A Guide to Sake: Vessels, Etiquette and Drinking

How do I drink sake correctly?

  1. Find a sake that suits your tastes
  2. Choose between serving warm or cold
  3. Select a vessel that fits your sake
  4. Learn the proper drinking etiquette
  5. Pair it with the right food

Sake has been brewed and enjoyed in Japan for thousands of years and has accumulated many rituals associated with the beverage. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the terms and practices to follow, just knowing the basics will allow you to enjoy this Japanese drink in any setting. If you’re looking to learn how to drink sake the right way, we have the answers for you right here. Read on!

Find a sake that suits your tastes

The first step to drinking sake is to choose one that you can enjoy. For those picking out their first bottle, focus on the details on the label above everything else. Pay close attention to the Sake Meter Value (SMV) in particular, as it gives you an idea of how sweet or dry the drink tastes. While Ralph’s offers several different sakes for you to try, here are the most common:

  • Junmai — Their name comes from the Japanese word meaning “pure rice.” An apt name, as this sake only uses pure rice alcohol. Known for their umami flavors — particularly the taste of steamed rice — this type of sake is one of the more versatile options that pair well with practically any dish you can think of. If you’re interested in Junmai sake, then we highly recommend trying the Gekkeikan Kome to Mizu no Junmai and the Urakasumi Tokubetsu Junmai Kippon from our catalog.
  • Junmai Ginjo — Similar to Junmai, it is another kind of sake made from pure rice alcohol. However, it’s made with rice grains that are highly milled — reduced down to at least 60% of its original grain size. This process creates prominent umami and fruity flavors in the sake. Our suggestion for beginners is to try the Shinomine Rokumaru Junmai Ginjo Genshu Namasake or the Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo for their clean aftertaste and strong finish.
  • Junmai Daiginjo: A premium sake made from pure rice alcohol, using rice that has been polished down to at least 50% of its original size. Junmai Daiginjo sake is best known for its complex flavors, fruity aromas, and elegant texture. This sake gives an exquisite drinking experience. Try the Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo, a sake with a clean taste and complex layers of brown sugar, plums, and minerals. We also suggest the Hakkaisan Junmai Daiginjo, a snow-aged sake that has a very smooth and round taste.

Always take into consideration quality, aroma, taste, and texture before choosing a sake to enjoy. However, make sure to avoid limiting yourself to one kind, and try different types from different regions and breweries to better enjoy your sake experience.

Choose between serving warm or cold

Sake can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature. This is an important aspect of drinking sake, as the temperature influences what flavors and aromas come through. Sake with lower levels of rice milling tends to taste better when served warm, while higher levels are best when chilled. For example, sake like Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo isn’t served warm or hot, as their flavors aren’t maximized at higher temperatures.

Aside from the type of sake being served, choosing the ideal temperature also depends on the temperature of the environment and the season it is being enjoyed in. While sake can be enjoyed in various ways, the way it is served can make or break the drinking experience. Lastly, it is important to note that sake should never be served piping hot — overheating sake causes it to lose its flavor and aroma.

Select a vessel that fits your sake

There is a wide range of sake vessels for bottling, decanting, and drinking. Proper service starts with placing the sake in a tokkuri, which is a flask used to serve sake — and it can also be used to gently warm the beverage. From the tokkuri, sake is poured into different drinking vessels:

  1. Ochoko — Small ceramic cups generally used for warm sake. They only hold a mouthful, so these require frequent refills. Ochoko cups are good for drinking Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo sake, which have umami-rich profiles.
  2. Wine Glass — Wine glass has become the norm in certain circles. Swirling sake in this vessel helps release its aroma and enhance the tasting experience. This vessel is also great for drinking aromatic sake. We recommend using wine glasses for Junmai Daiginjo to fully experience their complex flavors and aromas.

Learn the proper drinking etiquette

Whichever type of sake, serving temperature, and vessel you choose, you should always observe the proper etiquette when enjoying this drink. This element is crucial to the sake drinking experience. It’s considered polite to offer a refill when someone else’s cup is less than one-third full. Also, avoid pouring your own drink — this act is called "Tejaku" and is considered impolite. Drinking sake is a social event, so allow others to take care of you as you would take care of them. This ritual is considered an exchange of appreciation for each other's company.

Pair it with the right food

Food is an integral part of the sake drinking experience. When paired right, sake can elevate the flavors of the dish to new heights. As there is much variation between type, brand, and region, choosing the right food to accompany your sake requires a lot of forethought. For example, fruity and floral sake works best with light dishes, like sashimi and sushi.

If you’re interested in trying this pairing, we have a delicious pairing for you. We highly recommend ordering the Koji Box from Sake Society to go with your sake. Order their assortment of hand-made Japanese favorites here, and have it with some of our Dassai 39 Junmai Daiginjo.

Key Takeaway

Sake comes in so many different forms and is accompanied by a rich history full of tradition. This makes it one of the most celebrated drinks in the world. As it is so multifaceted, knowing how to drink sake is key to creating enjoyable and memorable drinking experiences.

Interested in trying out this beverage? Look no further — Ralph’s Wines & Spirits offers a selection of some of the best brews from Japan that can now be readily enjoyed in the Philippines. Check out our carefully handpicked catalog here, and begin your sake journey today!