How Is Sake Served? [3 Steps To A Delicious Kanpai]

February 14, 2023
by Jack Lyons

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Sake is one of the oldest and most historic forms of spirit in the world and has a long and storied history throughout Japan and its culture.

However, in recent years, it has become more and more popular amongst the modern alcohol market, leading to a rise in popularity all over the world. 

But what exactly is sake, how is sake served and do people really drink it warm? We will cover all of that and more below.  

What Is Sake? 

Also referred to as Japanese rice wine, sake is a popular alcoholic beverage all around the world.

Made by fermenting polished, bran-less rice, sake actually has a process more akin to the brewing of beer - something that is unusual when you consider the ‘rice wine’ tag that it often receives. 

How Is Sake Created? 

When it comes to producing sake, there are many stages to the overall process. 

The Rice

To produce sake, brewers use a special kind of sake rice called sakamai, and there are actually around 75 different kinds of sake rice located throughout the world - all of which are considered suitable and acceptable for use. 

The Water

Water is integral to the brewing process of sake and is involved in almost every facet of the process. 

The overall mineral content of the water is an important part of determining the final product and its quality, and as such only, the best sources of water are chosen.

In fact, it is the quality of the water that has historically determined where the sake breweries were constructed and established - a similar occurrence to the Scottish Highlands and their production of whisky. 

Potassium, magnesium, and phosphoric acid are all desirable minerals that brewers look for when creating sake, and serve as nutrients for the yeast during fermentation.

These minerals cause the yeast to work faster, accelerating the process without losing quality. 


Koji-Kin is a fungus that is integral to the sake brewing process - the spores of which release an enzyme that is used in various fermented foods throughout the country. 

When used in alcoholic fermentation, the spores transform into amylases under hot and moist conditions - converting the starch of the rice into simple sugars through a process called saccharification. 

The Fermentation process

Then comes the fermentation process - which in sake production, is far more intense and complex than with other beverages like beer. 

Using a three-part process called sandan shikomi, this production style is unique to sake and has not been changed for hundreds of years. 

The first step is called hatsuzoe, and involves steamed rice, water, and koji-kin being added to a yeast starter called shubo.

This becomes known as the moromi - the equivalent of a main mash used in whisky production. 

On the second day, this concoction is left to stand to allow the yeast to multiply, before the beginning of the second step, called nakazoe.

This involves the addition of a second batch of koji, steamed rice, and water. 

On the fourth day of fermentation, the third step, known as tomezoe, takes place. This is where the third and final batch of koji, rice, and water is added. 

This is followed by further fermentation, as well as pasteurization and filtering to improve color and consistency. 

Two people cheers-ing sake glasses

How Is Sake Served? 

As you might imagine, with a drink that has so much historical and cultural significance, there are specific practices when it comes to serving sake. 


Firstly, sake can be served both hot and cold, and temperature is important depending on the setting and occasion.

Ultimately, this comes down to the type of sake that is being consumed and the preference of the guests. 

Some brands of sake, such as Junmai-style sake, is more versatile, and is favored for the fact that it can be served and enjoyed both hot and cold. 


Depending on whether you are enjoying the sake hot or cold, there are different cups and glasses that you can use. 

Hot sake is generally drunk from sake cups - porcelain cups that can withstand the heat.

Meanwhile, cold sake can either be consumed in the traditional sake cups, or in wine glasses - although the latter is obviously less traditional and a modern trend. 

The Pouring Process

When it comes to pouring, there are a few steps that are considered good manners - both for the pourer and the receiver of sake. 

When offering sake, think of others first. This means that a host should always attend to their guests before themselves - this is just considered good manners.

Similarly, when a guest has finished their cup, the host should offer to replenish it. 

Sake should also be poured with both hands, usually held in the right and supported on the left. 

When receiving sake, you should ensure that all of your sake has been drained from the cup before receiving another.

Once you want another, hold out your cup with both hands, and wait until the cup is full, before taking a polite sip and placing down the cup. 

It is then the expectation of the guest to offer to pour a cup for their host.

The act of the host filling their own cup is considered impolite, so it is important for them to fill your cup. 

Remember, the whole process of sake serving is to celebrate the effort that has gone into the production of the drink, and to honor both the guest and the host - so reciprocation and manners are paramount. 

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, everything you need to know about sake, and the best way to serve and enjoy it. 

It’s true that sake has a long and storied history throughout Japan, and in modern times has developed a legacy and reputation that has made it a popular spirit all around the world. 

However, you really cannot beat the traditional methods, and it is incredibly important to keep them alive. 

You might also be interested in: Suntory Whiskey Review - A Japanese Whiskey Gem

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