What Does Sake Taste Like- Let Your Senses Be the Guide

If you have ever been in a Japanese restaurant you have most likely seen Sake on the menu. Many of them offer Sake at a discount on certain nights of the week and it is tempting to try something new. Perhaps you want to ask what does Sake taste like, but you do not want to seem unworldly. Read on to discover more about this popular Japanese drink so you can prepare for your next visit to a sushi hot spot.

What does Sake mean?

Sake taste varies widely in flavor and aroma much like different beer and wine. In fact, outside of Japan Sake is simply a form of rice wine. However you must be aware that asking for Sake within Japan will be met with some confusion. What does Sake mean in Japan? There, Sake is the word referring to all forms of alcohol. If you are visiting Japan and seeking the beverage we are talking about, ask for nihonshu. Rest assured though that anywhere else you can ask for Sake with relative ease.

How is Sake made?

The process of distilling Sake essentially uses clear water and non-sticky rice. Brewers pride themselves on the clarity of the water they use. The rice is milled and polished until it is white. The outside of a grain of rice contains proteins, minerals, and fats that must be removed to produce an appealing flavor. Different companies mill their rice at different percentages in order to develop the many varieties of Sake. Simply put, the rice is then fermented, filtered, pasteurized, and aged to produce a liquid. 

Now that we are clear on what we are talking about, let us move on to exploring this delightful beverage. Discover what Sake looks, smells, and tastes like to ensure you are getting a quality drink.

What does Sake look like?

The appearance of Sake is one area where there should not be much diversity. When your Sake is poured at the restaurant you may not see the bottle it comes from. If you could, this would probably not help you. The bottle glass is often dark to shield the Sake from light exposure. Light and heat exposure may destroy compounds within the beverage and significantly reduce the quality of what you are about to drink.

When the server brings your drink to the table, inspect what is in your cup. What does Sake look like? It should be a colorless, transparent liquid. Any white particles or cloudiness could indicate an old bottle. Another consideration is the color. If the Sake is tan or brown it is possible that the bottle has been stored inadequately. 

Even if your Sake is not perfectly clear and colorless, you should swirl it in the glass and take a sniff. This is your next clue to the quality of what you are about to drink.

What does Sake smell like?

A gentle swish of the cup will release the fragrances contained within the Sake. As with all alcoholic beverages, Sake should smell pleasant. Beware of musty, mouldy, or pungent odors. Any of these may indicate that the Sake is not appropriate for consumption. Remember that Sake is fermented rice and this may be reflected in the smell. 

When you inhale the scent of a good glass of Sake, take note of what you are detecting. Maybe you are reminded of some type of fruit. There may be sweet, nutty, or earthy aromas. The Sake may even smell slightly of vinegar which is fine as long as it does not offend your nose. Savoring the aroma will allow you to appreciate the taste more readily.

What does Sake taste like?

Can you answer what does Sake smell like? Then you are ready for your first taste. Take a sip. Breathe out through your nose so the flavor can linger. Move your mouth in a chewing motion. Allow the liquid to linger at the back of your tongue. You should take note of not only the actual taste, but also the mouthfeel. This is not like drinking water. What is the Sake doing to your mouth and your tastebuds?

If you have tried wine in the past you may notice some similarities, but be open to what you are experiencing. Depending on the brand of Sake you are drinking it may be sweet or dry, bitter or smooth, light or full. 

Finally, do not rush from the table. Sake is meant to be relished and enjoyed in a leisurely fashion. This shows not only respect for the Japanese culture, it will also allow you to experience all that the Sake has to offer your senses.

Cold or Hot?

One word of advice before ordering Sake. You may have heard that Sake is traditionally served warm and this was true in the past. Contemporary brewing techniques do not require it to be served warm anymore, and it may actually destroy the flavor profile of any premium Sake that you are indulging in.


You should now be prepared to confidently order a glass the next time you are out for dinner. Regardless of what you read, there is only one way to comprehend this unique Japanese liquor. Until you have actually drank a glass you will never know what does Sake taste like. Be bold and try Sake for yourself! 

If you do not enjoy it immediately, take note of the brand and try a different one next time. Perhaps you could convince some friends to purchase and share a few different bottles. There are thousands of brands to choose from. You may have just found your new hobby!

Read my other article on Korean Beef bibimbap and Beef roast in the oven.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top