How to pair Sake – Sake Explained


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Whilst there is a Sake Samurai in town, we take the opportunity to understand this Japanese drink a little more and chat with sake expert and Sake Samurai, Ayuchi Momose to find out how to pair sake with our favourite foods and most importantly, how best to enjoy this Japanese drink.
MB: What factors influence the quality and alcoholic strength of sake?

AM: As for the quality of sake, important factors are (in the order of importance)

  • Skill of brew master – each brew master has their own “style” of sake making.Quality of rice can be different each year depending on the weather. But a good brew master can manage to create same quality sake each year. The skill to analyse their ingredients, skill to analys the weather (outside temperature affects the quality of sake), skill to create good Koji (mold) and skill to read how Koji is working is extremely important and takes years of experience.
  • Quality of rice – some years are considered as good years, and some years are considered as bad years for rice, depending on the weather. As for most sake rice, hot and sunny summer is preferred. Typhoon affects sake rice as well. Most sake rice is harvested in end September to early October. If typhoons hit Japan around harvest time, rice absorbs too much water and it won’t be good for sake rice.
  • Quality of water – clean water is a must. Sake requires a lot of water and water is very difficult to bring in. clean environment is extremely important. More than 80% of sake is water.As for alcoholic strength of sake, by Japanese law, it must be below 22%. If it exceeds 22%, it will be considered as liquor.Alcohol strength is determined by multiple factors. Strength of Koji, amount of rice usage, or length of fermentation time. Some breweries intentionally make alcohol strength low to keep the flavour (sugar) of rice.

MB: Other than with Japanese food, how could we pair sake with a Singaporean dish and a Western food?
AM: I think many Singaporean food goes very good with sake. Since rice is very often used for Singaporean cuisine, sake is made out of rice, they must go well. Since I am not very good with spicy food, I enjoy pairing spicy food with sweet or creamy sake, because sweetness will makes spiciness milder. (Successful food and sake pairing is very personal so it is my opinion)

My favourite pairing is Chili crab with Dassai Nigori. Chicken rice also goes very well with smooth and dry Honjozo sake.

Many western food also goes very well with Sake. For example, some oily food goes very well with sake with some acidity. Or char grilled food with smoky cask sake go very well. My favourite pairings are:

  • –  Char grilled steak with smoky cask sake
  • –  Foie Gras with warm Junmai sake (warm sake will melt fat of foie gras in your mouth and it is very very nice!)
  • –  BBQ pork rib with Junmai Yamahai sake (Yamahai is often very bold and acidic. Acidity cleanses the oiliness of food)
MB: Is sake intended to be a pre-dinner drink, a during meal drink or an after-dinner drink?

AM: All of them:-

Pre-dinner sake: light and fragrant type is preferred. Most Junmai Daiginjo and Daiginjo are good for pre-dinner. Also sparkling sake is perfect for pre-dinner to stimulate your appetite.

During meal sake: smooth and light Junmai Ginjo or Honjozo go very well with most appetizers especially light and cold dishes. Rich Junmai sake is recommended for main course (hot dishes)

After meal drink: vintage sake or sweet Nigori sake are good after dinner. I like chocolate with vintage sake pairing. Also light Nigori sake with some fruits especially peaches or mangos are very nice.

MB: What influenced you or what interested you about becoming a Sake Samurai?

AM: Sake samurai is an honourable title given by the sake association in Japan. I have been in the sake industry well over 10 years and my duty is still the same before and after I received this title. But after I received this title, I have more and more job offers outside of Hong Kong (where I am based right now). My main duty is still the same. I run a sake bar in Hong Kong and also educate people about sake. It is nice to know that your work is recognized by others and I do appreciate this title.

For more information on Sake Samurai, please visit

Ayuchi Momose is currently in Singapore as part of the Oishi Japan 2014 event she is conducting a demonstration and sake tasting on 18 October 2014 at 3.30pm to 4.30pm.

Oishii Japan is open to the public on Saturday 18 October from 11am to 5pm.  Entry is S$4 per person and 12 years or under enter FREE.


About Author

Clare Victoria...British born and a Yorkshire girl through and through, Clare left the familiarity of home many moons ago. Having lived, worked and experienced the highs and lows of being a foreigner in both France and Singapore, Clare has grown into a truly international lady. Her passion is writing about anything that will interest, enlighten and offer inspiration to her readers.

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