Updated: Feb 23
What Do Customers Actually Want to Know?
There are a million websites and articles explaining "Junmai" or "Muroka Nama Genshu", but most people rarely even ask about that. After many years of selling Sake, volunteering, and hosting my own events, some questions become repetitive. Here are my Frequently Asked Questions, and their answers.
Is Sake distilled?
No! Most Sake is clear and higher in alcohol than other brews, but Sake is not distilled.
Traditional distilled alcohol does exist in Japan, and it is called Shochu (pronounced "show-chew"). Not to be confused with Korean Soju.
How much alcohol does Sake Have?
Most Sake falls between 14% and 16% ABV.
It can be lower or higher, but Japanese law requires what we call Sake to stay under 22%. (In Japanese "Sake" refers to all alcohol. What we call Sake has a few names, including Nihonshu and Seishu, pronounced "knee hone shoe" and "say shoe", respectively.)
Is Sake really "rice wine"? No. Sake is brewed alcohol, produced from water, rice, koji, and yeast. Some similarities to wine exist, including having fortified, aged, sparkling, dessert, and cooking versions. You can enjoy the more elegant, fragrant Sake in a wine glass. It pairs incredibly well with cheese (better than wine, even). There are sweet and dry versions. It can be enjoyed before, after, or during a meal.
Is Sake Gluten-Free?
Yes*. It is also vegan, does not contain sulfites, and frequently have kosher certification.
*Seishu (What we call "Premium Sake") is 100% gluten-free, always. Here is a great visual explanation. There may be Sake-based drinks out there with added ingredients that contain gluten. If you have a serious allergy, always check the ingredients label. American law requires the translated information.
I like the unfiltered ones, what is that called?
Nigori (pronounced "knee Gregory", without the "Gre") Sake.
Nigori means "cloudy" but sometimes gets labeled "unfiltered". One of the basic Japanese rules of Sake (like keeping it under 22%) is that Sake must be filtered. So basically what they mean to call Nigori is "less filtered".
What's the best Sake?
Typically the most expensive and time-consuming style of Sake to make are called Junmai Daiginjo (pronounced "June, my dye green Joe" minus the "r" in green).
But that does not make them "the best"! Other special brewing techniques. collection methods, as can make a Sake more expensive to produce. "The best" Sake can be a well-made example of whatever style you prefer, or pairs with the occasion. No one Sake goes with everything, but everything has some Sake out there that can enhance it.
Can I still drink this Sake?
Open it. Try it. Decide for yourself. Ideally, like an IPA, Sake should be enjoyed as fresh as possible. All premium Sake indicate the month and year they are packaged and are intended for consumption within 12 months of that date. If you keep it refrigerated or in a cool, dark place, you may be able to enjoy the flavor beyond that, but waiting will only risk degrading the quality, not enhancing it.
Does this Help?
The most complete answer isn't necessarily the best. Sometimes answering basic questions only leads to more questions! Do you want to serve unique and complex Sake that inspires deep, involved conversation? Do you want clean, smooth Sake that adds joy to the atmosphere? SAKE SECRET can help you serve Sake by figuring out what role Sake will serve for you.
SAKESECRET.com will continue to grow as a resource and a space for inspiration. Check back frequently for new offerings, such as updates to this blog, or better yet:
Do you have a Sake FAQ at work you wish you could answer? Have a question you can answer but think that I missed? Get involved! Keep the conversation going in the comments!