As though it wasn’t enough to burn out on Zoom calls, now you’re finally getting outside and roasting. Does your forehead feel like a solar panel? At least you’ve got enough wipes to get the sunscreen off your hands to access email! But where can you get some relief from the heat? Fortunately, the pandemic has got us shifting gears, trying new things, mixing it up. But there are only reds after that last bottle of white, and you’ve made enough “creative cocktails” to not feel creative anymore: you need a change.
Where should you turn? To sake! And no, it’s not served hot—at least not the good stuff. As you might have seen in restaurants with sake lists and in stores that keep a few bottles in the cold box, artisanal, imported sake is all the rage—and it’s enjoyed chilled.
How to Chill with Sake in the Summer
So how do you chill out with sake this summer? Let’s start out with how to buy a bottle of sake. It’s easy. Just think of how you buy wine and apply it to sake.
How to Choose a Bottle of Sake
Where to Go and Who to Ask
First, decide where you are going to buy it. Fortunately, many chains and supermarkets now carry premium, imported sake. High-end wine stores have good sake selections. In some cities, there are sake-only stores. Not every wine and spirits store will have good sake, but trust your sake radar the same way you do your wine radar. Your instincts and observations can help guide you to the right places to buy it.
Second, ask a shopworker. Even in a large chain store that only has four sakes, the person working the floor should be able to tell you how people respond. The same is truer for fine wine stores. The buyers should know their sakes. If they don’t know and respond like it’s a random “must have but don’t care” selection, then maybe you want to try somewhere else. There are also many online options, too.
You will naturally be drawn to certain price points. The great news is that, after you open a bottle of sake, it will stay fresh in your refrigerator for 4-6 weeks. So even if you splurge, you can sip it for weeks. Once you’re in your price range, look at the back label. Did the importer provide a product description and tasting notes, or did they just slap a sticker on it with minimal information and the government warning? If you see care and effort, you’re probably buying a good bottle. If you still want to buy a bottle without much information on the label, you can always look it up online. There is now a wealth of information from importers, retailers, and bloggers.
To keep it simple, once you buy a bottle of premium sake, chill it and drink it. Sake is so versatile you can pair with almost anything. Think outside the sushi box and try it with a range of food, too.
Sake Outside the Box: Sparkling, Cocktails, and Flavored
If this sounds too complicated so far, but you still want to cool down with some chilled sake, just buy sparkling sake or flavored sake.
Flavored sake like Joto Yuzu or Joto Umeshu is delicious on the rocks—full stop. You can also spritz it up with a splash of soda. If you’re tired of creative cocktails, make a traditional cocktail but go 50/50 with your base spirit and a flavored sake. It will provide a new dimension to a classic. Flavored sakes are also lower ABV, around 8%. If the heat is bringing down your tolerance, these low-alcohol alternatives are great. Sparkling sakes like HouHouShu or Hana HouHouShu will immediately be refreshing, bubbly, and light. They are even lower alcohol at 5-8%.
Another great option is to buy an affordable but good bottle of sake and multi-purpose it. That is a verb, like Googling! Try Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu – 10,000 Ways, or Yuri Masamune – Beautiful Lily. These are inexpensive sakes at around $19.99. You can make a martini with them easily. Or substitute sake for vodka or gin in a creative cocktail. Some other great recipes are here, if you want to get fancier.
But, the easiest thing to do is get a good bottle, chill it, and enjoy it. Then you’ll be cool!