Last Updated on November 5, 2023 by Lydia Martin
One of the oldest forms of alcohol in Japan is sake, a refined drink with a rich history.
If you want to enjoy the best sake, you must learn how to drink it correctly, the Japanese cultural way.
If you’re new to sake drinking, try different sake styles until you find the good sake you prefer. But before opening a bottle, ensure you know the best way to drink sake.
Luckily, enjoying sake to the fullest is completely possible with the following steps we’ll detail in this article.
8 Ways To Drink Sake
1. Have A Sip To Taste, Then Choose How It’s Served
Unlike wine and beer, sake is a versatile and delicious drink you can enjoy in various ways.
Most sake today are served chilled. Some drinkers prefer storing sake bottles on their fridges to chill sake or make it cold before serving.
If you plan to drink more than one sake bottle, you better prepare ice on a bucket to maintain your preferred temperature as you drink sake.
If you don’t want warm sake or cold sake, then enjoy room-temperature sake. Try pouring sake into sake cups stored at room temperature.
This will retain the sake taste and your desired serving temperature.
At the time, premium sake is served warm to let the delicate flavors emerge. And the best way to make hot sake is by using a tokkuri. Use the tokkuri to make sake warm before you serve sake.
In a pot of cold water, pour sake into it, and ensure the water level is just below the edge of your tokkuri.
Place the sake in the pot and allow it to heat up. Then remove it and boil the water.
After removing the pot from the stove, place the tokkuri in your boiled water. Depending on the material of the tokkuri, the heating time may vary.
Before you start serving sake, determine your desired temperature. If you want to microwave sake, submerge it in the microwave for a minute– a good way to warm sake.
2. Pour It In Small Cups
As mentioned above, you can use a sake cup to enjoy it. Japanese sake is a traditional drink, and to enjoy pure sake, you can use the following:
You can use small drinking cups known as ochoko. But never consume it like any other drink, such as tequila, as it will not give you the full effect.
The proper sake etiquette suggests sipping sake to fully its fruity taste and perfectly fine profile and character.
Another way to serve sake is by using masu or a small box that receives sake overflows.
In Japan, a masu is a vessel used to measure grain and liquid. A glass cup is used to hold the sake, which is intentionally poured inside the vessel.
This type of serving is referred to as sosogi koboshi, and it represents Japanese hospitality.
3. If You’re Not Alone, Never Serve Yourself
In Japanese culture, it is customary to serve others while drinking sake. When someone is pouring their drink, it’s polite to slightly raise your cup toward them so they can refill it .
Do the same for those who want a refill. If you have people around, do your best on this part, or you’ll look rude.
4. Never Take It Down Like A Liquor Shot
As mentioned above, don’t drink sake like how you consume other alcoholic beverages in a shot. This is regardless of whether you’re having premium sakes or ordinary sake.
Do not drink sake straight, or you won’t be able to enjoy its flavors.
Take note — hundreds of years of brewing have gone into making sake . To fully appreciate this alcoholic beverage, you shouldn’t drink straight. Instead, sip like tea or fine wine.
5. Determine Your Preference
Like wine, sake also has various flavors. The SMV, which is the sugar-to-acid level, is a measurement that indicates the type of drink you’re drinking.
In Japanese, the term “nihonshu-do” means “sweet sake.” You’ll have to try different SMV levels to find out which one you prefer.
“Some sake is best served warm/hot, others are best served chilled, and many can be enjoyed at different temperatures.” — Cho Shintaro, Bar Manager
Koshu is aged sake. So, these sakes are darker and more savory, and how they are aged affects the final outcome.
If you’re looking for delicate sake, you’ll love this style. However, if you’re new to drinking sake, you’ll get overwhelmed by this.
This sake is unpasteurized with a sweet and tangy flavor. You can enjoy this much during spring and summer as it’s best served chilled. For a novice, this is a great sake to start. It’s fresh and fruity, not harsh.
Read: Sake vs Soju
This sake variation is made from local ingredients and is produced traditionally. The taste of Jizake depends on the region it was made. If you want to buy sake that carries history and tradition, Jizake is the one for you.
Nigorizake (or Nigori sake) is an undiluted sake with a sweet and bold flavor that sets it apart from other drink types, and it’s preferably consumed cold.
But for this drink’s versatility, some drinkers warm chilled sake during winter for ultimate seasonal enjoyment. This is produced from fermented rice, equivalent to white wine  or rice wine.
6. Take It With Appetizers
While sake is usually served during the appetizer or during the “izakaya” style of dining, it can also be enjoyed with a food pairing, like light sushi dishes (e.g., nigiri or sashimi).
More sake styles can enhance the flavor of the food.
Japanese food like nigiri and sashimi, shrimp and fried fish, meats, ramen, and even fried chicken go well with sake.
7. Familiarize Yourself With The Different Kinds Of Sake
There are different types of Japanese sake. Some of the available sake include:
Ginjo & Junmai Ginjo
Ginjo is a premium sake with a 60% or less polishing ratio. It’s known for its robust and sweet scent, which can be enhanced by drinking it in wine glasses.
On the other hand, Junmai Ginjo is a particular sake characterized by its delicate taste and vibrant aroma. It is usually fermented with lower-temperature yeast strains and rice that is 60% or less polished.
“Pure rice” is the term used to describe Junmai — a type of sake made with water, yeast, koji, and rice.
It has been around since the 17th century and is regarded as a versatile drink due to its complex flavor and varying serving temperatures.
Daiginjo & Junmai Daiginjo
Daiginjo is a type of nihonshu with a polishing ratio of over 50%. It’s often regarded as the most expensive sake in the market. This is a delightful drink with a light, fragrant aroma, and a fuller body.
Another variation is the Junmain Daiginjo, known as “great ginjo.” It’s made with rice polished to a 50% mark, then fermented at a low temperature.
If you like chilled sake, opt for this one.
Honjozo is brewed with a special emphasis on flavor, with a polishing ratio is 70% or less. A 70% polishing ratio refers to the removal of 30% of the grain’s surface.
This means that 70% of the finished product will be brewed. But a type known as Tokubetsu Honjozo has a polishing ratio of 60% or less.
If you want to heat sake or prefer a hot sake served, the Honjozo style is a good choice.
8. Special Tip: Learn How To Pronounce Sake (When Ordering)
If you don’t want to look like a novice when ordering your own sake, learn how to pronounce “sake” properly.
The appropriate way to say sake is not “sa-kee.” It should be “sa-keh.”
How much sake can get you drunk?
It takes 9-20 cups for an average male and 6-14 cups of sake for an average female to get drunk with sake. But the probability of getting drunk still depends on your tolerance and how you drink sake.
Should you drink sake with friends?
Yes, you should drink sake with friends and family. It’s an excellent way to enjoy parties and dinner gatherings.
But apply the proper etiquette when drinking it, especially if you have Japanese people around.
Is it better to drink sake with companions than being alone?
It depends on your personal preference. It’s fun to drink sake with companions, but if you are uncomfortable doing so, there’s nothing wrong with drinking it alone.
Sake enhances enjoyment. And with its aroma and taste, it’s easy to get used to it and enjoy all it has to offer, regardless of your preferred style to consume it.
But it’s important to learn the traditional way to drink sake  to give credit and appreciation to where it originates from.
And one final note – don’t think of diluting it with mixers. Sake is crafted to be enjoyed on its own.
But, if you don’t want to get drunk, you can pair sake with water or food to avoid a bad hangover.