Sake in USA
December 19, 2004 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Probably been asked, but I'm having trouble with the search: guidelines for buying decent sake at an American liquor store?

Search thinks I mean "sake," as in "for goodness"...
posted by e^2 to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
it really depends on what you want, think of it in terms of wine, really... do you want something sweet, something dry? obviously it's not always as easy to trust your local merchant for recommendation on sake as it is for wine, granted.

and like any wine, you just have to buy any sake that looks interesting and try it and see what you think.

my preference is always nigorizake, i.e. unfiltered sake, i.e. the guinness of sake. most of them are sweet, but you can usually get a nice dry one like shirakawago in the states. but that's just me.

in fact at this very moment I am drinking rihaku nigori.... a little too sweet, but again that's just me.

you could buy an inferior sake and serve it hot, this almost always works well.
posted by dorian at 4:50 PM on December 19, 2004

What exactly are you looking for? You don't know what you want or are looking for and just want suggestions?

You can try:
posted by pwb503 at 4:52 PM on December 19, 2004

Response by poster: Well I did pop into the local liquor store a couple of weeks ago, but what I could read off bottles was not very informative, and I live in Pennsylvania, where all our stores are state-run, so I'm facing a) limited selection and b) lack of knowledge on the part of employees. So I suppose I should have said, "what signs should I look for that bottle X will be a good buy?"

Thanks for the links though, that's somewhere I can start anyhow.
posted by e^2 at 5:05 PM on December 19, 2004

ah ok, then you probably want to read more about the types of sake (which is also explained in pwb503's links). but again like wine, it's more about what you like than what other people are telling you that you should like...

if the store cannot help you, really, just pick a cheap one and a middle-priced one and maybe a semi-expensive one, and try them and see what you think.
posted by dorian at 5:15 PM on December 19, 2004

Local liquor stores are not the place to look for selection and value in sake. Try the Japanese (or, if none, Korean) groceries. They'll generally have a much better selection, and it won't cost as much. Other than that, it's like wine (and I know f*ck-all about wine). You just have to try something, do a little research to see how people describe it (sweet, dry, flowery, etc.) and then figure out which characteristics you like. Next, try one people describe as {sweeter/drier/more flowery}, as suits your taste.
Hot sake ("atsu-kan") will kill a delicate brew, but might make an unpalatable one tolerable (in a pinch). Warm in glass or ceramic (not metal!) in in a pan of boiling water or a microwave.
posted by spacewrench at 6:08 PM on December 19, 2004

Response by poster: Sorry, let me try again. In my state, liquor cannot be sold outside of state run stores. In fact, considering changing the policy has been kicked around by our state legislature for a few years now, but never all that seriously -- too controversial. Seriously. In fact, we have separate beer and hard liquor stores, and only one store out of a three county area will be open on Sundays. Except for dry counties, where of course you can't buy any.

See my difficulty?
posted by e^2 at 8:27 PM on December 19, 2004

Given that you appear to be in Harrisburg, is a run to Maryland out of the question?
posted by Vidiot at 9:54 PM on December 19, 2004

The cheap stuff is bad. Trust me. Don't buy the expensive stuff just because is is pricey, but avoid the cheap shit, it really isn't worth the time or the savings.
posted by pwb503 at 10:56 PM on December 19, 2004

In my experience, there is little you can do to determine if it will be good or bad from just looking at the bottle.


Sake is generally graded on a scale from "amakuchi" (sweet) to "karakuchi" (dry). On some bottles (not too many, nowadays, though), there is a number somewhere that indicates the dry/sweetness. A "+2" is a dry sake, a "-2" is a sweet sake. More recently, they actually put a little chart on the back of the bottle, like so:

Sweet (on this chart) is on the left, dry is on the right, indicating that this particular hypothetical sake is somewhat sweet.

If you can find the number, or if there's a chart, I'd recommend getting a few sweet sakes and a few dry sakes, try both, and from there you can at least determine which type you prefer. And definitely get more than one of each, or you may think you dislike sweet sake when in reality you just bought a lousy brand.
posted by Bugbread at 4:32 AM on December 20, 2004

Ahh, state stores. Ain't PA great? Unless you live close to the MD, DE, NJ or NY borders, your choices are pretty slim. I've seen Momokawa in my local state store (it is in blue bottles). At $12 or so you won't be too upset if you don't love it. I like the Diamond, nice and dry and goes great with sushi - what else?
posted by fixedgear at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2004

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