HOT, COLD, DRY, SWEET – the many sides of sipping sake
Like a good wine, sake has a wide variety of flavors and types to choose from. Sake runs from dry to sweet, can be served hot or cold, and each has a type of food it pairs well with.
The history of sake goes back almost 2,000 years and is older than the Japanese written language. Folklore says sake originated when natural airborne yeast landed in an open container of rice pudding, which fermented and gave a few farmers a nice little buzz.
Sake is typically enjoyed with sushi, but choosing the right type of sushi to pair with the right kind of sake is an art.
Between the rolls of sushi, or the raw fish alone, mixed with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger, there’s a lot of different tastes going on for your palate. You want to make sure you pick the perfect sake to pair with the food you’ve chosen.
Sunny Souvannakat, owner of Sunny’s Sushi at 141 Front Street, knows sake. When choosing what to put on his sushi menu, he found sake with only the best ingredients and brought in so many bottles the sake takes up four pages of the restaurant’s menu.
Each page shows a list of sake beside a large drawn scale with dry at the top and sweet on the bottom. The numbers range from +15 to -15, letting customers know just how dry or sweet each bottle of sake will be.
Souvannakat took it another step further, though. Below the picture of each sake bottle on the menu, there’s a tasting notes section to tell diners what kind of flavors to expect from that sake so they can decide depending on palate and mood.
Some of the restaurant’s sake even has a food pairing section that explains what sushi works best with that specific sake.
If you really want to know which sake will work best with your dinner, just ask Souvannakat.
“A good sake needs good ingredients. You have to have high-quality ingredients, because what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it,” Souvannakat says.
The ingredients are what usually determine whether the sake is served warm or cold, but it’s also customer’s preference.
Dry sake is usually served warm, while sweet sake is served cold. Cold seems to be more popular with younger patrons and those new to trying sushi and sake, while warm is a favorite with those who have enjoyed sushi for years.
The highest quality sake at Sunny’s Sushi is Gekkeikan Black and Gold, served warm. It’s not the most expensive, either, proving good sake is in the ingredient list, not the price tag.
Like sushi, sake is a conversational treat.
“Customers come in, buy a bottle of sake, and stay for a while. They like to enjoy the tastes and share the sake together,” Souvannakat says.
Typically, groups of three or four people split the price of one bottle of sake to share and taste throughout the night. Sake isn’t one you drink-and-ditch; it’s one you want to savor and enjoy.
The most popular sweet sakes at Sunny’s Sushi are Gekkeikan Nigori and Hana Fuji Apple. Sweet sake pairs best with rice sushi rolls and more non-traditional sushi such as cooked fish or meat.
Dry sake is best paired with sashimi − slices of fresh, raw fish.
The dry flavor pairs well with the raw fish so you’re able to really taste your food. Sometimes, the sweet sake can overwhelm a dish’s flavor. For this reason, sweet sake is used for drinking without food more often than dry sake.
Some of the more popular dry sakes include Momokawa Diamond and Junmai Ginjo “Elements” among others.
Ginjo sake, which shows up multiple times on Sunny’s Sushi menu, is a type of premium sake. It requires special rice and yeast, longer fermentation periods, and labor-intensive brewing processes. Less than six percent of sake made is qualified as Ginjo.
For those who have never tried sake before, Souvannakat recommends beginning with a sweet sake, then moving your way up to drier sake.
“If you’ve never had sake before, I recommend Hana Fuji Apple. No matter what you choose, though, it’s best to pair it with sushi,” Souvannakat says.