Episode 092 - Sake (Part II)

Photo Credit: Lara Victoria

Photo Credit: Lara Victoria

What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!

This episode, we continue our conversation with Lara Victoria, who’s a wine and spirits judge and consultant, an extremely talented food stylist, and for the purposes of this interview, a sake expert.

Lara Victoria ( Photo Credit: Blake Cowan )

Lara Victoria (Photo Credit: Blake Cowan)

If you haven’t had a chance to catch our last episode, where we discuss sake production methods, service styles and quality levels, definitely give it a listen. It will give you a much better foundation for part II.

In this continuation of our spirited sake conversation with wine & spirits expert Lara Victoria, some of the topics we discuss include:

  • How to go about pairing sake and food, knowing that a great meal can be elevated even further by strategic sake accompaniments.

  • Which cocktails are begging for creative riffs using sake, and how Lara and I think about constructing a cocktail when sake is one of the key ingredients.We kinda peel back the magician’s curtain and give you an inside peek at how bartenders think.

  • Sake education resources - including books, outside educational programs, and websites that can help you learn more about this fascinating category.

  • An exciting new sake project on the horizon for Lara, where she’ll be providing insider reviews of sake expressions to help consumers make informed decisions.

  • What kind of music to listen to while sipping on sake with Albert Einstein,

  • And much, much more.

You can get in touch with Lara by emailing lara@laravictoria.com, you can follow her on Instagram @laravictoria.cheers, or you can check out her other ventures and projects, including Cru Classe Hospitality and SakeSensetion.com.

Featured Cocktail: Sake Martini

We talk a great deal about sake cocktails in this episode, and one important thing to keep in mind is that there’s not really any sake classics floating around out there in the cocktail canon, so most sake cocktails you encounter are going to be riffs on existing classics.

In this case, we’re doing the logical thing and using sake in place of dry vermouth because they have a similar ABV and can therefore play a similar role in a cocktail.

To make a sake martini, you’ll need:

  • 2 oz of Gin (If you want bonus points for being Japanese, check out Roku gin by Suntory)

  • ½ - 1 oz of Junmai Sake

  • And one dropper full of our Iki Japanese Bitters by Embitterment

Combine all these ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir for about 15-20 seconds until everything is well chilled and diluted, then strain into your favorite stemmed cocktail glass and garnish with an expressed lemon twist. Your choice to keep it in the drink or discard it.

The salinity and spice in the bitters (courtesy of the wasabi and seaweed) combine with the expressed oils from the lemon peel to make up for the mildness of the sake. Usually, dry vermouth is prized for its dryness and acidity, so if you’re going to take those out of the equation and swap in a different ingredient, you’ve gotta think about other ways you can keep people’s taste buds entertained.

One last thing to note here is the squishiness of the sake measurement. Remember the measurements allow for anywhere between ½ oz and an ounce? Usually, you don’t really want to leave that much leeway in your recipe, but we did that here because people tend to be extremely attached to their martini preferences, whether those be dry, wet, or somewhere in between. And the fact that we’re working with a different mixer with sake adds a little bit of mystery as to how your palate is going to respond.

So play around. Try it with a half ounce of sake. Then try it with ¾. Then, if you still want more, up the ante to an ounce.

If you do get the chance to try out this little beauty, PLEASE tag us on Facebook or Instagram @modernbarcart so we can check out your creation and see how you like it.

Show Notes

This episode, we move beyond what sake IS and focus more on what you can do with it beyond straight service (warm, room temp, or chilled).

Sake/Food Pairing Advice

One nice thing about sake is that it’s prized more for its purity of expression than for its complexity or nuance, which makes it a food pairing powerhouse. In other words, you don’t have to worry about your sake competing too hard for your attention when it’s paired mindfully with a snack or meal. Below, we offer some sake/food pairing recommendations that came up during this episode.

  • Try pairing like with like. If you’re serving a light salad or a fresh dessert, try pairing a light, fruity Ginjo. But if you’re looking to pair with grilled meat or something savory, perhaps opt for a more robust Honjozo with umami notes.

  • For creamy dishes, consider using a Nigori, which is a style of unfiltered sake that should be shaken in the bottom before it is served.

  • You can also use service temperature as a pairing technique. For hot dishes, you may want to serve warm sake. However, with seafood or a salad course, definitely opt for chilled.

Sake Cocktails

There are almost endless opportunities to create delicious sake cocktails. However, it’s quite important to consider how sake is very different from other ingredients you might replace with it. In most cases, what you’ll lose when you employ sake are acidity and/or bitterness that might otherwise be present in an ingredient like a vermouth. This is not a crisis - you simply need to consider other ways to stimulate and delight your guests’ palate. A squeeze of citrus or a carefully selected herbal garnish can often do the trick.

Nigori Nog ( Photo Credit: Lara Victoria )

Nigori Nog (Photo Credit: Lara Victoria)

A spring-inspired sake cocktail ( Photo Credit: Lara Victoria )

A spring-inspired sake cocktail (Photo Credit: Lara Victoria)

Spotlight: The Velvet Jukebox Cocktail

One really fun cocktail we discussed with Lara is a slight twist on a recipe published by Punch Magazine. Below, instead of a full ounce of Manzanilla Sherry, we split it with a 1/2 oz of Junmai sake to create our own riff on this gorgeous, complex cocktaIl.

  • 1/2 ounce manzanilla sherry

  • 1/2 oz Junmai Sake

  • 1 ounce blanco tequila

  • 1/2 ounce sloe gin

  • 1/2 ounce ginger syrup

  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

  • 2 dashes cayenne tincture

Combine all these ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake it like a polaroid picture, and strain into your favorite stemmed cocktail glass. Don’t forget to garnish with a nice grapefruit twist!

Lightning Round

Favorite Cocktail

Rum & Coke (aka the Cuba Libre)

If You Were a Cocktail Tool or Ingredient, What Would You Be?

A muddler - the great activator of the cocktail world.

Cocktail With Anyone, Past or Present

I would be on the deck of a blue-domed, white house hugging the slopes of Oia on Northwestern tip of Santorini in Greece. We’d drink, listening to Bach and Thelonious Monk, and talk about physics and the magic of parallel fermentation.

Influential Sake Books

Sadly most technical books are in Japanese. However, I would highly recommend The Sake Handbook by John Gauntner.

Advice for Budding Sake Enthusiasts

  • Have an open mind - accept all sorts of flavors to your palate.

  • Even if someone seems to be an authority and tells you what to drink, don’t limit yourself to only their point of view.

  • Try pairing sake with more than just Japanese food.

  • Sake tends to taste better with company!

For more sake education resources, you can check out the Japanese Sake and Shochu Makers Association, The Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and the Sake Sommelier Association.