What Does Sake Taste Like? (Types & How to Drink)

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Sake is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin made out of fermenting white rice which has been polished to remove the bran off the surface. Although it is neither beer, liquor nor wine, it has a higher alcohol content (more than 15-17%). It can be drunk as an appetizer or during an izakaya (casual, after-work drinking pub). 

However, sake, being a traditional Japanese drink, is mostly associated with celebrations in Japan. Sake has its variations, but it’s mostly dry with a hint of sweetness and can have fruity flavors similar to bananas, apples, and other fruits. 

Continue reading this article to learn about this amazing drink!

What Is Sake?

The national beverage of Japan is sake. Fermenting polished rice is how it is produced. Rice is polished to eliminate the bran, and sake typically has a finer texture the more polished the rice is. Sake has a long history, going back at least to the 8th century and maybe even earlier.

Although sake is sometimes referred to as rice wine, it is manufactured using a brewing method more in line with that of beer than wine. Sake is a type of grain alcohol that utilizes the starch in rice, as opposed to wine, which is produced by fermenting the sugar in fruit.

In general, the alcohol concentration of sake is higher than that of wine. Undiluted sake can contain up to 18% alcohol by volume, although wines typically range from 10% to 15% alcohol by volume. Genshu, a powerful variety of sake, occasionally contains more than 20% alcohol by volume.


Different Types Of Sake 

Sake comes in a wide variety, just like most alcoholic drinks. Different brewing methods produce a dizzying array of distinctive flavors and characteristics. Although this can seem a little intimidating, take baby steps by being acquainted with the common sake available in the market.

1. Junmai

Brewer’s alcohol, which is typically used to enhance the flavor of sake, is not used to make pure rice Junmai sake. The only ingredients in Junmai sake are water, rice, and the koji fermentation bacterium. Junmai is dry, flavorful, and has a sharp acidic kick in taste.

2. Seishu

If you’ve ever had sake, chances are it was Seishu. It can be both sweet and dry and is clear, crisp, and fresh. Seishu, which translates to “refined sake,” serves as the foundation for more complicated sake. It is fermented, pasteurized, diluted, and filtered to balance the alcohol concentration and soften the flavor. 

It is the standard sake in all Japanese liquor stores. Its price can vary greatly depending on several variables, most notably how the rice is milled. The least expensive is referred to as Futsushu and is frequently packaged in a paper carton.

3. Honjozo

Honjozo is a Seishu that has been expertly brewed with a focus on flavor. It is of a higher caliber than Futsushu and has a polishing ratio, or Seimai Buai, of 70% or less. Although the term “polishing ratio” may seem confusing, it merely refers to the degree of rice milling. 

All rice used for brewing must be to some extent milled since the starchy core of rice is the secret to making good sake. A grain with a 70% polishing ratio has had at least 30% of its surface scraped, leaving just 30% of it to be used for brewing. 

There is also Tokubetsu Honjozo, which has a polishing ratio of 60% or less. Honjozo sakes are typically less acidic, less aromatic, and have a drier taste than pure sake.

4. Nigori

This sake is commonly referred to as unfiltered sake since it is a hazy kind with rice sediments floating inside. Sake from Nigori is characteristically sweet, creamy, and rich. It is advised to serve this sake cold rather than warm.

5. Ginjo /Junmai Ginjo

Ginjo is a beverage that contains 60% milled rice together with water, koji, yeast, and distilled alcohol. It is usually brewed in lesser quantities to better control the fermentation process. It often has a moderately fragrant flavor that is light, fruity, and subtle.

Pure rice sake called Junmai Ginjo is produced using a low-temperature fermenting process. This recipe doesn’t contain any distilled alcohol. A wonderful selection of drinks, Junmai Ginjo can range from fruity and dry to fresh and rice-y. 

It is a simple, well-balanced drink that is so flexible that it is ideal for the sushi counter and best when served cold.

6. Namazake

Namazake is an entirely unpasteurized sake, giving it a fruity undertone and a fresh, tingling punch. It has not been heated to destroy the fermentation bacteria since it has not been pasteurized. This indicates that it can quickly go bad, so always keep it cool and do not keep it around for too long!

Namazake is excellent for novices because it is pretty simple to consume! It is typically produced during the spring and summer seasons.

7. Cloudy

Cloudy sake is an aesthetically beautiful sake that is unfiltered, allowing for the little pieces of fermented rice to remain inside the bottle. 

It has a creamy texture and a sweet thickness. The Doburoku, which is entirely unfiltered, and the Nigorizake, which is somewhat filtered, are the two main varieties. Hence, it makes an excellent option for new drinkers!

8. Daiginjo And Junmai Daiginjo

Using rice that has been polished to at least 50% of its original size and infused with distilled alcohol, Daiginjo is a premium Ginjo sake. Additionally, it calls for the application of exact brewing methods. Daiginjo sakes are aromatic, fruity, and light, although they can be expensive.

Meanwhile, Junmai Daiginjo is a type of Daiginjo sake that has not been made using distilled alcohol. Hence, it is thought to be of the highest quality. Additionally, it also undergoes a low-temperature, slow fermentation process. It is sweet and offers delicate honey and rice flavor to the mouth.

9. Genshu

For individuals who can contain their drink, Genshu’s full-bodied punch and greater alcohol level are ideal when consumed straight. Genshu often contains closer to 20% alcohol by volume and can even be consumed on the rocks, while conventional sake typically has an alcohol percentage of around 15%.

Due to its flavor, Genshu is perfect as an after-dinner beverage or a combination with heartier foods. This type of sake is dry in taste and a bit more bitter because it is not diluted.

10. Sparkling Sake

Sparkling Sake is a bubbly variant of sake that makes for a fantastic aperitif. It can have bubbles from natural fermentation or added carbonation, just like sparkling wine, and is often lower in alcohol with a fuller body.

This sake goes through a secondary fermentation procedure, which gives the alcohol in it a gentle and sweet flavor. Compared to other types of sake, this one has a lower alcohol percentage per volume.

11. Kimoto or Yamahai

Kimoto or Yamahai sake are two variants of the drink that are made in the traditional manner. Since the drink is produced by having the yeast starter made in a labor-intensive manner without the addition of lactic acid, both require more time to develop. The two drinks also have a harder, stronger flavor.

12. Infused Sake

Infused sake is basically sake with added flavors (usually fruity) like apples, raspberries, and cherries, it is a popular variation. It’s sweet and tropical and ideal for making drinks at parties.


How Would You Describe The Taste Of Sake?

Rice, water, and the koji mold are combined to make sake in a process that has developed over many generations. It has a clean, moderately sweet flavor and an astringent aftertaste that goes well with its savory flavor. It smells nutty and fruity in a way that is reminiscent of a lighter wine.

However, careful tasting of sake reveals that the pleasant taste of this beverage cannot be described into a normal flavor profile such as sweet, acid, bitter, etc. Hence, its unique flavor is often described as ‘umami’. 

Also Check: What Does Brandy Taste Like?

Can You Drink Sake Straight?

Yes, you can drink sake straight because that is exactly how it is normally served. Unlike other alcoholic drinks which are made into cocktails or served with liquor and ice sometimes, sake is made to serve straight.

The best way to drink sake is at room temperature, in a small, Japanese, ceramic tea cup while sipping it like wine. However, we would like to mention that contradictory to popular belief, sake is not wine. 

Do You Sip Or Take Shots Of Sake?

Technically, there is no correct way to drink sake, and you can have it any way you like, remember that traditionally, sake is not supposed to be taken as a shot. It may be served in small, shot-sized cups, but since it used to be a non-commercial, ceremonial drink, it is meant to be enjoyed sip by sip.

The oriental way to serve sake is to pour it into earthenware cups from a porcelain (ceremonial) bottle and enjoy it at room temperature so that all the unique flavors of the beverage are intact. 

Is Sake An Acquired Taste?

Sake has a clean, slightly sweet taste with a good balance of an astringent and savory flavor. It can have nutty or fruity undertones, but less apparent than wine. Hence, liking the taste of sake depends completely on you and your preference. 

Research has shown that for many Europeans, sake may be an acquired taste, and can only be downed with Japanese food. 

What Alcohol Does Sake Taste Like?

Sake can taste very different according to the brand and quality it is. Its taste can also differ according to the temperature it is served at. The alcoholic drink closest to sake at room temperature is white wine as they both have smooth, dry flavors.

Meanwhile, cold sake can taste a lot like extremely dry white wine, but with some added fruity flavors. Hot sake, on the other hand, can taste a lot like vodka as you will feel the alcohol go straight to your head. 

What Does Sake Mean?

The word ‘sake’ is used to refer to any alcoholic drink in Japanese. Hence, even beer, wine, vodka, or rum can be referred to as ‘sake’ because the word means ‘alcoholic drink’.

Only non-Japanese-speaking consumers refer to the term ‘sake’ for the clear, fermented drink we know as ‘rice wine.’ However, sake is not rice wine, and the correct, traditional, Japanese term for what we know as sake is ‘Nihonshu’ meaning ‘Japanese alcoholic drink’.

What Is The Alcohol Content in Sake?

Compared to other alcoholic drinks, sake has very less alcohol content – usually around 13% – 17% ABV. Being a traditionally ceremonial drink, it was not made to get people drunk on celebratory occasions.

Although it is not served to kids, sake is not highly alcoholic and you will usually require to drink a lot of it to get drunk. 

How Do You Drink Sake?

It is great to know about new cultures and different ways of etiquette when learning about something new. Although there is no correct way of drinking sake, and you can enjoy the beverage as you want to, there are three traditional ways of drinking sake based on temperature alone:

Okan (Warm Sake)

Okan sake is usually made using cheaper sakes or those with less refined flavors in order to drink it warm. The warmth of the beverage mellows out the fruit flavors and accentuates the original sweetness of the sake while playing down its acidity. Remember to serve it between 104 F – 122 F as sake should never be served hot. 

Reishu (Cold Sake)

Reishu is chilled or cold sake that is usually served the way it is for the premium sake flavors to be felt more than the other added ones. The cold, however, drowns the flavors sometimes, so you have to make sure that it is not iced. 

Hiya (Room Temperature)

Sake served at room temperature is known as Hiya and has all the flavors that make the beverage. Usually, premium sakes are served at room temperature in order to preserve all the original flavors of the drink. 

Tips On How To Properly Drink Sake: 

Although it is appreciated to be mannered when drinking sake, there is no need to go overboard and completely imitate Japanese customs. Even if it is a ceremonial drink, it is alcohol, after all. Here are a few, simple tips to help you enjoy your sake in a customary and good manner. 

Sake Is Not A Shot

Remember that sake, although alcoholic and served in small cups, is not a shot and is not meant to be taken as one. Hence, sipping is the way to go, like you would do a vine or tequila. Do not down it in one go. 

Pair With Appetizers

If the taste of sake is a bit too new for your tongue, or you cannot help but gulp the small portion down immediately, adding a few appetizers may help your cause. This will especially help if you did not really like the taste of sake and want to down it with other flavors. 

Never Serve Yourself

There are not many sake customs to follow, but one traditional rule is to not serve your own sake. It is not a rule set in stone for you to follow, but remember this when in a traditional or ceremonial setting. 

Try To Experiment

If you do not like the taste of a sake variant you had, do not be afraid to try out other flavors. Even if we do not doubt that you will like the taste of sake, there are many different types of this beverage to find out and you are sure to get one that you might like. 

Related Questions

Does Sake Get You Drunk?

Yes, sake can get you drunk. Just like any alcoholic beverage, it does have the capacity to get you tipsy if you have had enough. However, you will need to drink a lot in order to get drunk as the ABV of sake is 13% – 17%.

Is Sake Stronger Than Vodka?

No, sake is not stronger than vodka and can only atone for half of the drink. The ABV of sake is usually somewhere between 13% – 17%, which is not even half of the average ABV of vodka (40%).

Final Thoughts

Sake is a fun and light drink to enjoy which can replace your wine easily if you grow to like the taste of it. We hope that this article has answered any questions you may have had about this Japanese alcohol and what it tastes like. 

Chad Smith

Meet Chad Smith, a seasoned bartender with a passion for mixology. He's the founder of Tin Roof Drink Community, a blog where he shares expert tips, creative recipes, and fosters a vibrant community of cocktail enthusiasts and aspiring bartenders. Join Chad as he takes you on a flavorful journey through the world of drinks. Cheers!

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