A part of Japanese life for thousands of years, sake has exploded in popularity around the world, including Miami. Here, super-premium bottles of sake — once mainly by older generations — compete for top-shelf space with vodka, gin, rum and other spirits, giving rise to an international culture of connoisseurs.
Contrary to popular belief, sake is not meant to be consumed warm. Some say that warm sake was popularized in the United States after World War II. American soldiers returning from Japan reached for the sake they had discovered abroad, most of which was of poor quality and heated to mask its flaws. While it all boils down to personal preference, on a summer day in Miami, few things are as invigorating as a glass of good, chilled sake.
Made from rice, water, yeast and koji (an enzyme that converts starch to sugar during fermentation), sake is brewed like beer and fermented like wine. It usually contains about 15 percent to 17 percent alcohol by volume — slightly higher than wine, and therefore a bit more buzzy. Like wine, sake can range from fruity to floral and from sweet to dry, and everything in between, which makes it extremely versatile when playing with different foods.
Bubbly and Bites
Three must-try pairings that star sparkling sake:
Dassai 50 Junmai Daiginjo Nigori Sparkling Sake with Miso Sea Bass. “The key here is balancing and playing with the little bit of sweetness in the sparkling sake and having a touch of sweet with the food you’re pairing it with.” — Alex Becker, executive chef at Kuro at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Hou Hou Shu Sparkling Sake with Ocean Scallops. “The Hou Hou Shu is not overly sweet and maintains a certain level of acidity.” — Pedro Clemenceau, bar manager at Dashi. “The sake refreshes the palate without overpowering the delicate flavors of the scallops.” — Shuji Hiyakawa, executive chef at Dashi restaurant in Miami.
Gekkeikan Zipang Sparkling Sake with Orange Juice. “Many Asian restaurants are beginning to serve brunch, which has popularized Bellinis and Mimosas that use light and refreshing sparkling sakes such as Zipang.” — Yoshi Yumoto, vice president at Shaw-Ross Importers and national brand manager for Gekkeikan.
Looking for the finest? Becker, Kuro’s executive chef, recommends these bottles from his restaurant’s super-premium sake list.
Takasago Ginga Shizuku “Divine Droplets.” Fermented and brewed in an ice dome, this sake is very crisp, clean — and best served cold. $149.
Suehiro Ken Daiginjo “The Sword.” A slightly bigger body than the Takasago, with dry, sharp, fresh-tropical flavors. $168.
Tatenokawa 18 “Eighteen.” This brewery polishes away 82 percent of rice grains, leaving only 18 percent — the best of the best — for this rare and complex sake that shifts in sweetness depending on its serving temperature. $412.
Dassai Junmai Daiginjo “Beyond.” This once-in-a-lifetime bottle is like layers of smooth velvet, draping the palate in waves of umami. $1,650.
In a Cocktail
For a taste of sake without ordering a whole bottle, cocktails are a wise choice. The signature cocktail at Sunset Harbour’s Sushi Garage in Miami Beach pairs cucumber vodka with yuzu-infused sake, poured over a cucumber ice cube. Here’s how to make a Fat Qcumber ($13) at home.
1 cucumber ice cube
1 1/2 ounces Effen Cucumber Vodka
1/2 ounce Nara Plum Ayano Inn Yuzu Sake
1/2 ounce St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
- Grate 1/2 an English cucumber into an ice mold and freeze at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Add remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a martini glass over the cucumber ice cube.