For sake's sake: how to drink sake and the etiquette behind it
If you've ever tried sake, you probably had it in a Japanese restaurant or sushi bar, and chances are you drank it warm, poured from a ceramic flask called a tokkuri, into an ochoko, a ceramic cup that looks a bit like an egg cup.
I love it this way, and you can pick up the special cups in the Asia Market for a few euro, which really adds to the experience.
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As with most things Japanese, there's a bit of etiquette involved. You should never serve yourself sake, it should be poured by the person beside you, and you should return the favour throughout the meal.
Sake, like wine and beer, is fermented, but there is quite a lengthy process involved, and with alcohol ranging from 15-17pc, it is higher in alcohol than wine but lower than spirits. The most common sake you'll find is the inexpensive Futsu-shu sake, which is generally drunk warm. It is easy-drinking and has a more earthy profile than the more aromatic, premium sakes which are generally served at room temperature or slightly chilled in a wine glass.
There are a number of different classifications of sake, the most important being the degree to which the grain of rice is polished before it is fermented. This polishing removes the outer husk, and the more highly polished the rice, the smaller the grain becomes and the better the quality of sake. In July, I had a chance to visit Ichigo Ichie, the Michelin-star restaurant in Cork run by Takashi Miyazaki, and as you'd expect there are some very interesting sakes on the wine list, including a sparkling sake, plum sake and a seasonal Denshin sake.
"On cold winter days, people prefer to drink hot sake and on hot humid days, people prefer to drink chilled sake," says Takashi. "The best sake to drink hot is Honjozo but you would never serve the more highly polished Ginjo and Daiginjo hot as it would take from the flavour and aroma."
Tasting sake in a restaurant is a good way to start, and as well as Ichigo Ichie, you'll find it in Dublin in Dylan McGrath's Bonsai bar, Taste at Rustic, Wilde restaurant in The Westbury, and Wa Café in Galway. If you're tempted to spring for a bottle, check out the Asia Market and also independent off-licences including Blackrock Cellar, Baggot St Wines, Deveney's, Whelehan Wines, Drinkstore, Ely 64 Wine, Mitchell's, The Corkscrew, Sweeney's D3, Martin's Off-Licence, Loose Canon, O'Brien's and online at sake.ie.
Sake Master Honami Matsumoto, the founder of House of Sake, will be hosting a sake-tasting dinner at Wilde Restaurant in the Westbury hotel on October 9, featuring a range of sakes from Keigetsu by Tosa Brewing Company. The evening will start with sparkling sake and canapes, followed by sakes matched with sake-glazed salmon, wild Atlantic turbot, John Stone rib-eye steak and finishing with a white chocolate bavarois. €70, tel: (01) 6463352
€16-€18, 15pc, from O'Brien's, Martin's, Celtic Whiskey Shop, obrienswine.ie
Made from rice grown in the Nara Province in west Japan, this is an easy-drinking sake that is filled with fruity melon flavours that will match nicely with Japanese dishes. Perfect served warm.
Dr Loosen Riesling 2016
€14, 8.5pc, from Gibney's, Jus de Vine, Baggot St Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Martin's, O'Neill's, all Dublin; Carryout, Tullamore; and O'Brien's nationwide
Low in alcohol, this Riesling from the steep, slate-soil vineyards of the Mosel Valley is fruity in style with a refreshingly crisp taste that works beautifully with sushi and Japanese fish dishes.
Toro Loco Reserva
€7.99, 13pc, from Aldi
One of Aldi's seasonal range of wines, this fruity red has soft tannins, which will go nicely with the richer flavours of Japanese meat dishes and food that is cooked with soy sauce, like chicken teriyaki or beef yakitori.