For Saké’s Sake

When it comes to saké, many people only know to order it hot or cold. But there’s a whole world out there to discover about this libation you should be aware of before your next outing.
Text by Rony Mo | June 1, 2018 | Lifestyle

You. Me. Bartenders. We’ve all had a part in ruining saké culture. When we order the sushi bar’s Futsu or table variety, we’re usually paying 100% of the F-quality bottle’s cost…for a fraction of its contents. Saké Bombs send hundreds of years of tradition into the air, only to come splashing down on the table. For only having 3 ingredients (rice, water & aspergillus oryzae), saké is incredibly diverse. Keeping an eye out for just a few keys words can help us make informed decisions and increase our appreciation of Japanese rice wine.
Junmai, served hot or cold, is saké in its purest form. Similar to the Reinheitsgebot, or German purity law that regulates brewing practices, there’s no legal way to add extra alcohol, sweeteners or flavors. The taste and aroma of these styles tend to be more assertive, and heating up or cooling down increases its drinkability. Ichishima Shuzo has a silky semi-sweet texture that goes with just about everything except umami-rich foods. Tozai Living Jewel is a drier, more acidic selection for savory meats.
Junmai-Ginjo, served at room temperature or chilled, could be paired with delicate foods, but is best enjoyed on its own. Its nuances are the result of polishing, or removing the outer layers of rice bran, creating more honest flavors and retarding the presence of off ones. Like Goldschläger, the elegant bottles of Bunraku Kinmai swirl with edible gold flakes. Chikurin Karoyaka is an organic, balanced beverage that goes through a lighter pasteurization process, giving it a softer mouth-feel.
Sparkling, served cold, is an effervescent rice wine that can be substituted for club soda in premium cocktails or presented in a flûte like champagne. Usually half the alcohol of traditional saké, yet higher than most beers, it could be compared to a dimmer, less acidic cider. Zipang, produced by industry leader Gekkeikan, is easy to sip and dissipates quickly, making it sushi’s perfect complement. Poochi Poochi is the grown-up version of a lemon-lime soda like 7 Up and can make a happy home with either a summer salad or fresh white cheeses.
Nigori, served chilled or cold, is perfect for extinguishing the heat from spicy foods or in lieu of dessert wine. The essence of coconut, rice pudding and vanilla will rest on the palate without being cloyingly sweet. This style is unfiltered, so a gentle shake mixes the natural sediments and promotes carbonation. Yuki No Bosha is a gateway nigori with lighter viscosity and a drier finish than most of its counterparts, thanks to its higher alcohol content. Hakutsuru Sayuri is a classic representation of the style with an opaque/snowy appearance, honeydew melon fragrance and a palate-pleasing marzipan-like flavor.
Like wine, enjoying saké is deeply personal so feel free to experiment. Just avoid brands that add excessive alcohol, dilute their products with water or promote strong — and many times artificial — flavorings and you can’t lose.