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 Trying Sake for the First Time?

So you want to try sake, but you’re not quite sure where to begin? You’re not alone. The Japanese have been making sake for thousands of years, but its intricacies still remain mysterious to most Americans. At BaiKu Sushi Lounge, we look forward to bridging that gap, and introducing you to this delicious beverage!

First, let’s start with the basics- how to say “sake!” You’ve probably heard it said “sah-kee” or “socky.” Now, you’ll avoid sounding like you’ve had too many glasses of sake by pronouncing it “sah-kay.”

BaiKu Sushi Bar Sake Collection

Photography by Jonathan Gayman

Now that you know how to order the drink, let’s talk about what exactly you are drinking. Sake often gets misidentified as “rice wine,” mostly because wine as we know it is the closest comparison in texture and alcohol content. However, sake’s brewing process is more like beer, in that starches are broken down into sugar, and then into alcohol. Sake’s main ingredients include rice, water, yeast, and a mold spore called koji.

Don’t let the fact that sake’s key ingredient is a mold spore stop you from trying this delicious beverage! Koji rice is steamed rice that has had koji mold spores cultivated onto it. This magical mold creates several enzymes as it spreads, and these are what break the starches in the rice into sugars that can be fermented by the yeast cells, which then give off carbon dioxide and alcohol. Without koji, there is no sake!

So how do you choose from BaiKu’s sake list? Whether you prefer to drink something sweet or dry, acidic or rich, fruity or steely there is a sake that suits you. A sake’s name will tell you a lot about what the sake will taste like, as well as how it was brewed, and its percentage of rice milling. Check out the list below to decipher what all of the different names mean!


This type of sake refers to pure sake that hasn’t had any starches or sugars other than rice added to the fermenting mixture. Also, no additional alcohol has been added.


The rice used to make this sake has had the outer 40% of the grain polished away, leaving the inner 60% left and the sake with delicate, light and complex flavors.


The rice for this sake has been milled so that no more than 50% of the original size of the grains remains, although this often goes as low as 35%.


Where most sake is usually filtered to remove grain solids left behind after the fermentation process, Nigori sake remains unfiltered, resulting in a far cloudier drink.

Traditionally, sake is served in a ceramic mug that is much like tiny a handless tea-cup, called an ochoko. It can also be served in a sakazuki, which is more flat, and saucer-like, or an amasu, which is a small wooden-box made for drinking. Though not very traditional, a wine glass is said to be the best type of glass to drink sake from. Much like how a wine glass is designed for allowing the drinker to see the color of the wine, as well as being able to experience the aroma and flavor, it is also perfect for enjoying sake.

At BaiKu Sushi Lounge, we aim for a good balance of authenticity while also giving our customers an approachable atmosphere. So while it may be more authentic to serve our sake out of an ochoko, sake tends to be more enjoyable out of wine glasses.

As far as temperature, sake is often best served chilled (especially ginjo and daiginjo). However, if sake is too cold it might lose some of its rich flavoring. Sometimes sake will be served warm, and this usually results in a smoother taste, and the alcohol will be more prevalent.

The most obvious food pairing for sake is, of course, sushi. We love helping our customers pair kinds of sake with different sushi dishes! Once you fall in love with sake while at BaiKu, you might be wondering what else you can pair sake with while at home. The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s not that difficult, especially if you already know how to pair other kinds of wine with food. You should also keep in mind that the first rule to pairing sake with food is that there are no rules! We don’t usually think twice about having French wine while dining at an Italian restaurant, so don’t think too hard about having a glass of sake while enjoying something other than sushi. Really, the only place you could possibly go wrong, would be pairing sake with overly spicy foods that may overpower the taste of the sake.


Check out our Sushi and Sake Dinner here at BaiKu!>>


The Japanese culture is deeply rooted in etiquette, and drinking sake is no exception. First, you should never pour your own sake, and you should also be mindful of your neighbor’s drink, so you can refill it for them. Pouring each others sake is a social bonding experience, so be sure to enjoy that moment with your friend. You should always wait for the entire group to receive their drinks, and for someone to offer cheers or a toast before you start drinking your sake.

You can offer cheers to someone in Japanese by saying ‘kanpai’! This translates to the phrase “empty-cup,” and once meant that you were supposed to finish your small cup of sake in one shot. Now you may clink your glasses together and sip your sake however you like. Another way to say cheers is otsukaresama deshita, which means “you’re tired.” This kind of cheers is usually heard in a business setting. The Japanese value hard work, and telling someone that they are tired is their way of saying that person is an extremely hard worker and deserves a drink. After the sake begins to flow, you can also say ‘banzai!’ This is directly translated to “to live 10,000 years.”

So will you like sake? The answer is YES(now that you know how to drink sake)! Much like other kinds of alcohol and spirits, it’s just a matter of finding the sake you will enjoy. Whether you drink sweet or dry, acidic or rich, fruity or steely there is a sake that suits you. Sake is a multifaceted, intriguing drink that has a broad flavor spectrum with an addictive twist. If you are trying your first sip of sake, or you are a sake connoisseur, BaiKu is thrilled to serve you the best sake list in St. Louis! Kanpai!



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