Stirring Sake

Asian-inflected cocktails that break with tradition


The sake cocktail could be seen as the sad stepchild of the real thing, a stand-in served only while a restaurant awaits a hard-liquor license. Purists will tell you it's best to avoid them altogether, anyway; if you're looking for a sake fix, they say, the only acceptable route is to sip it straight.

Mixologist A.J. Rathbun begs to differ. In his treatise on wine-based cocktails, Rathbun offers up a lovely array of concoctions that make use of the rich, clean, citrus-inflected flavors of extra dry sake. Don't be afraid to experiment with sake in your favorite recipes, especially as a lower-alcohol replacement for other clear spirits.
The Sake’d Saint

"This slightly holy drink is a variation on a cocktail I originally put together for the Tiger Tail, a dandy spot in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood that has a tasty menu of Asian-inspired snacks and a swell selection of sake and beer, as well as some specialty cocktails that’ll make you hum appreciatively. A warning, though: The menus change fairly regularly, so if you belly up to the Tiger Tail’s lovely sorghum bar and ask for a Sake’d Saint (or something close to it), you may be disappointed--but I’ll bet they’ll serve you up another mix that’ll make you just as happy."

4 star fruit slices
2 lemon wheels
Ice cubes
3 oz Junmai or extra dry sake
3 oz St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 ounce apricot brandy

1. Add 2 star fruit slices and the lemon wheels to a cocktail shaker. Using a muddler or a wooden tiger, muddle well.
2. Fill the cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the sake, St-Germain, and apricot brandy. Shake extra well.
3. Strain equally into 2 cocktail glasses. Garnish each with a star fruit slice and serve.

The Gong

Ice cubes
5 oz sake
3 oz pomegranate liqueur
Chilled ginger ale
2 orange slices for garnish

1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the sake and pomegranate liqueur. Shake well (as if you feared being gonged).
2. Fill two highball or comparable glasses with ice cubes. Strain the sake-pomegranate mixture over the ice into the glasses (carefully, again as if you feared gonging).
3. Top off each glass with ginger ale, filling the glass almost to the top. Stir briefly with a thin mallet or long spoon. Garnish each with an orange slice and serve.

Excerpted from Wine Cocktails, by A.J. Rathbun © 2010 and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press

Mentioned in this article


  • I can't wait to try these. It sounds simple enough, and any cocktail which retains the original sake's character and integrity sounds great, especially if they taste great!

    Jul 14, 2010 at 10:11 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    First time I've come across a sake cocktail - very interesting. I've never really "got" sake, although I do have a bottle from time to time.

    Does anyone know any NYC bars that do Sake cocktails? I might check to see if Angels Share does, they are located inside a Japanese restaurant, so the odds should be good.

    Jul 14, 2010 at 6:50 PM

  • Pairing with Sake:
    We organize these events and training with the International Sake Association. With regards,

    Jul 15, 2010 at 3:09 AM

  • Hey Philip,
    Just wanted to let you know, Angel's Share is def. an amazing bar, their bartenders, ehem, mixologists, create very complex and delish cocktails, but their "thing" is sherrys and bitters, although they may offer some sakes.
    If your really into a sake cocktail, try Izakaya10, on tenth ave. or Megu the restaurant. But if you're really into sakes, you have to go to the sake temple, Sakagura for an amazing selection of premium brews. Kanpai!

    Jul 15, 2010 at 9:14 AM

  • And Francois,
    I checked out the caviar and sake pairing. This is very cool! I have enjoyed sake with caviar before, but I would like to be more involved and try different types of caviar with different types of sakes.
    I don't know anything about caviar but I'm sure there are many different types and styles as there are sakes, i think the combinations would be limitless and delicious.
    I want to know more.....

    Jul 15, 2010 at 9:16 AM

  • A lot of new things can be done on taste and trends. Have a look on page 29 of the trend-setters mag First time I think to have this style of communication for Champagne.

    Jul 15, 2010 at 9:44 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    JetSetPrepNY - perfect, thanks for the advice.

    Jul 15, 2010 at 6:18 PM

  • Hi Francois, Im confused. I clicked on your link, the soma emagazine, but I don't see what your linking me to. It's just a crazy girl in lingerie asking Champagne, yes or no, with your name titles above. What am I suppose to see? Should I be answering the question? Cuz I never turn down champagne!

    Jul 15, 2010 at 9:01 PM

  • We want to have new styles of communication, it was just an example. This is why I found the pairing of Sake and Caviar good and original to wake-up our desires. Caviar & Sake is anyway based on the Umami joined effect counterbalancing each other. Umami is in Caviar and there are three more times umami in sake than in wine. Caviar is keeping its taste as the sake does.

    Jul 16, 2010 at 3:14 AM

  • I think I agree with the general idea of what your explaining, but I'm still a bit confused. But one thing is for sure, the umami in caviar and sake pair excellent. but im not sure wine or champagne have ANY umami.
    champagne and wines are fermented grape juice, fructose. but sake´, is made from rice, a grain, a cereal, so it doesnt contain any liquid juice or sugars, its mostly starch. this starch is converted to a sugar, in this case glucose, by growing "mold". amino acids flourish because of this starch conversion, which gives it the umami. thats why other savory umami like mushrooms and seafood taste so good with sake.
    wine only "clears" the palate, instead of priming and enhancing the food pairing like sake´ can.

    Jul 17, 2010 at 10:00 AM

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