What I’m Drinking: Japanese Sake

By: John Bancroft

Call it rice wine if you like, but the Japanese alcoholic beverage called sake is more akin to beer than wine, because it is brewed rather than fermented. We know some collectors who cellar premium sake along with their prize wines, but then some of them do the same with hand-rolled cigars. Everything in one’s […]


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Call it rice wine if you like, but the Japanese alcoholic beverage called sake is more akin to beer than wine, because it is brewed rather than fermented. We know some collectors who cellar premium sake along with their prize wines, but then some of them do the same with hand-rolled cigars. Everything in one’s cellar is not necessarily wine.

And did you know that in Japanese sake refers to any alcoholic beverage, while what we call sake in English is on its native soil called nihonshu?

These factoids came to our attention as we began recently to switch our allegiance from New Zealand sauvignon blancs to sake as the appropriate pairing with sushi.

Jpan Sarasota, currently our favorite sushi paradise, offers a nice range of sakes, which makes for convenient sampling. From clear sharp sake served hot by the glass to premium sakes with nicknames like Demon Killer and White Snow Flower served cold by the small bottle, we examined sakes sweet and dry, clear and milky.

With expert advice from our host, we came happily to the sake we now believe to be the perfect sushi beverage. It is an unfiltered and therefore milky premium sake called Shirakawago. Like our favorite Marlborough sauv blancs, it is eminently crisp and dry but also full-bodied and extra smooth. At Jpan a chilled 300 ml bottle goes for $18 and, at 15 to 18 percent alcohol, is plenty for two sushi fiends to share.

An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, websites and newspapers, most recently for the Tampa Bay Times.