Sake. The days have gone that people looked blankly at you when it was offered on a menu and enquired whether it was a type of beer, but let’s not pretend that for most of us our knowledge extends much further. We know it’s served warm and that it’s all too easy to drink too much and end up with no memories of the evening…

There is definitely a growing sake culture in the UK however. It may surprise you to know that there is such a thing as a ‘Sake Sommelier’. No longer is it enough just to offer one type of sake on a menu. With over 50 different rice varietals offering a range of flavours from subtle to intense and colours from clear to soft gold there are over 1,500 sake breweries.

For the first time ever this year the Sake Sommelier of the Year Awards were held outside of Japan and they were held here in London at The Westbury in Mayfair. Not only that but three out of the five finalists were based in London, Barry McCaughley (from Chotto Matte, London), Jean-Louis Naveilhan (Sumosan, London) and Jonathan Beagle (Yashin Sushi and Bar, London). With such mainstream acceptance and a whole new band of sake enthusiasts taking to the web to set up sake appreciation clubs, its definitely time to brush up your knowledge.

We’ve done some (careful online) research for you and have come up with Design Restaurants Bluffers Guide to Sake!

  • There are five well recognised classifications of sake based on the production process: the finer the refining of the rice and the less alcohol  that has been added during the brewing process, the longer the production process and the more expensive and high quality the sake is.
  1. Daiginjo -shu – highest quality with the rice grains polished to 50% of their original size, a very good dinner companion
  2. Ginjo-shu – very good quality with rice grains polished to 60% of its size, a delicate flavour and generally sweeter than other sake
  3. Junmai-shu – Pure rice wine with no additional alcohol added to it creating a bold flavour but more acidic
  4. Honjozo-shu – production process is similar to Junmai but some alcohol has been added which makes it a lighter sake that is served warm
  5. Futsuu-shu – this is your common or garden mass production sake made with rice that is less than 70% polished and higher quantities of alcohol added in production – basically like table wine
  • Sake is generally between 15% and 17% alcohol
  • Sake is not like wine in that it does not age well and is best drunk young. It takes about a month to brew but can be aged for approx 6 months before being released
  • In Japan the word sake actually refers to ‘alcohol’ so if you are dining out in the country you are best to ask for nihonshu which means ‘wine of Japan’
  • There is no such thing as a ‘vintage year’ in the world of sake
  • Premium sakes are best drunk cold but lower grade like Futsuu-shu are best heated gently and served warm
  • It is customary to pour sake for the person next to you and the same for them – you should never pour for yourself in company
  • Koji is a type of rice mold which is added during production to convert rice starch into sugar
  • As sake is free from sulphites, and the premium kind is free from additives and preservatives,  it tends not to to cause the same kind of hangovers associated with wine and spirits
  • Sake apparently pairs extremely well with oysters

So now you can all hold your heads high when ordering from the sake menu in a Japanese restaurant. All that is left for us to do is leave you with this Japanese proverb as a word of warning:

“It is the man who drinks the first bottle of saké; then the second bottle drinks the first, and finally it is the saké that drinks the man.”~Japanese proverb

The best Christmas Card for 2013? A Design Restaurants Card of course! Go to to join now and enjoy the season by dining in some of the best restaurants in the country – complimentary!

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