Oct 5, 2017

I’ve been writing about things I love recently so I decided to talk about another thing I’m enthusiastic about—alcohol. 

I know that sounds bad, but before we proceed (just to make it clear), no, I’m not an alcoholic. I just like treating myself to a drink every now and then, whether it be my trusty staple Pale Pilsen or some specialty drink that tastes more like candy or juice. It really depends on my mood.

But recently I attended an introduction of sorts to sake with expert brewer Elliot Faber and here’s what I learned about the beloved Japanese alcoholic beverage.

What we know as sake isn’t really called sake.

Sake 酒 in Japanese refers to alcohol in general. Sake, the alcoholic beverage, is called nihonshu 日本酒.

A post shared by Sake Central (@sakecentral) on

The proper term is actually nihonshu. The term, sake, was just popularized commercially in the international market and the name stuck. According to Faber’s Sake Central, sake in Japanese “refers to alcohol in general” or any alcoholic drink. So when you’re in the mood for some sake, chances are what you’re actually thirsting for is nihonshu.

No, you don’t take sake (or nihonshu) like you would a shot of vodka. 

You don’t even call a serving of sake “a shot.” Sake used to be produced by monks and was only served to the emperor, Sake Central says. It wasn’t until the Edo period (1603-1868) that it became available to everyone. So you can just imagine the proper sake-drinking ceremony that accompanied the drink. Traditionally, a sake serving set includes a tokkuri (sake flask) and sakazuki (wide-mouthed drinking dish) or ochoko (small, ceramic cups). Sake is usually taken slowly and can be enjoyed warm or cold. Ideally, its flavor is savored, letting it sit on your palate, before actually consuming the drink. Traditional sake drinking should also involve participants pouring the drink for each other, encouraging social interaction. The whole point of drinking sake is to bring people together.

Sake is not rice wine.

…because wine is made from grapes, in the strictest, dictionary-definition sense. Sake is simply a fermented alcoholic beverage made from rice. Some people even call it rice beer, because it is brewed. But it does have more in common with wine than distilled hard drinks such as vodka, gin, and rum. You can also enjoy it more like wine—in big volumes and by drinking it in a slower pace. Sake is also ideally taken alone, not mixed into some cocktail.

Sake contains a lot of umami.

Although sake has a wide variety of flavor profiles, it usually has a savory undertone. Sometimes it comes off as an aftertaste. You’ll only be able to tell if you let the flavor sit on your palate. This is why it’s best paired with meaty or smokey bar chow.

It takes four to six weeks to make a single batch of sake.

Most of sake is also handmade and only made in the winter. This adds to the complexity of the drink. When taking sake, keep in mind that a lot of time and labor went into making your nihonshu. 

When in the Philippines, pair sake with sisig or longganisa.

As far as local bar chow goes, Faber highly recommends enjoying sake with some sisig or longganisa. The savory-sweetness of longganisa goes well with the umami undertones of any sake.

Now to pop open a bottle of sake… Kanpai!


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Take happy hour to the streets with Cù Chi


Header image courtesy of Charlie Larkman/Unsplash

Featured image courtesy of Crate&Barrel and Malt Manila

TAGS: alcoholic drinks drinking culture Elliot Faber japan Japanese nihonshu nolisoliph sake Sunday's Sake