The key etiquette rules on how to serve and drink Sake. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.
What Sake etiquette is
Sake etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and drink Sake. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.
If you are hosting, follow Sake etiquette to appropriately serve it to your guests.
If you are a guest, respect Sake etiquette rules to properly drink and enjoy it.
What you should know about Sake
Sake is an alcoholic beverage, also known as rice wine. It is made from fermented rice. Sake is a typical product of Japan.
Sake is usually clear in color. Its flavor can range from sweet to dry, depending on the variety. It can contain notes of herbs, spices, flowers, and fruits. The alcohol content is between 15% and 22%.
Etiquette rules to serve and drink Sake
1) How to store Sake
Store Sake in a cool and dry place. The temperature should be constant.
Keep the bottle away from sources of heat. The bottle should not be exposed to direct light, natural or artificial.
You can store Sake in the fridge. Avoid storing Sake in the freezer as you risk spoiling the flavor.
If you keep Sake at room temperature, you should drink it within a couple of months.
After opening a bottle of Sake, store it in the fridge. While it may last for a couple of weeks, its flavor will fade. Thus, after opening, it is best to drink Sake within two or three days.
2) How to prepare Sake
You can drink Sake chilled, at room temperature, or hot.
If you serve Sake at room temperature, no preparation is needed.
If you prefer to drink Sake chilled, place it in the fridge a few hours before serving.
To serve hot Sake, warm it immediately before serving it. The common way to warm Sake is to pour it into a ceramic flask (tokkuri), which is then heated in hot water.
3) How to serve & present Sake
The ideal serving temperature for Sake depends on personal preferences. However, high-quality Sake is best served at room temperature. The ideal temperature is about 18°C (65°F).
Cold or warm temperatures can prevent Sake from releasing its aroma or can cover its flaws. Thus, when Sake is served hot or chilled it is often a lower-quality product. Serve hot Sake at about 50°C (122°F). Chilled Sake at 13°C (55°F).
Present warm Sake in a ceramic flask (tokkuri). You can present Sake chilled or at room temperature in a tokkuri or in its bottle.
Serve Sake in small cups (choko).
Pour Sake to your guests. Traditionally, in Japan, one person does not pour his/her own Sake.
Do not serve Sake with ice. Do not serve shots of Sake.
It is appropriate to mix Sake in cocktails.
4) When to serve & drink Sake
It is common to serve Sake during or after a meal. You can serve Sake to accompany appetizers or courses such as sushi or sashimi.
In Westerner etiquette, Sake is most appropriate on informal occasions. It is still relatively too uncommon to be served on formal occasions.
5) Food & aromas to pair Sake with
It is best to pair Sake with Japanese food flavors. Sushi and sashimi, or tempura are popular pairing options.
Avoid pairing Sake with dishes from Westerner cuisines. Each cuisine develops over the years to combine well with the local drinks. Thus, in general, the recipes and flavors in Westerner cuisines tend to match wine or beer. While Sake tends to match the flavor and the dishes of the Japanese cuisine.
6) How to drink Sake
Drink Sake in small cups. You should sip it as you would do with wine.
Pour Sake to other guests. However, you are not supposed to pour your own Sake. Another guest or the host should do it for you.
Do not add ice to Sake.
Sake serving & drinking etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
When serving or drinking Sake, avoid the worst etiquette mistakes.
- 10/10. Getting drunk in public.
- 6/10. Pouring your own Sake.
- 3/10. Serving Sake in glasses.
Additional information for properly serving Sake
How many calories per serving?
Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.
Sake contains about 137 calories per 100 ml (3.5 oz). An individual serving is a small cup of 45 ml (1.5 oz). It contains 59 calories.
How to buy the best Sake
A crucial factor in Sake etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.
Sake is available all year round. However, artisan Sake is released in late winter or early spring.
Choose the best
There are two main types of Sake.
- Ordinary or table Sake (Futsū-shu).
- Premium Sake (Tokutei meishō-shu).
Premium Sake has 8 special designation varieties. Each variety has a different mix of ingredients and rates of rice polishing. In order of quality:
- Junmai Daiginjō-shu
- Junmai Ginjō-shu
- Tokubetsu Junmai-shu
- Tokubetsu Honjōzō-shu
- Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association: japansake.or.jp