Is Sake a rice wine? Well, not exactly.
“Rice wine” is a term often used to describe sake, and understandably so, since it can have characteristics associated with wine. However, wine by definition is alcohol that is fermented from the sugars in a fruit — which rice clearly is not. Since sake is alcohol made from a fermented grain and evolves from starch to sugar to alcohol — and is made in sake breweries to boot — it is more closely related to beer.
And the way it tastes? Despite the fact that sake is brewed only from rice, it has a wide variety of tastes very much like wine. Thus, trying to categorize sake in broad strokes is almost impossible. There are close to 3,000 breweries across Japan, all of which use different rice, yeast, water, and brewing methods. Within these variations, there are four distinct flavor profiles. These include:
Junmai: Pure rice wine without any distilled alcohol.
Honjozo: At least 30% of the rice is polished away and a small amount of alcohol is added.
Ginjo: At least 40% of the rice is polished away and alcohol may or may not be added.
Daiginjo: At least 50% of the rice is polished away and alcohol may or may not be added.
Don’t rely only on the above profiles, though. Depending on the skill of the brewer, the quality of the rice, and the water, a less expensive style can taste more elegant and a higher level can be disappointing. So, taste as many sakes as you can. You are sure to find one you like, as well as one that works for you in cocktails.
Pink Grapefruit, Ginger, and Lemongrass Sake Cocktail
Courtesy of The Bojon Gourmet
- 1 cup Dry sake (such as Sho Chiku Bai’s Junmai-Shu / Nama Sake)
- 2 Tbsp. Lemongrass (packed and chopped with tips reserved for optional garnish)
- 1 Tbsp. Ginger root (packed and chopped)
- 1 Tbsp. Organic, blonde cane sugar
- 1 oz. Strained Meyer lemon juice (or 1 tbsp. regular lemon juice plus 1 additional Tbsp. grapefruit juice)
- 6 Tbsp. Strained pink grapefruit juice
Preparation: In a measuring pitcher or jar, vigorously muddle together the lemongrass, ginger, and sugar until the mixture is broken down fairly well, about 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, muddle a bit longer, then stir in the grapefruit juice and sake. Optionally let the mixture steep for 5 minutes or up to several hours in the refrigerator for a stronger flavor.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and into a jar or cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice, pressing on the solids to extract all the good stuff. Stir or shake the mixture for 10 seconds to chill, then strain into two wine glasses filled partway with ice. Garnish with a lemongrass tip, if you like, and serve. Makes 2 drinks.
Courtesy of Hiro Sake
- 2 1/2 oz. Hiro Junmai Ginjo sake
- 1 oz. Vodka
- 1 slice Japanese cucumber, for garnish
Preparation: Pour sake and vodka in a cocktail shaker over cubed ice and shake well. Strain into a glass and garnish with a slice of Japanese cucumber.
Courtesy of Hiro Sake
- 2 oz. Hiro Junmai sake
- 3 oz. Orange juice
- 1/2 oz. Grenadine
Preparation: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add sake and fill with orange juice; stir. Slowly pour in grenadine and let it settle before serving.
Strawberry Mint Sake Spritzer
Courtesy of Linda Wagner
- 1 bottle Sake
- 1 bottle Champagne
- 1 pint Strawberries
- 6 Meyer lemons
- 3-4 Mint sprigs
- Dropper full of vanilla Stevia
Preparation: Slice strawberries into vertical slivers, tear mint leaves roughly, and add both to a large pitcher. Squeeze the juice of the Meyer lemons and gently muddle the ingredients using a wooden spoon. Add equal parts sake and Champagne, and lots of ice. Squeeze a dropper full of vanilla Stevia into each glass before serving. Serves 6.
Sake Melon Slush
Courtesy of Kelly Carambula
- 2 oz. Sake
- 2 cups Ripe cantaloupe (or other melon, cut into 1 inch chunks)
- 1-inch Piece of ginger (finely chopped)
- 1 oz. Lime juice
- 1 oz. Honey
Preparation: Put all ingredients in a blender and blend for 30 seconds or until all ingredients are evenly blended and smooth. Pour the mixture into a 9″ x 9″ metal pan. Place in freezer until solid. Just before you’re ready to serve, scrape with a fork until light and fluffy. Serve in martini or other small glasses. Serves 4.