If you’re still recovering from your last rough experience with a sake bomb, it’s time to get reacquainted with rice wine. Lately, premium sake selections have been surfacing not only at new, gourmet sushi joints like the Lobster Club in New York, but also at hipster distilleries in Brooklyn and upscale wine bars like London’s Sager + Wilde and Toronto’s Grey Gardens. Jake Skakun, sommelier at the latter, says the drink’s broadening appeal coincides with our growing appetite for stronger umami flavours. “I did selections for a recent dinner that had very savoury foie gras dumplings, and I put a sake pairing side-by-side with a wine pairing,” he says. “The sake was so phenomenal, it was actually hard to find a wine that could match that well.” While the sake at Grey Gardens is all served cold — it turns out the good stuff is not always meant to be poured warm — the beverage is, suddenly, hotter than ever.
WHAT IS IT?
A fermented drink made from water, rice, koji (a spore that breaks down starches into sugars), and yeast. Typically, the end result clocks in at around 15 per cent alcohol.
WHAT TO KNOW
Daiginjo, brewed with rice grains milled down at least 50 per cent, is traditionally considered the most premium, followed by ginjo. To make junmai sake, no distilled alcohol is added during brewing.
How Sake Is Stepping It Up
A Fresh Taste
According to Skakun, Dewazakura Oka Ginjo — an expressive, floral sake poured by the glass at Grey Gardens — makes a strong case for reconsidering the drink as a sophisticated wine alternative.
A Fresh Look
Skakun points to Japan’s Kuheiji as part of a new gen of sake brewers out to reflect seasonal conditions rather than maintain year-after-year consistency. “His bottles mimic French wine labelling,” Skakun says — with a vintage date that reflects each aged sake’s rice harvest year.
Fresh pairings Sake styles described as light and crisp still pair best with fish dishes, while sakes with more earthy, rustic characters suit meatier dishes. Skakun’s wildest pairing? “Horse tartare.”
This spring, two ex-beer brewers launched Kura, a craft sake brewery in Brooklyn with a buzzy taproom out to introduce IPA lovers to their next obsession. In Toronto’s Distillery District, Izumi now brews melon- and citrus-flavoured sakes using Muskoka spring water.