My Tips for Picking Out Sake
Phew! The holiday season is over. It was nice to go to holiday parties, family get togethers, and our traditional New Year’s Day party. Of course, during all of these parties I would bring sake for people to drink. People would enjoy the sake and ask me questions about it. One of the questions I would get frequently was “how do you pick out the sake?” So I decided to share what I tell people when I am asked.
The first thing I do is give them a brief overview about the different types of sake. I cover the different types of premium sake. I just give a general overview how daiginjo is at the top of the pyramid with Ginjo underneath, with honjozo and Junmai on the bottom with Junmai. I also covered what Junmai, Junmai Ginjo, and Junmai Daiginjo sake are. (If you need an explanation please click here). I also explain the rice polishing ratio or seimaibuai and how it affects the flavor.
The next thing I do is tell them to look at the Sake Meter Value (SMW) or the nihonshu-do. I explain to them that this number will let you know if the sake is sweet or if the sake is dry. I explain that the lower the number the sweeter the sake is and the higher the number the drier the sake is.
The item I recommend checking is the acidity or the sanmi. I explain how the lower the number means the lighter the sake tastes and the higher the number the richer the sake tastes.
Then I tell them to start picking sakes they might like. I tell them to start somewhere. I explain now they can use the info I gave them to pick a bottle or even just pick bottles based on any criteria they want. I tell them that just remember the SMV, acidity, and the type of sake. I tell to write it down or at least remember then brand and type. I recommend they buy different ranges and types and find what they like and what they do not like. Then eventually after some trial and error they will find typically what they will like.
I do explain things like typically honjozo and Junmai and best for warm sake, and that daiginjo are better of chilled. However, I do explain that those are loose rules and that they should try each one anyway they like and that is part of the fun. (At least it is for me.)
Now when I buy sake here is what I typically do. I buy a bottle or two in the SMV range that I like. Depending on the season I might opt for things that take a little better warm in the summer I will go with things that taste best chilled. Then I also typically purchase a bottle or two of something outside of my taste range. I still experiment with something sweeter, drier, aged, or I just might think a bottle looks cool and get that. I will also do things like let my wife pick something for me or ask my kids to pick something for me.
While this is not a comprehensive guide on how to pick out a sake, I think it is something simple just about any person can begin to find their personal flavor profile. I think the important things is to relax, enjoy the sake, and have fun experimenting with different sakes.
Now get out there and pick some sake. Kanpai!