Kanpai! The 411 on sake

Sake (pronounced SAH-kay), is a Japanese beverage made with rice and served at a variety of temperatures. It’s usually sipped while indulging in appetizers or sashimi and sushi at Japanese restaurants. Sake is also enjoyed on special occasions in traditional Japanese rituals, and it pairs well with lighter fare like fish, chicken and vegetarian dishes.  



Sake has three main ingredients—rice, water and koji mold spores. Although it’s mistakenly referred to as a wine, it’s brewed like beer. However, sake experts are known as sommeliers or wine stewards. 

Robert Riggs, store manager at Apollo Liquor, says, “To create sake, rice is polished or milled in a hopper to remove the outside portion known as the bran. The outer layers of rice have impurities, so the higher quality sake is polished longer than the lesser quality.”

The polished rice is soaked in water, and then steamed to bring out starch molecules. Koji mold spores are massaged into the rice to convert the starch to sugar. The yeast is added to consume the sugars which produce alcohol, thus creating a mash known as moromi. The moromi then ferments for 18 to 32 days.

White lees or unfermented solids are pressed away, and the clear sake runs off. The liquid is filtered, pasteurized and aged about six months. Afterward, the sake is bottled with an alcohol content of about 12 to 18 percent.



“Sake served cold is of higher quality and displays many delicate flavors. The flavors naturally occurring in sake are apricot, peach and pear. The basic flavors exhibit acidity, tartness, sweetness, dryness and bitterness. Here at Apollo, we also carry infused sake, like coconut with lemongrass flavors,” adds Riggs.

Although hot sake is lower quality, heating it alleviates the bitterness and enhances its bold flavors, becoming drier than cold sake. Heated sake also increases the effect of the alcohol. Hot sake complements cold foods like sashimi and sushi and dishes flavored with soy sauce. Chilled sake pairs well with sweet and sour dishes and hot pot which is a steaming soup stock.

To make hot sake, pour the sake into the ceramic flask, and then place the flask in a bath of hot water for two to two-and-a-half minutes. When the sake reaches about 110 to 120 degrees remove from the bath and enjoy. It’s important not to boil the sake. If you fancy yourself a mixologist, try whipping up a sake cocktail.



Sake is served in larger ceramic carafes and poured into smaller vessels for drinking. It is considered proper to pour sake for others. Place two hands on the tokkuri, or flask: one hand goes on the neck part of the bottle and the other hand is placed at the bottom and used to tip the flask so the liquid pours into the drinking cup (this is mostly when drinking in work or business-related gatherings). When drinking with your friends, it’s acceptable to pour the beverage with one hand.

When cups are full, it’s time for a toast. Raise your glass and shout “Kanpai!” This is the Japanese term for “Cheers!” 


Apollo Liquor has a small selection of sakes ranging from lower quality that can be warmed up to 110 degrees and premium sakes that are served cold. Check out the following bottles:

• Gekkeikan Sake $8.99/bottle
• Junmai Sake $12.99/bottle
• Nanbu Bijin $22.99/bottle
• Junmai Ginjo $41.99/bottle


Sake Mojito
• 1 bottle sake
• 1 bottle extra dry Champagne or prosecco
• 1 large bunch mint leaves
• juice of 3-4 limes
• 6-10 droppers full of liquid stevia (more or less to taste)
First, tear the mint leaves off the stem. In a large pitcher, use the back of a wooden spoon to muddle the mint leaves, stevia and lime juice. Then add the entire bottle of both the sake and the Champagne. Stir the mixture and serve over lots of ice. 



Nicole L. Czarnomski is a regular Rochester Women magazine contributor.