Marisa Chafetz / Supercall

Sake Cocktails Beyond the Saketini


Like it or not, the Saketini is the definitive sake cocktail. The oft-abused drink came on the scene in the late ’90s and early 2000s, arriving unbalanced and often masking its namesake ingredient with sweetness. It was supposed to be just the beginning for what sake could do in cocktails, but as the cocktail movement grew up, the Saketini and sake cocktails in general stayed behind with Cosmopolitans and all the other “tinis.” Now the era’s drinks are having another go, and sake cocktails are along for the ride.

“Sake was one of those things everyone thought was going to explode 10 years ago,” says Nahm Kim, the head mixologist of Sunda, a pan-Asian restaurant in Nashville. But there’s something about this specific moment in time that could make the current sake cocktail push stick. Kim points to current trends happening in the industry, like low-alcohol cocktails based on digestifs and fortified wines. It’s not just for industry folks, either. The average consumer is constantly looking for new flavors and styles to try, and sake is something that bartenders can use that many people still don’t know much about.

Kim has been in the bar industry for around 15 years. Sake has been part of his bar experience in some way for much of it. He started at Sushi Samba, the New York establishment where Carrie Bradshaw and the rest of the Sex in the City crew stopped for late night Cosmos in a couple episodes. Samba has since closed, but it was part of that first wave of bars putting sake on cocktail menus. Sake cocktails (and not just Saketinis) have been on the edge of having a moment for two decades.

In 2003, SF Gate, a local San Francisco publication, wrote about how sake cocktails had been buoyed “into the mainstream” by bartenders’ preference for low alcohol beverages (sound familiar?). Bartenders at Blowfish Sushi To Die For told the publication at the time that the sake cocktail movement had started some five or six years ago. In 2004, The New York Times wrote about trendy young poets drinking sake cocktails, also in San Francisco. Those were the roots for the modern sake cocktail movement, and current bars have been ever so slowly catching up. This time around, however, things are different. It won’t be 2038 by the time sake is an understood or even common component in cocktails.

For one, respectable cocktail bars can be found across the country, not just in major cities as was the case before. That bar proliferation is sustained by drinkers who are seeking out new drinks and new experiences. Low-alcohol beverages are once again part of the conversation after heady days of strong and stirred classics, as evidenced by bartender predictions of more low-alcohol cocktails and even no-alcohol cocktails. When asked about sake cocktails, Cody Goldstein, the New York-based bar consultant often referred to as the Willy Wonka of cocktails, said that sake drinks have a chance to be a top summer drink trend in 2018. The only thing still holding some bars (and the general cocktail-making crowd) back is not knowing how to properly use sake.

“In my opinion, the best candidates for cocktails are sakes that won't get lost with other mixers,” says Monica Samuels, a WSET sake educator and sales manager at Vine Connections. Plum- or yuzu-infused sakes fall into this category, as do high-alcohol genshu styles, nigoris that are thick and milky, and savory sakes that can be used like sherry. Samuels mixes sake into subtle drinks or combines them with spirits as big as bourbon. The one thing you don’t want to do, both Samuels and Kim say, is overwhelm the sake with too many flavors.

“You should be able to parse out each component and see how it plays with everything else,” Kim says. “Otherwise it’s a wasted ingredient.”

Below are three cocktails that are easy enough to make at home that treat the sake as anything but a wasted ingredient.

Marisa Chafetz / Supercall
Having a low alcohol cocktail means that you don’t need to wait until nighttime (or, let’s be honest, afternoon) to have a drink. Wendy Wu, the owner of Wild Chix & Waffles in Austin, took one of her most popular drinks, the Matcha Latté, and turned it into a cocktail. “Matcha can be much more than just a tea drink,” Wu says. “It can also be great with booze. The refreshingness of sake perfectly complements the earthiness of matcha.”

The Essentials

Prepared Matcha
condensed milk
Quality Sake
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Inspired by the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C., the Pink Gojira was created by Tena Jahangosha for Liaison Capitol Hill, a Joie de Vivre Hotel. Made with Ty Ku sake, St-Germain, simple syrup, lemon juice and lavender bitters, Jahangosha advises that everything needs to be precisely measured. “Using even just a drop more or less of one ingredient can throw the balance off,” Jahangosha says. “It’s a very delicate drink.”

The Essentials

Ty Ku Sake
Elderflower Liqueur
Simple Syrup
Marisa Chafetz / Supercall
The White Cloud was created by the team at ROKU, a Japanese restaurant on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. It uses an unfiltered nigori called Rock Cloud, and plays off the sake style’s coconut and orange blossom flavors to create a drink that’s essentially a light sake take on a Piña Colada.

The Essentials

Absolut Elyx
Rock Cloud sake
Dry vermouth

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