Sake Etiquette

Unbeknownst to the average American, there is a strict code of sake etiquette that the Japanese have followed for hundreds of years. Have you been drinking sake wrong? Here is how it is done in Japan.

The three most popular ways to drink sake are either warm, chilled or at room temperature, and most bottles will give the brewery recommendation somewhere on the label. It is very important to follow these suggestions as to best bring out each taste profile. A traditional sake set includes a carafe and personal cups known as ochoko, items all traditional Japanese establishments carry religiously.

In ancient times, sake etiquette transcended the social hierarchy. This short clip does a great job of showing how the beverage was traditionally enjoyed, while depicting an era where different classes enjoyed their sake together, and at the same place nonetheless.

For formal sake consumption, there are strict protocols that must be adhered to, the most important being never to refill your own cup and making sure each ochoko always remains full. Now that you know these two staples of sake etiquette, it is time to dive into the complex yet fascinating realm of the pouring ritual.

When it comes to pouring sake, there are two roles, the pourer and the receiver. To gain a better understanding of the nuances of each one, the following is a step-by-step look at the roles of the pourer and the receiver in the pouring ritual.

The Pourer

  1. First, the pourer must hold the sake bottle firmly in his/her right hand, with the left hand placed near the mouth, as to support it.
  2. When pouring, begin with a drizzle, work your way to a flow, and end with a drizzle. By doing it this way, you are able to control the strength and weakness of the pour. Once you have finished pouring, turn the mouth of the sake bottle towards you to avoid excess sake leaking.

The Receiver

  1. Prior to receiving sake, it is customary to finish the remaining liquid in your cup. Hold the cup in your right hand and support the base with your left.
  2. While your cup is being poured, do not let the base touch the table. Mirroring the first step, hold the cup in your right hand and support the base with your left.
  3. Once your cup has been poured, following Japanese tradition, take a sip before placing the cup on the table.

Once everyone has been served, and all cups are full, it is time for the “Kampai” toast. Stemming from a Chinese word literally meaning “drain your cup of sake,” this custom is believed to have originated around 1854, when the Anglo-Japan Friendship Treaty was signed into existence.

Overall, sake etiquette has continuously shifted and adapted to modern times, but many important traditions have remained prevalent. As the beverage continues to grow in popularity outside of Japan, there will be increased demand for learning these age old customs. Sake Social has an extensive collection of articles geared towards all things sake. Visit our website to learn more!

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