How to be a discerning sake drinker

Jul 13,2015

Those unfamiliar with sake may find it difficult to discern between the good and the mediocre. Like Japanese culture itself, sake is subtle and nuanced. Here, Millennium Hotels and Resorts decodes the art of drinking Japanese rice wine so you'll look like an expert next time you're sipping on some.

Understand the different types of sake

Junmai is the purest form of sake, with no additional sugar, alcohol or starches. It's quite full-bodied, highly acidic and not very fragrant. Honjozo is similar to junmai, but it’s smoother, more fragrant, slightly sweeter, less acidic and has a small amount of alcohol added. Ginjo is more premium and complex. It's made from rice with 40 per cent of the kernel milled away, lending it a delicate, fragrant quality. The most premium sake, daiginjo, is made from rice with more than half the kernel milled away. This helps create a sake that's highly fragrant and well-balanced with a momentary aftertaste.

Generally, lower-grade sakes are served warm to mask the drink's not-so-refined flavours, while the more premium sakes are served either at room temperature or chilled.

Know your vessel

It's customary for sake to be served in measures of 180mL and it's classically poured from a small bottle called a tokkuri. Sake can be drunk from many different receptacles, including an ochoko, the traditional sake cup; a masu, a small wooden box originally used to measure rice; or sakazuki, which are fancy saucers reserved for ceremonies. A less orthodox way of drinking sake that has gained popularity, especially during tastings, is serving it in champagne or white wine glasses.

Get acquainted with etiquette

For the Japanese, the act of drinking sake includes small rituals of social bonding. It's common practice for the younger person or host to pour for the rest of the group. When pouring sake, one should always remember to use both hands. When someone is serving you sake, on the other hand, one should hold their sake cup with both hands – with one hand holding the cup and the other hand supporting it from the bottom. Once your sake has been poured, have a sip before resting the cup back on the table. Traditionally, one does not pour their own sake. However, in a casual gathering in the company of close friends or family, sometimes this is acceptable.

Sip sake at Tokyo's best spots

An easy 15-minute walk north from upscale Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo in the Ginza district is a beautifully stark, Zen restaurant, Sasahana. This restaurant is not only famous for its splendid multi-course meals, but it also serves an impressive range of premium and limited-edition sakes. Here is where you will find exclusive sakes such as Kumamoto Prefecture's Kouro sakes. If you're up for something more casual, well-stocked bar Kuri is a mere seven-minute walk west from the Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo. It's a sake-focused destination with more than 100 types from all areas of Japan. It offers tasting portions, too, so it's the perfect spot to try a variety of different sakes.

For accommodation close to one of Japan’s best-known shopping and entertainment districts, check out Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel Tokyo.


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