Sake, or “nihonshu,” is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice that has been made for thousands of years. Its unique, delicate flavor is thanks to a few things: the variety of “sakamai” rice and how much its polished, the local water used, the yeast, and the koji. Different sakes use distinct blends of ingredients and methods to achieve different flavors. But whether it’s a first-rate Junmai Daiginjo or table-grade Futsushu, if you’re a sake lover, you’ll know firsthand that it should be sipped, savored, and ultimately served with respect— not, let’s say, squeezed into your mouth from a warm plastic bottle in a hibachi restaurant.
To do that, you need the right tools and accessories. So we spoke to Alyssa DiPasquale, the owner of The Koji Club, Boston’s first sake bar. She recommended everything from the glasses she uses to taste test sake to the woman-owned and brewed sakes she suggests everyone try. Here’s everything you’ll need to start your own sake collection at home.
1. Ivation Wine Fridge, $339.99
Unopened sake will last in the refrigerator for up to two years, so a wine fridge is an excellent investment if you want a designated space for your sake. To serve, DiPasquale likes to pull the bottle out of the fridge, pour it, and then let the sake come to room temp as you drink. “It will open up a lot, and you’ll be able to taste a lot more. It’s fun to see how a temperature can really change sake over a short period of time.”
2. Coravin Pivot, $119
“Once a bottle of sake is open, if it’s in the fridge, it can last for up to a month,” DiPasquale says. But for people that want to take sake preservation to the next level, she recommends this Coravin Pivot, which will preserve your sake and ensure that each glass tastes as good as the first.
3. Twinbird Sake Warmer, $44.30
DiPasquale is a big fan of a sake warmer, but says that buying an electric one with different heat levels is essential as, “you don’t want to boil a sake to death.” The heat settings and instructions for this warmer are in Japanese, but it’s simple to figure out. Just plug it in and move the slider to how hot you want the sake to be — the slider goes up in heat from left to right.
These hand-blown glasses from Chiba, Japan, are the perfect size for a 4-ounce sake pour. So grab a four-piece set and a few extra glasses if you’re planning on having people over, and remember: the reason sake pours are so small is that you should constantly be pouring and topping off each other’s glasses. “It’s a non-verbal gesture of gratitude for the person you’re sharing a bottle with,” DiPasquale explains. “It’s a way to care for one another beyond sharing conversation.”
When DiPasquale is taste-testing sake solo, she opts for these 7.5-ounce stackable bodega glasses. They’re versatile, so if you don’t have extra room to spare for specialty sake glasses, these are for you. The wide brim helps bring out sake’s delicate aromas. “ I like when sake comes up in temp over time, so I’m not worried about holding it with two hands and giving it a good swirl,” she says.
6. Kinto Nonslip Wood Tray, $35
“When you go to Japan, everything has a place and a home,” DiPasquale says. “If you are at a restaurant and they put a bottle down in front of you, they’ll put some kind of miniature mat or a coaster underneath it.” Opt for this tray, the same brand they use at Koji Club, so nothing rests directly on the table.
DiPasquale recommends starting your sake journey with three different sakes from the same producer, so you can gauge how diverse its flavors can be. She suggests beginning with Fukucho sake from Hiroshima, made by head brewer Miho Imada, one of the few female “tojis” (master brewers) in Japan. “Her lineup in the United States is relatively widely available, but also incredibly impressive,” she says. “Moon on the Water has been my longtime party trick. It mimics an unctuous and complex white wine and always seems to impress even my snobbish sommelier friends.”
8. Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai, $34.99
Another from Fukucho is this off-dry sparkling sake called Seaside, which overgoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle and has lemon, lime, and apple aromas. “It’s supposed to give you a taste of Hiroshima,” DiPasquale says. “When you put your back to the coastline, and you look up into the hills, it’s dotted with citrus farms.” Of course, there’s great seafood there, too. “It’s meant to be consumed with great seafood, and it’s a delight with oysters,” she adds.
9. Fukucho Forgotten Fortune, $44
For the third sake, DiPasquale recommends Forgotten Fortune as a study on different rice varietals and how they impact the drink. “Miho Imada spent ten years reviving this rice varietal, Hattanso,” she says. It was near-extinct, and Imada spent years learning how to grow and brew the variety for this unique dry sake, brimming with lemon and apricot notes.
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