Kanpai! How To Drink Sake Like A Pro

By Krysia Drecki - 11 Oct 2016

tips for how to drink sake

If you think sake is only that lukewarm beverage that looks like water but does NOT taste like water and is served in small shot-like glasses, that accompanies any authentic Japanese meal, then it’s time to get over that idea and think again!

The Urban List team recently went along to Nic Watt’s MASU restaurant, which has dedicated and entire MONTH to this elusive drink and discovered that there’s a whoollleee lot more to this drink than you might think.  So much so, that they’ve brought in a sake Samarai (yes, there’s a thing) and Wine Master (also a thing), Sam Harrop who, along with fellow Master of Wine Kenichi Ohashi, who have brought some rare and interesting sake to Auckland town.

We discovered that sake can taste like any thing from a Sauv blanc to a dessert wine and there’s a number of traditions and rituals that have latched on to sipping the ancient beverage of sake.

And so, whether you’re dining at MASU or elsewhere, it’s always good to have the heads up about how to approach a new bevvie and to help you on your way, we’ve rounded up nine tips to have you drinking sake like a pro.

#1 Is It A spirit? Is It A wine?

It’s a wine! Who knew? Sake, a rice wine, is fermented in a way unlike any other alcohol. Rice is stripped, polished and fermented in the presence of fungus and yeast. It’s then cooked, pressed and bottled.

#2 What’s With The Shot-Sized Glass?

Served in large serving flasks called tokkuri, from which the sake is divvied up into smaller cups called ochoko or guinomi. If you ever wondered why the glasses were so small, it’s because they provide ample refilling opportunities in a social context. But don’t just expect glass—you can even drink sake in small wooden boxes.

#3 Refill Like A Pro

Tradition says, the tokkuri must be held with two hands when pouring and the person receiving a refill should reciprocate by lifting their glass off the table, holding it with one hand and supporting with the other.

#4 What Never To Do 

Always allow someone else to fill your sake cup for you, even if you poured the sake for the rest of the party. It’s all about the manners.

#5 Sip, Don’t Shot!

The most common mistake that people make when drinking sake is drinking it like a shot. Easy mistake given the shot-sized vessel, but sake is supposed to be savoured slowly. Before you take a sip, hold the cup close to your face and take in the aroma. Take a small sip and let it linger in your mouth before you swallow. Hmmmmm….

#6 Don’t Overheat

Heat can make the sake lose its flavour.

#7 Scrap The Cheers, Say ‘Kanpai’ As Your Glasses Clink

When drinking with someone of higher status, make an effort to keep the rim of your glass below the rim of theirs as your glasses meet.

#8 Never Leave A Vessel Empty

Be prepared for constant top ups of your ochoko! If you don’t want any more, place your hand on the top of the cup or leave the cup full.

#9 No Words, No Worries!

Can’t quite describe the flavour of sake? It’s probably because it’s the only beverage in the world that is considered to have umami, the elusive fifth flavour descriptor.

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