Becky Luigart-Stayner

An introduction to this ancient libation

August 14, 2008

Sake is a fermented beverage made of rice, water, yeast, andkoji, an enzyme. Although today it's most strongly associated withJapan, it originated almost 7,000 years ago in China's YangtzeeRiver Valley.

How to serve it
Contrary to popular opinion, sake should not always be servedhot. "Good sake is always served chilled, mediocre sake servedwarm," Frost says. Why? High-quality ginjo and daiginjo sakes areactually damaged by heat. Prior to the '60s, when ginjo anddaiginjo became commercially available, most sakes were heated forpasteurization. If you'd like to try hot sake, Frost recommendsmicrowaving it. But, he adds, "Once you go chilled, you'll never goback."

In a cocktail
Substitute sake for vermouth and add it to vodka to make asaketini. Garnish with a cucumber slice or fresh ginger.

Food pairings
Sake melds well with any dish with which you'd serve a drywhite wine.


Sake varieties


• Daiginjo: ultrapremium; made with highlypolished rice

• Ginjo: premium; made with polished rice

• Nigori: milky and roughly filtered; retains smallparticles of rice

• Honjozo: blended with a small amount of distilledalcohol; imported from Japan

• Junmai: made with fermented rice only, no alcoholadded; most sakes manufactured in the United States are junmai

Sake suggestions
Grif Frost, chair of the International Sake Institute andhost of May's Sake Summit in New York City, recommends thefollowing brands, all of which can be found stateside:

• Y: the first daiginjo sake made in the UnitedStates

• Momokawa: a ginjo sake; the name means "peachriver"

• Moonstone: infused with flavors of fruit, likeraspberry and Asian pear

Sake school
If you would like to learn more about sake, consider theInternational Sake Institute's Sakemaster Certification course.The10 lesson course which is taken via e-mail and is availabletuition-free through December 2002. Check out the International SakeInstitute's web site on the course.

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