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Pairing with Sake

This is part two of my absolute favorite aspect of enjoying Sake.

Part one is here (Pairing with Food).

Where to Start?

Food and drink pairing can be described as both science and art. After years of planning events and offering pairing suggestions to customers, I developed a feel for it, Later, studying gastronomy, I came to understand why. I cannot say which might work best for you, but SAKE SECRET will always be here to help if you get lost.


Are there Rules to Pairing Sake?

If it works, it works, so I won't go as far as calling them rules, but here are some helpful guidelines:

  1. Choose your Sake Unless you already feel comfortable with your knowledge of Sake, start by choosing one Sake, tasting it, and choosing a pairing based on what you tasted in the Sake.

  2. Compliment or Contrast? Pairing is all about balance. If your Sake has a particularly strong flavor, you want to identify which of the five tastes (SWEET, BITTER, SALTY, SOUR, UMAMI) that is and whether you want to highlight or counterbalance it with the food. If you have a bright, tart Sake you can highlight that by pairing it with something sweet. The sweetness will take the edge off of the acidity and alcohol, and the Sake's flavor will complement the dish, like adding a fruit topping to a dessert. If you want to contrast the same Sake, you can choose something oily or savory, like grilled meat or fish.

  3. Fill-in-the-Blank If you have a great, complex meal that really engages your palate, you can try to select a Sake that introduces that fifth and final taste or a more neutral Sake that can be used as a palate-cleanser to reset your mouth for the next bite.

  4. What to Avoid Sake has such a diverse range of possible flavors, aromas, and body - not to mention textures and serving temperatures! - There are no hard-fast rules for pairing a certain style. That said, here are some helpful pointers:

Daiginjo/Ginjo - These styles typically have a lighter body with more fruity or floral features that lend to lighter dishes. Unless they are especially dry, higher in alcohol, have a lot of body or tartness, enjoy these with fruit, salads, traditional Japanese food, or at the start or end of a meal - perhaps with a light cheese or milk chocolate.

Junmai - Junmai styles tend to maintain more of the original characteristics of the rice they are made from. This may include more Umami, spicy, herbal, or a simple cereal/grain flavor that pairs well with rice dishes, as well as fish, white meat, cheese, or fruit. Think of what you might eat with toast or put on a cracker, and that should start to give you some fun and novel ideas.


Kimoto/Yamahai - Traditional brewing styles like these tend to have significantly more body. This means they can often pair well with bolder, complex, and heavier dishes, like red meat, heavy sauces, and briney flavors such as raw oysters and Uni (Sea urchin, pronounced "Ooo knee"). Some can have quite earthy, nutty flavors. Think about what goes well with mushrooms, or try pairing it with dark chocolate.

Nigori - These cloudy Sake have a soothing mouthfeel and sweetness from unfermented sugars. Like Horchata or Lassi, this makes Nigori a great combo with spicy dishes. The sweetness can also be a nice compliment with more bitter flavors, such as cocoa powder or matcha. But beware when pairing fruity or floral Nigori - especially Ginjo Nigori Sake will not pair well with strong spicy or savory flavors.


Those are just some of the main styles out there, but remember: You're the expert on what you like! Taste your Sake first, trust your instincts, and enjoy the process! If you can't wait to learn more or want to skip the learning and get doing, SAKESECRET can help:

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Get involved! What are some of your all-time favorite pairings? Have you ever had something totally stump you? Feel free to comment below, or continue the conversation on

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Kanpai!

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