Alcohol Toasty

Sip Or Shoot? An Expert Tells How To Drink Sake The Right Way

We here at Foodbeast love Japanese food as proven here, here and here. And what spirit pairs better with Japanese food than sake?!? With World Sake Day just passing recently (Oct. 1), we spoke with the Grape Experience Wine & Spirit School’s Marina Giordano DWS, one of the very few Wine & Spirit Education Trust Certified Sake Educators in the country about the way sake enhances the “umami” aka savory taste in food as well as the do’s and don’ts for sake newcomers. Kanpai!


How did you get into sake?

I was studying wine, and a friend introduced me to sake – I fell in love and had to know how it was made, why it tasted the way it did, and everything I could find out about it!

What’s the biggest misconception about the spirit?

That is just it – that sake is a “spirit.” It’s not distilled, it is brewed, similar to how beer is brewed. It’s alcohol strength is close to wine strength – 14 to 20% ABV. It should be consumed like a wine with food or alone.

What’s the difference between hot sake and cold sake? What’s your preference?

Hot sake is hot, cold sake is cold! [laughs] Seriously, most premium sake is served chilled, but depending on the style they may taste better warmed. Honjozo, Junmai, Yamahai, Kimoto and sometimes Koshu styles taste better warmed. These types of sake typically have more umami (savoriness), more cereal and lactic flavors, and just taste better warm or at room temperature. Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo, Daiginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo are typically more fruity, floral, and delicate and are better chilled. My preference depends on what I’m eating, what kind of mood I’m in, what the weather is like…

What are your thoughts on sake cocktails?

Some people believe this is the way to get non-sake drinkers to drink sake. I think it continues the misconception that sake is a spirit. I prefer my sake straight!

What about sake bombs?

No! They do have their place, but please don’t use the good stuff!

What are your top three do’s for new sake drinkers?

Do try lots of kinds! Taste all styles and grades. Just because you didn’t like a sake, doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there for you.

Do drink it out of a wine glass. The aromas and flavors will be more pronounced if you are drinking it from the right kind of glassware.

Do try sake at different temperatures. Start with it chilled, let it warm up, find the “sweet” spot that makes it tastes amazing.

What are your top three don’ts for new sake drinkers?

Don’t shoot your sake – it’s not a spirit, sip it like a wine.

Don’t get caught up in only drinking Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo. Yes, these grades have the highest milling rates and typically cost more, but it doesn’t mean they are better. There are some truly amazing Junmai and Honjozo sake out there! And these styles will often pair better with food.

Don’t be afraid to pair sake with non-Japanese foods. Sake pairs well with most foods – try it with anything, including pizza, pasta, steak, cheese, eggs, mushroom, potato, the list goes on.

What sake are you currently in love with and why?

It all depends on what I’m eating and what my mood is. Recently I opened Dewazakura Oka Ginjo “Cherry Bouquet.” Wow, what a beautiful sake! It is floral with pear, peach, and cherry aroma and flavors. I just love the aroma, flavors, and complexity of a great sake!


Where The Hell The SAKE BOMB Came From: A Lesson In Irony

Sake bombs aren't Japanese

If you attended college in the US, you probably found yourself hanging out at a cheap karaoke bar at some point, eating mock crab California rolls and pounding sake bombs. If you’ve never had a sake bomb, you can either consider yourself as having missed out or, alternatively, greatly privileged. Sake bombs, typically comprised of cheap beer and cheap sake, are unpleasant, both in taste and consumption method. If you wish to subject yourself to a sake bomb, grab a glass of watery beer and lay two chopsticks over the cup’s rim. Atop the chopsticks, place a shot glass full of shlocky sake. Surround yourself with people who are willing to do the same. Then, collectively, yell this out:

Ichi…ni…san…sake bomb!  (Translated: One…two…three….DRANK!) Or, if you’re feeling a bit more barbaric:Sake…sake…sake…sake!At this point, everyone should bang on the table, causing the sake to fall into the beer. The resulting mix is to be guzzled quickly, before you can taste what you’re drinking. You might be wondering why the Japanese would invent a drinking game that subjects sake, a potentially delicious and often holy beverage, to such a strange practice.The answer is, they didn’t.

“…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 oenophiles do you see doing Chardonnay bombs?”

The origins of the sake bomb are oddly mysterious, but there seems to be a consensus that the drink –  or drinking ritual, depending on how you look at it – did not originate in Japan, and is basically never practiced there. A few sources suggest that sake bombs were actually invented by American soldiers occupying Japan in the years following World War II. It’s hard to know if this history is ironic, or makes perfect sense.


Perhaps part of the reason sake bombs have proven more popular in America than they have in Japan is because many Americans believe that sake doesn’t taste any good. We think of it as something to be shot, rather than sipped. But the truth is, sake can be a downright delicacy. As Sake Social, an online sake retailer, brilliantly puts it, “…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 oenophiles do you see doing Chardonnay bombs?”

Perhaps if we only had access to low-quality Chardonnay in the US, we would be kicking back Chard-bombs. Monica Samuels, National Sake Sales Manager for sake importer Vine Connections, believes that Americans have been consuming sake exclusively via sake bombs for decades because it was extremely difficult until recently to purchase premium sake in the US. Therefore, as only bad sake was available, we masked it like we would the taste of any cheap booze: by dousing it in mixers. In this case, the mixer was beer.

While you’re still welcome to throw a sake bomb down the hatchet – we’ve tossed back a few in our day – there are much better, less obnoxious ways to drink sake. Instead of boiling a bad sake to scorching temperatures or plopping it in a pint glass, enjoy a small portion of excellent sake with some light food, like a radish salad, rice, and a little fish. We recommend starting with Tozai Snow Maiden Nigori, which is easy to drink, fruit forward, and available onlineIchi…ni…san…good sake!

Written by Aliza Kellerman of VinePair