The Sake © Jannie Huang of Little Green Pickle
Sake has long been associated with dubious karaoke-bar offerings (sugary-sweet lycheetinis, Sapporo sake bombs), but the fermented rice drink has a lot more to give the mixology world. Pioneering bartenders are using high-quality sake to create superb new cocktails that showcase its range of flavors, from light and dry to full-bodied and mildly sweet.
At Smallwares, Momofuku alum Johanna Ware's "inauthentic Asian" restaurant in Portland, OR, a list of fifteen sakes led to an inventive twist on a Negroni called The Sake. The drink combines Aperol and local Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth with Sayuri nigori sake, a hazy, unfiltered bottling that's floral and assertive. “Sake can get overpowered, but this is almost like adding fruit juice,” Ware explains. The Sake (as the drink was eventually called, beating out "Nigorioni") is bitter, tannic and citrusy—with a creamy-sweet finish.
Allumette, Los Angeles
“I’ve always loved sake as an addition to classic or semi-classic drinks,” says Serena Herrick, the bar manager at the brand new Allumette. She especially loves pairing it with gin as she does in the spicy, citrusy You Live Only Twice with muddled tangerine and tingly Szechuan peppercorns. Herrick shakes clean and crisp junmai sake, Beefeater gin, Velvet Falernum (a spiced lime liqueur) and fresh lime juice together before straining it into a coupe with a candied tangerine garnish.
Maven, San Francisco
At this small plates spot, beverage director Jay Bordeleau suggests starting with a Global Warming cocktail. To make the bright, Aviation-esque drink, he shakes Old Tom gin with junmai sake, Riesling and fresh lemon juice. The cocktail is strained into a coupe and topped with a small scoop of absinthe sorbet that slowly flavors the drink as it melts.
Chez Sardine, New York
The quirky, eclectic take on a Japanese izakaya includes sake in the amusingly-named Cousin Scotty Fails His Driving Test: Johnny Drum Bourbon, Carpano Antica, sake-honey syrup and aromatic bitters over ice. The sake gives the cocktail a smooth texture and balanced finish.
Myers + Chang, Boston
At the pan-Asian restaurant from pastry genius Joanne Chang and her husband Christopher Myers, bar manager Heather Thompson makes the citrusy-savory Luckiest Kitty with a mint-and-Thai-basil- infused sake. She mixes the infusion with St. Germain and fresh grapefruit juice, then strains it into a smoked salt-rimmed glass filled with ice.