Drink It From a Wine Glass
Despite the misconception that sake is a rice wine (it’s not), you should still drink sake the same way you would a nice Pinot Grigio. “We recommend sake be served chilled in a white wine glass so you really get those aromatics. You can get your nose right in there,” Rueda says. “Swirl it, smell it and sip it like you would a wine.” This also means skipping those little wooden boxes, called masus, which aren’t—as many people believe—the traditional way of consuming sake. “A masu is technically a measuring tool, like a cup, used to measure rice,” he says. “Drinking sake out of a masu is a bit of a gimmick, and personally I think masus are a bit non-hygienic; it certainly affects the flavor of a really delicate sake.” Thankfully, most nice Japanese restaurants don’t serve sake in masus anymore. But if they do, request a wine glass instead.
Pair It with More Than Just Sushi
The last time you had hot sake was probably at a budget sushi joint, but the drink—hot or chilled—is actually poorly matched for rice-based dishes regardless. “Historically, when the rice dishes came out, the sake went away, so pairing sake with sushi isn’t actually the best idea,” Rueda says. “Sake pairs better with a lot of other food. Heavensake’s Junmai Ginjo pairs really nicely with white fish or chicken, vegetables, and compliments citrus and spice. Our Junmai Daiginjo pairs with richer ingredients like lobster, uni and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I had our Ginjo with some fried chicken the other night, and it blew my mind.”
Store Your Sake Right and Drink It ASAP
“Sake should be stored vertically and refrigerated, not in the freezer,” Rueda says. “It’s meant to be enjoyed young, not stored for ages. Once you open a bottle of sake, though, it’s actually good for way longer than a white wine, about four to six weeks.” But some issues start at the liquor store, where the product may be spoiled before it’s even left the shelves. “If you keep a bottle in the sun, it will start to taste weird,” he says. “So when you’re at a liquor store, sometimes there’s a bottle that’s been sitting on the shelf near the window for two years—that’s going to taste compromised.” Instead, buy sake from an actual sake shop if possible, or a liquor store that keeps their bottles in the fridge. And remember to check the label for a bottling date.
Skip the House Sake and Try Something New
Some people have banned sake from their drinking repertoire after a few bad nights of pairing hot sake with low-grade sushi; Rueda urges people to give the drink another chance. “The experience that most people have had in the U.S. is with American sake, which is very different from Japanese sake in quality because of the rice and water,” Rueda says. “And a liquor store can be intimidating because many of the bottles are in Kanji, the Japanese alphabet.” So if you’re a sake newbie, try going to a restaurant with a curated sake menu, and let your server guide you through ordering. “Ask what goes well with the food you’re having, say what flavor profiles you like—dry, refreshing, sweet, aromatic, funky,” he says. “The experience is going to be far different than anything you’ve had before.”