How to Drink Sake (On World Sake Day and Every Day)

October  1, 2015

How to drink Japan's favorite booze—in haiku.


You had no idea
that it is #worldsakeday
until you read this 

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We are haiku poets. It should go without saying that we particularly enjoy all things related to Japan. It should also go without saying that sake is a delightful, enigmatic beverage that is now finally gaining some attention worldwide. But where does it come from? As it turns out, an ancient Chinese text from the 3rd century is the first place we hear of Japanese alcohol consumption. And in the oldest written history of Japan, they mention alcohol a lot. A lot a lot. The drinks they referred to were early predecessors to sake, but not the real deal yet. 

in the book of wei
we find our first reference to
drinking and dancing


When the Japanese first started recording enjoyment of sake as we know it (a fermented beverage of rice, water, yeast, and the magical fungus koji), only the government was allowed to brew it. But in the 10th century, sneaky monks found out that brewing sake in shrines and monasteries was the perfect way to let loose after a day of silent meditation, and soon the zen masters were making the best stuff around.

somber shinto monks
may have looked serious but
they were having fun

It went on like that for 500 years, until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Many of the companies making sake today got their start during this era, and have been perfecting the art form since then. This includes a complex classification system based on the amount of each grain of rice that is polished away before brewing; the filtration, pasteurization, and emotional state of the barrel in which the sake is fermented; and probably many other things we mortals could never begin to understand. 

Rick Smith and Hiroko Furukawa, owners of the sake emporium Sakaya.

We decided to do our own research on sake today, and how we can enjoy it best. At Sakaya, New York City’s only exclusively sake emporium, owners Rick Smith and Hiroko Furukawa shared their passion for the drink, and which types of sake go with what foods best. 

With cheeseburgers, drink Shichida Junmai:

a fine shichida
versatile and beguiling
drier than a coke

With a burrito, a funky unpasteurized Narutotai Ginjo:

you need something big
with beans and jalapenos
“tequila of sake”


At brunch, with waffles and fruit, try Tenranzan Koten:

it tastes like brandy
reminds you of old heaven
ripe fruit in the woods

If you want the most obscure and interesting sake, you want Yamahai:

the ancient technique:
letting liquids interact
with the ambience

Or to taste the sake of the only foreign person to ever reach the highest level of sake brewing expertise, called tōji, you must try something by British expat Philip Harper, such as the Tamagawa Yamahai Junmai Genshu:

undiluted bliss
kind of like a hand grenade
a wild flavor beast

And if you want something made by a phenomenal female sake brewer (a rare breed):

Fukucho Biho—
you won’t forget this fortune
resurrected rice

Rick and Hiroko also told us that there is a new trend amongst urban yogis to choose sake at happy hour. Why? Sake is very low in acid, which some consider to be a healthy attribute, and does not contain residiual sugars, dyes, flavors, or preservatives like many other bar options, so some believe it is a healthier, more natural option that could be less likely to give you a hangover. We tested the theory, splitting a bottle of TY KU junmai daiginjo (super premium) sake. Ice-cold and sipped in a glass, it is so smooth and light that we think sake must be healthy—right? 

after downward dog
try lounge chair or bar stool pose
toast tranquility


We’re by no means sake experts yet, but we were able to get one last expert opinion, from Master Sake Sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto. She told us that if you have never had anything but hot sake, you really have never enjoyed sake as it should be: chilled. 

cold as mount fuji
on a crisp winter morning
sky becomes your cup

Tiffany says that the ultimate food pairing for a crisp, clean sake with good acidity (like Kokuryu Tokusen Ginjo, aka “Crystal Dragon”) is actually a pulled pork sandwich. She was the first American to ever reach her level of expertise in sake, and advises sake menus around the world, so we’re apt to believe her.

sip your umami
let no one’s cup go empty
miracle of rice

Photo by Bobbi Lin; photo of sake pitcher and rice by James Ransom; photo of Rick and Hiroko by The Haiku Guys

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