May 2012

Sake Suggestions - On The Rocks!

Posted by Beau Timken in 2012, May, Newsletter
True Sake To rock or not to rock? That is the question. I always used to be sort of snob on this question. Why add your local tap water ice to a perfectly made sake? Why dilute a brew that was made to taste a certain way? Why over-chill something that may taste better warming in the glass? I actually wrote years ago that if you do want ice in your sake then make sure to use locally made sake to match the water! Not!

But alas, I have softened my snobbery on the ice question. Some folks do need to dilute their sakes to bring down the alcohol content a bit. They say that cutting the sake allows them to enjoy a second glass. Others say that it takes the strength out of some sakes that taste a little boozy. And others still say that by adding ice it tamps down the sweetness of certain sakes. I can see all of these observations, and many brewers will actually agree. How do I know? Well, sometimes they use a series of icons on their back labels designating what temperatures are best for that particular sake. And yes beside the icons for hot sake, warm sake, room temp sake, and chilled sake there is an icon featuring a glass with ice in it! Bingo! That sake may take ice well.

Typically "genshu" (undiluted sake) is the best for the ice game. Yes, the ice is used to cut the alcohol to an extent. Likewise super sweet sakes including those that are infused with yuzu (citrus) or ume (plum) also have an affinity for the rocks. And of course on really hot afternoons ice may make a sake taste more refreshing. Having a sake stay chilly in your glass is a bonus when the sun is out.

Here are some tricks for sake on the "rock." (In Japan they don't often use the plural version even if there is a lot of ice!)

True Sake First if you must go icy then try freezing some distilled water. These distilled cubes won't change the integrity of the sake too much flavor wise. And secondly go easy at first! On the rocks should be considered "On the rock." Start with one cube first. If you still need to blend then add more ice. Too many "rocks" may avalanche the sake and create a watered down flavor. If you simply add ice to chill your sake then don't forget to freeze some glasses. I love pouring cold sake into "frozen" sake glasses. It looks pretty cool - literally and fig... you get the picture.

With the help of a non-professional sake drinker I wanted to do a little experiment with ice and frozen rocks - real rocks! In the whiskey world some enterprising "Pet Rock"-like soul thought that water in his whiskey was a sin, so he/she decided to freeze soap stone that could be placed in whiskey to give it a chill without a watery thrill. Cool!

I decided to try two different "genshu" (undiluted sake) with plump alcohol levels. The first was the Junmai Ginjo Nama Genshu from Harushika, which has a boatload of fruitiness and a solid sweetness. The second was a Honjozo Genshu from Urakasumi that is a big rich and boozy beast with some rich sweet tones. Both sakes are superb! And both have been featured in my Beau-Zone Layer at the store. (If you have not tried them please do so!)

Herewith are the results for two sakes on the rocks and on the "rock":

Harushika (18% alcohol)
  • With Ice:
    The ice definitely keeps sake colder and as my fellow taster stated, "It takes the edge off of the sake." After the cube is in for a while it keeps the sake far colder and thins the brew out a lot - "flattens it out." I felt it made the sake drink softer but ironically more acidic, especially in the finish.
  • With Stones:
    The stones provided a gentle chill but was not nearly as effective as ice if you are looking to really chill your brew. No real flavor changes, but they too thin the sake a bit. Neither here nor there and sort of odd drinking out of glass with two stones that could slide down and crack your teeth.
Urakasumi (19% alcohol)
  • With Ice:
    The ice definitely thins the sake from the get-go. It also makes the brew softer and more acidic - semi hot. The ice does what ice should do and keeps the sake cold. My fellow taster stated she would use ice in this sake if "I were to drink sake all day by the pool." I found the water and sake separated - turned them into two different elements. Even when you looked into the glass you saw the ice water bouncing against the sake like oil and water.
  • With Stones:
    The stones provided a semi-chill and made sake drink a touch thinner, but there was far more acidity created. It was crazy, because the cubes were for cooling the brew but the stones made the sake drink far hotter.

True Sake I don't know people! Unquestionably both elements - stones and ice - impacted the over all feeling and flavor of the sakes. Can this be overlooked in the attempt to chill the sakes and the attempt to dilute the sake's strength? I wrote in my notes that if you favor feeling over flavor then ice it up, because the ice does make the sake watery in one case and separates the sake and water in the other case. And this part seems--ummmm--dumb, but ice floats, and when you take a sip your lips are touching the ice first and then the sake so it's water first. Therefore, "genshu" on the rocks is a sip of ice, water then sake; if that is how you would like to take the edge off and make it poolside worthy, then ice does the trick.

If you asked my opinion on how to dilute "genshu" I would say pour a smaller glass of sake and pour a glass of water. Then take a sip of sake - pure and clean - then follow that up with a drink of water several moments later rather than add ice cubes to the good sake. You will not compromise the integrity of the sake this way, but you will be diluting the effect in your own body. If you want to take the booziness out of the sake and make it thinner, then add the ice but remove it after a little while instead of letting it melt all of the way.

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