A cheat's guide to sake

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With labels usually in Japanese and a host of different varieties and grades, navigating a sake list can be tough.

Here are our top tips for ordering and enjoying the perfect cup, flask or bottle of nihon shu (sake or Japanese alcohol).

If you want to enjoy a good quality sake don’t ask for it hot.

High quality sake is delicate and subtle, heating it will destroy all this hard fought for character.

Sake is usually a little bit more alcoholic than wine, typically around 15% abv.

It's not a spirit, there is no distillation, so don't be worried it will blow your head off.

DON’T SHOOT IT, sake should be sipped and savoured, not slammed!

Although it's sometimes served in a small o-choko (a cup that looks like a shot glass) this isn't spring break, take it easy!

Order by the flask or bottle if eating with friends.

Sake is best enjoyed socially with friends. Grab some buddies and sample some different kinds over a meal.

NEVER POUR YOUR OWN CUP. Good etiquette is being a generous host, pour your guests first and let someone else pour yours.

Like many things in Japan social etiquette is key. Usually the host looks after their guests and the waiter gets a nice break!

It doesn’t have to be expensive, but be prepared to spend if you want the highest grades.

Like wine the more you pay the better and more refined the drink. However there are some very affordable quality sakes.

It’s not just good with Japanese food. Pasta, steak, grilled dishes and seafood are all good matches for sake.

More and more restaurants serve sake to enjoy with their food. Having a higher abv than wine makes it more versatile and easier to match.

Not sure about drinking it straight up? Mix it into cocktails or with some fruit juice.

Don't be afraid to experiment, sake cocktails are excellent and a great aperitif.

Looking for something a bit fuller? Try unpasteurised nama-sake.

Not to everyone's taste, but nama-sake is a great 'next-step' variety.

It keeps longer in the fridge. Unlike wine can keep an open bottle for up to a week.

Okay, so you spent some cash on a nice sake, don't drink it all at once. It's common for sake to come in 1.8litre bottles, savour it over a few meals.                


Looking for more information and resources? Check out the links below.

Click here to visit The British Sake Association

Click here to visit The Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association

Click here to visit the Eat Japan Sake Experience 2014

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