Ask Beau – “What’s the rule for pairing sake with sushi?”
First traditionally sake was not served with sushi or nigiri more specifically, because it was a doubling up of ingredients rice and rice. That is/was a no no. But times have changed so there is plenty of sake at sushi bars now and you can double down on rice without a raised eyebrow anywhere. But let’s get back to the gist of your question in terms of how to effectively pair sake and sushi.
When people come into the store and ask what sake should they take to a sushi restaurant we ask the question, “What type of sushi do you like?” Silly question because sushi is sushi right? Wrong! Sushi comes in all styles from very clean to overly sauced and spazzed out! We sort of say Japanese style versus Western style. If you want to pair with clean sashimi and very clean nigiri that is not all sauced out or covered with spice we recommend an entirely different sake then a brew that would go well with American crazy rolls.
So in general if you want to go the sashimi route I strongly recommend a very clean and crisp Ginjo or Junmai Ginjo that acts like a good wash that cleans up the soy sauce and allows you to taste the fish. Some folks like really dry sakes in this case but I feel that a little fruit tone works well with the soy sauce.
If you want to go the nigiri route without spice and a lot of sauces I recommend a dryer Junmai that is clean and ricy, which compliments the rice and fish together. For some reason I feel the Junmais take the wasabi better than a Junmai Ginjo.
Now let’s say that you want to go the western route and get nigiri with lots of additions like spice and sweet sauces. In this case you need some girth in your brew to pull the flavors together and a fat Honjozo does well with spice and sweetness. If it’s crazy spicey then you may even want to go a the Yamahai route to get some acidity in the mix. What you don’t want is a light Junmai or Ginjo or even Daiginjo as these guys would get pushed around by all of the flavors. Think rich and full-bodied Yamahais or Honjozos.
What about all of those crazily named rock n’roll flaming volcano rolls? These new and extremely popular sushi styles need a very large and very fun sake to pair with all of the “mash” of flavors and feelings. In a word I say go nama if you are going whacky rolls! Yup, think big, bright, and frisky unpasteurized sakes in this category, because they have all the attitude and come back to not get rolled over with all of the spice and funkiness. Typically these sakes may also have a little higher alcohol content, which you will need if you are eating an “Exploding Thor Roll With Cheese.”
What about nigori sake? Hmmmmmm. Leave those at home! (At the very least and if you must then have your nigori with the tricked-out western rolls that glow with red spice or are covered with slippery brown sauce.)
Those are the rules – learn’em – live’em !
Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @ truesake.com.)