Timothy Koenig has run the sake program at Yusho in Chicago for the past four years. He’s a certified advanced sake professional, which means that he’s studied and traveled in Japan and passed a test that only 125 other people in the US have. Although he works in a Japanese-inspired restaurant, he’s constantly looking for off-kilter pairings, like cheese, oysters and even Italian food. Here, his best sake tips.
Serve it in white wine glasses. “The little cups are great, but if you pour sake into a white wine glass, you’ll have the best opportunity to experience all of its aromas,” says Koenig.
Drink sake when it’s young. “Sake is more volatile than wine because it’s brewed, like beer,” says Koenig. “Its active enzymes will degrade over time. In general, you want to drink it within a year—check the date on the bottle.”
It’s OK to serve it warm. “Richer styles like junmais are beautiful when served warm–their flavors really open up,” Koenig says. “Just don’t heat delicate sakes like daiginjos or you’ll cook out all of the nuances.”
Yusho sells more cans of sake than any restaurant outside of Japan, and Koenig has even collaborated on a private label. “The cans are conversation starters and a great way to get people into trying sake. Plus, they’re really good as stocking stuffers,” he says.
Canned Sake picks:
Sakechiyomusubi Oyaji Cup Junmai Ginjo ($8)
Crisp, light-bodied, classic junmai ginjo. truesake.com.
Otokoyama Tokubetsu Namacho Junmai ($8)
From the Hokkaido prefecture, this junmai has a playful cartoon bird on its label. truesake.com.
Akishika Bambi Junmai ($10)
“This one is so cute, you’ll want to keep the can when you’re done drinking it,” says Koenig. sakayanyc.com.
Koenig’s Road Soda is a take on the French 75, with sake in placeof Champagne. Use a sake with big flavor, he says: “Sake can be tricky in cocktails because it’s much lower in alcohol than most spirits and can get lost.”
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add 1 oz. London dry gin, 1.5 oz. honjozo sake (such as Kikusui Funaguchi), 3/4 oz. lemon juice and 3/4 oz. simple syrup and shake. Strain and garnish with lemon zest. Makes 1 drink.