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A different drink

Appreciation deepens for premium sake

At Nickiemoto's restaurant in Atlanta, premium sake is served cold in a standard wine glass.  

July 6, 1999
Web posted at: 3:08 p.m. EDT (1908 GMT)

In this story:

Tips for choosing and serving sake

Expert recommendations


(CNN) -- Think of sake as a warm drink served with your sushi? Think again. What about sake that is crisp and cool, savored slowly from a wine glass and paired with fine foods?

Premium sake (sah-kay) is an up-and-coming drink. Imported from Japan or made domestically, the high-end sake started trickling across the United States about five years ago.


Domestic producer

Olson recommends Momokawa, based in Forest Grove, Oregon. There are other American producers but not at the same quality level, he says.

Top Importers

The best -- Japan Prestige Sake Association. Also excellent -- Sake Service Institute of Japan.

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"This isn't a trend, this is real," says Steven Olson, president of Libations, a company that specializes in education and consultation on wine and spirits. "People are liking this stuff."

Sake is fermented from milled rice, and most varieties are pasteurized. Although often grouped into the beer classification, premium sake seems closer in characteristics to wine.

Serving sake hot is a classic technique traditionally meant to mask the taste of low-quality brews. But with finer sakes, chilling brings out the best flavor.

Olson says good sake can be had for about $10 to $20 a bottle. While prices can go much higher, he doesn't recommend going much lower.

Premium sake is sold in spirit stores throughout the United States but is easier to find in larger markets. Some Japanese restaurants sell sake by the glass, a good way to taste on a small scale.

Tips for choosing and serving sake

  • Sake is not meant to be aged. Buy sake that has been bottled in the past year. Not all list the date of production or list it in English. Beware of bottles that have been sitting long on a shelf. If possible, buy from a refrigerated case.
  • Store sake in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place like a wine cellar. Exposure to heat is damaging. Consume within a year.
  • Serve sake at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Olson recommends. "Similar to white wine, but not quite as cold."
  • While warm sake is often served in small ceramic cups, premium sake is perfectly at home in a basic wine glass.
    sake bottles
    If you can't find premium sake in your area, ask the local liquor store to order it.  
  • Sake is a more potent drink than wine, so don't pour as much. Sake is about 16 to 17 percent alcohol compared with wine (11 to 13 percent). Half a glass or about two to three ounces per person should be sufficient.
  • The sake should be "perfectly clear and bright," Olson says -- clear like water, with possibly a soft gold or light pale gold tint. It should not be yellowed or cloudy or contain particles.
  • Take small sips. Sake will expand and fill the mouth with flavor.

    "All sake tastes better with food than alone," Olson says. "It's much more comfortable with food."

    He does not recommend pairing sake with sushi since it contains rice, the same basic ingredient of sake. Instead try it with fish or other Japanese dishes.

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