles are huge.
Sake comes in many different size bottles from 180ml all the way up to 1.8Ls. The vast majority in the US are 720ml bottles that look similar to wine bottles, which are 750ml. When you see this size sake bottle, think 24 fluid ounces, which is roughly six 4oz pours! Now those huge bottles that look like magnums, those are 1.8L bottles that are 60 fluid ounces.
Sake is best served “cloudy.”
Cloudy or “unfiltered” sakes are called nigori and indeed it is typically white and milky in texture, but it is not usually referred to as a high-end or premium sake. Yes, some can be Ginjo or even Daiginjo grade brews, but mostly nigori tend to be a bit sweeter than filtered sakes, which also adds to their popularity and extra visibility. In general, unfiltered brews are considered a subclass of sake and are far more popular in the West than in Japan.
Sake should be “bombed.”
There is no such thing as the infamous “sake bomb” in Japan, and most Japanese think the West is crazy for wasting sake by dumping it into beer. Basically, doing a Chardonnay bomb would accomplish the exact same thing and how many wine-philes do you see doing Chardonnay bombs?
You can never pour your own sake.
It has been said that pouring your own sake is bad luck. Not true. Pouring for another is a way to build camaraderie and create a bond. It is polite but not necessary.
Sake is a guy’s drink.
In Japan there is a definite perception that sake is a masculine libation and the vast majority of sake is consumed by 30 to 80 year-old men. But in the West sake is far more accepted and enjoyed by women, with many of the “new world” brews leading the charge by appealing to new classes of sake drinkers.