How to Drink Sake

How to Drink Sake: A Guide for Beginners

Sake, or Japanese rice wine, is a popular alcoholic beverage that originated in Japan. It is often served alongside traditional Japanese dishes and is known for its unique flavor and aroma. If you’re a sake beginner, here’s everything you need to know about how to drink sake.

Choosing Sake

Sake is classified into various grades based on the quality of rice used and brewing techniques. The grades range from Junmai, which has been brewed with only rice, water, yeast, and koji, to premium Junmai Daiginjo, which uses the highest quality of rice. When selecting sake, it’s essential to understand the different grades and choose one based on your preference.

When choosing sake, it is important to consider the quality and style of the sake. Look for sakes that are made with high-quality rice and water, and that have been brewed using traditional methods. Sakes that are labeled as “Junmai” or “Honjozo” are generally considered to be of a higher quality than those labeled as “Futsu-shu”. Additionally, consider the flavor profile of the sake and choose one that suits your taste preferences. Junmai sakes typically have a fuller-bodied flavor, while Ginjo sakes are known for their fruity and floral notes. Furthermore, consider the occasion for which you will be serving the sake. A light and refreshing sake may be preferable for a summer evening, while a rich and full-bodied sake may be more appropriate for a winter dinner party. By taking these factors into consideration, you can choose a sake that will delight your palate and enhance your dining experience.

Serving Sake

Sake is traditionally served in small ceramic cups, called choko, or in tall cylindrical glasses, called sakazuki. The right glassware depends on the type of sake you’re drinking, but the general rule is to use a small glass for premium sake to enhance its aroma. Sake can be served hot, warm, or chilled, depending on the type of sake and your preference.

When it comes to serving sake, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it is important to serve sake at the correct temperature. Different types of sake are best enjoyed at different temperatures, with Junmai and Honjozo sakes typically served at room temperature or slightly warmed, and Ginjo and Daiginjo sakes served chilled. It is also important to use the right glassware – a small ceramic cup called a “choko” is traditionally used for warm sakes, while a tall, slender glass called a “tokkuri” is used for chilled sakes. To serve sake, pour it into the tokkuri and use a small pitcher or carafe to serve the sake into the choko. When pouring, it is traditional to fill each cup only halfway and to pour for others before pouring for yourself. Finally, toast your companions before taking your first sip, and enjoy the subtle and nuanced flavors of this unique and beloved beverage.

Drinking Sake

Before drinking sake, it’s recommended to appreciate its aroma by gently swirling the glass and taking a deep sniff. Next, savor the taste by taking a sip and holding the sake in your mouth before swallowing. Traditional Japanese sake-drinking etiquette involves pouring sake for others before pouring for yourself, receiving the glass with both hands, and expressing gratitude before drinking.

In addition to serving and pouring etiquette, there are also some guidelines for drinking sake. It is customary to take a sip before filling someone else’s cup, as a sign of respect and to ensure the quality of the sake. When receiving a filled cup, use both hands to receive it and then take a sip. It is considered impolite to refuse a cup when offered, but it is acceptable to decline politely by placing one hand over the cup and saying “sumimasen” (excuse me). When drinking with a group, it is customary to wait for everyone to be served and then raise your cup for a group toast called “kanpai!” It is also important to never pour your own sake and to always pour for others, as it shows generosity and respect. Overall, following the proper etiquette for drinking sake is a way to show appreciation for the culture and traditions of Japan.

Pairing Sake

Pairing sake with food is an excellent way to enhance your dining experience. Sake’s unique flavor profile makes it an excellent match for various dishes, from sushi to grilled meats. When pairing sake with food, consider the sake’s flavor intensity and acidity to complement the dish’s flavors.

When it comes to pairing sake with food, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. Generally, it is best to pair sake with lighter dishes, such as sushi, sashimi, and salads, as these dishes do not overpower the delicate flavors of the sake. However, sake can also be paired with heartier dishes, such as grilled meats, and even spicy dishes. When selecting a sake to pair with food, it is important to consider the flavor profile of the sake. For example, a dry sake with a crisp and clean finish pairs well with light seafood dishes, while a sweeter sake with a fruity finish pairs well with dessert or fruit-based dishes. Ultimately, the best way to determine which sake pairs well with a particular dish is to experiment and try different combinations.

Storage and Preservation

Proper storage is essential for preserving the quality of sake. Sake should be stored in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and heat. Once opened, sake should be consumed within a few days to maintain its freshness.

To ensure the longevity and quality of sake, proper storage and preservation techniques must be followed. Sake should always be stored in a cool and dark place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Ideally, the temperature should be between 50-68°F (10-20°C) to prevent the sake from spoiling or losing its flavor. Sake should be stored in an airtight container, such as a glass bottle or ceramic vessel, to prevent oxidation and contamination. Once opened, sake should be consumed within a few days to prevent it from going stale. Alternatively, leftover sake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, but it should be tightly sealed to prevent moisture from entering the container. Lastly, it is essential to handle sake with clean hands and to avoid exposing it to strong odors or flavors, as it can affect its taste and aroma. By following these storage and preservation techniques, sake can be enjoyed at its best quality and flavor.


Now that you know how to drink sake, it’s time to try different types and embrace the world of sake. Remember to appreciate the aroma, savor the taste, and follow traditional Japanese sake-drinking etiquette. Pair sake with your favorite dishes, and store it correctly for optimal flavor. Cheers to a new sake-drinking experience!

Other questions about “drink sake” you may need to understand

What is the proper way to drink sake?

Ans: The proper way to drink sake is to pour it into a small ceramic or glass cup and hold the cup with two hands. Then, raise the cup to your nose and take a whiff of the aroma before taking a sip. Take a small sip and let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.

What temperature should sake be served at?

Ans: The ideal temperature to serve sake varies depending on the type of sake. Generally, cold sake is served at about 5-10°C, while hot sake is served at about 40-45°C. However, some types of sake taste better at room temperature.

What foods pair well with sake?

Ans: Sake pairs well with a variety of foods, including sushi, sashimi, tempura, grilled fish, and other seafood dishes. It also pairs well with salty and savory dishes like miso soup, pickles, and grilled meat.

What is the difference between Junmai and Honjozo sake?

Ans: Junmai sake is made with only rice, water, yeast, and koji, while Honjozo sake is made with the addition of a small amount of distilled alcohol. Junmai sake tends to have a fuller flavor and a richer aroma, while Honjozo sake has a crisper taste and a lighter body.

Can sake be mixed with other liquids?

Ans: While it is not traditional to mix sake with other liquids, some people enjoy adding a bit of fruit juice, soda water, or even beer to their sake to create a unique flavor.

What is the best type of glass to use for sake?

Ans: The traditional cup for sake is a small ceramic cup called a “choko.” Alternatively, a glass called a “tokkuri” is used to hold and pour the sake.

How long does sake last once opened?

Ans: Once opened, sake should be consumed within a few days. It should be stored in the refrigerator to maintain its freshness.

Can sake be heated in a microwave?

Ans: Heating sake in a microwave is not recommended as it can cause the sake to boil over and lose its flavor.

Does sake not contain gluten?

Yes, sake is generally gluten-free. Sake is made from rice, koji (a type of mold), and water, and does not contain any wheat, barley, or other grains that contain gluten. However, some cheaper brands of sake may add additional ingredients like barley flour to their brews, which could contain gluten. It’s always advisable to check the label or contact the manufacturer to confirm whether the sake is gluten-free or not. Additionally, some sake may be contaminated with gluten during the brewing process, so individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should still exercise caution when trying new brands. Read more Is Sake Gluten Free?.

How much sake should you drink?

Ans: Sake should be enjoyed in moderation. A typical serving size is about 1.5-2 ounces, which is equivalent to a small shot glass.

Which types of sake are suitable for warming?

Not all types of sake are suitable for warming. Junmai, Honjozo, and Junmai Ginjo are great for warming, while Junmai Daiginjo and Ginjo should be enjoyed chilled. Read more How To Warm Sake?.

What are the most popular types of sake?

Ans: Some of the most popular types of sake include Junmai, Ginjo, and Daiginjo. Junmai is a full-bodied sake with a rich flavor, while Ginjo and Daiginjo are lighter and more fragrant. Other popular types include Nigori sake, which is unfiltered and has a cloudy appearance, and sparkling sake, which is carbonated like champagne.

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