A Japanese alcoholic drink made from fermented rice grain, sake (SOCK-ay) is produced like beer, looks and tastes like wine and frequently is served like liquor, as a shot or as part of a sake-tini.
In fact, sake has so many rich qualities that it takes a little digging, and a lot of tasting, to find out which variety you’ll enjoy best.
“You really have to develop a palate for it,” says Julia Anello, 32, waitress manager at California Rollin’ Sushi Bar. “There are so many different kinds, and yes, the flavor can take a little getting used to” because it is so distinctly different from wine made from grapes.
The look of sake ranges from clear to opalescent, and the taste ranges from “clean” to almost meaty.
The difference in clarity is due to rice sediment left – by design – by the maker’s filtration process.
“Premium sakes undergo a more intense milling process to grind away the outer layers of the rice grain and produce a smoother sake wine,” says Ben Faubel, fine spirits director at Whitehouse Liquor, 1720 Monroe Ave., Brighton.
When choosing sake, look closely at the color; the more opaque, the stronger the flavor.
Also, “if it’s served warm, it’s likely of a lower quality,” Faubel says.
Many people prefer their sake heated, though.
“A lot of our customers like it warmed because they find it goes down smoother,” says Anello, adding that the alcohol content of sake is similar ot the alcohol content of wine.
If you do serve it cold, chill sake like wine and keep it on ice. If you want to serve it warm, lightly heat it in a saucepan over the stove, being careful not to bring it to a boil, which will burn off the alcohol.
In either case, note the shelf life, Faubel cautions. Sake has a similar shelf life to grape wine, he says, so once it's opened, it'll stay fresh for three to four days.
Brands to buy and try
Pearly and smooth: Tozai Snow Maiden, 300 ml, $9.99; Whitehouse Liquors
Fruity and bright: Moonstone Sake (fruit flavored), 750 ml, $9.99; Century Pittsford Wines, 3349 Monroe Ave. (Pittsford Plaza), Pittsford
Clean and basic: g Sake, 750 ml, $17; Century Pittsford Wines