What Does Sake Taste Like?

Sake is a rice wine that is made by fermenting polished rice that has had the bran removed. It typically comes from Japan, but many other Asian countries also have their own way of making rice wine.

Cold sake tastes similar to white wine because both are dry and smooth, while hot sake tastes more like a spirit—perhaps because it feels like it’s going to your head faster! Cold sake can also have additional flavors like apple, orange, or lychee. In general, sake is a sweeter wine than white or red wine made from grapes (and it also has more calories).

The rest of this article is going to give you a better idea of how sake tastes, and will help you to determine whether sake is a drink you will enjoy. Let’s get to it!

How I Would Describe the Taste of Sake

Sake has a kind of nutty aroma to it that is also a little fruity as well. It has a mildly sweet but clean taste, more so than that of other wines. The drink is well balanced and combines savory and astringent flavor. The taste of course can also depend on the drinker and their alcohol tolerance.

There are five main kinds of sake: Namazake, Daiginjo-shu, Ginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu, and Junmai-shu. Each is brewed in slightly different ways, some using alcohol, some not.

  • Junmai-shu is a type of sake that is sold in its purest form without any brewer’s alcohol added. It has a full, rich body to its flavor, has a higher rate of acidity, and is mainly served hot.
  • Namazake is when the alcohol in the drink isn’t pasteurized. It needs to be refrigerated so the drink’s aroma and taste don’t change. When it’s unfiltered, it’s called Nigori Zake which is cloudy, sweet and has some koji ice in the bottle.
  • Ginjo-shu is a type of sake made with 40% Seimai Buai (milled) rice where 60% of it keeps its original size. It is delicate and light in its flavor, and the aroma is pleasant as well. Daiginjo-shu is a type of Ginjo-shu sake that has a milled rice percentage of 30%-50%. It has a brief aftertaste with a full body and a fragrant aroma.
  • Honjozo-shu has a milling degree of 70% meaning that only 30% of the rice is milled while the rest keeps its shape. Brewer’s alcohol is added to this sake which makes it not as potent as sake with no added alcohol. It is best served warm and its flavor is smooth and light.

The taste of sake varies depending on the price as well, because the price is determined based on its age, as well as its Seimai Buai. The lower the rice polishing ratio, the higher the price.

Why Do People Like Sake?

People like sake for the smooth and clean taste that is pretty distinctive. It has such a smooth flavor that is different from most other wines so the uniqueness keeps people around as well. Sake is a very social drink, especially in its country of origin.

Sake is a win-win; great taste and a unique experience. It is especially popular with customers of sushi restaurants who would mostly likely have tried their first bottle there. Lots of people tend to associate the drink with sushi since that is the main way most people have tried it (at least here in the US).

Who Might Not Like Sake?

As of 2020, sake has been declining in popularity in Japan, its country of origin. Young people have no desire to partake in their country’s traditional drink. There are more exports than local drinkers.

The first reason is the vast selection of other drinks available to them now. It makes sense that they would expand their horizons rather than just limiting themselves to just sake. The second reason is a changing of the younger generation’s tastes.

Others simply don’t like the taste because they might expect something else. Sake is a very different drink than what most people are used to so it can be a bit jarring at first taste. If you like wine and are looking for something a little different to try, you might like this drink. If not, sake may not be for you.

How Is Sake Usually Served?

Sake is typically drunk from very small cups and is meant to be sipped rather than as a shot. Cold sake can be served in a wine glass so you can get a better smell of the aroma. Sake can also be served in wide rim, narrow rim, thin rim and thick rim cups as well.

Sake is either served hot or cold depending on the type of sake you’re drinking. Warm sake can be served in the thin rimmed glasses. Of course it depends on the sake whether you drink it warm or cold. Cold sake is typically for warm weather where people want to cool off in the summer. Warm sake is mainly served in the winter where people wander into bars and restaurants from the cold outside looking to warm up.

Sake is mainly served during the appetizer phase of a meal. It’s more traditionally appropriate for you to let someone else serve the sake to you instead of you pouring your own drink in a group setting. This is the traditional way of being served sake in a social Japanese setting.

When you’re deciding to drink sake with friends, there isn't a big need to keep to the traditional way of serving it, unless you are in Japan yourself, which is another story (or unless you want to for the experience!). As I said before, sake is a social drink and is best served in a social setting.

Sake is great paired with sushi, but also with plenty of other dishes involving fish or seafood. But if you like sake, why limit yourself? It can also be great for celebrating special occasions, social gatherings, rituals, holidays... you name it!