Of all libations out there, sake—at least in the States—is one of the most misunderstood. Too many sake bombs and boiling-hot sakes at mediocre Japanese restaurants have kept us from understanding the drink's diversity, character and quality.
Good sake is meant to be enjoyed like, say, a white wine: chilled and served in a proper wine glass rather than a teeny cup. But it's also a fun cocktail ingredient to play with. Sake is generally about as alcoholic as wine, so it can keep your drinks from getting too stiff. That's key when we're talking about refreshing warm-weather drinking.
We're mixing with Momokawa Diamond, a sake made outside Portland. What, you're surprised that Oregon has a craft sake distillery? Their Diamond is a beautifully balanced sake that shines in all sorts of cocktails.
Easy: A Good Sake-Tini
Saketinis rank up there with Cosmos in the world of "trendy" early-2000s drinks, often poorly made and served in obscenely large martini glasses. It's a shame, because vodka and sake together, properly chilled and garnished, work quite well.
Instructions: In a mixing glass with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces sake and 1 1/2 ounces vodka. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a big twist of lemon peel—twisting over the surface of the drink to spray its citrus oils all over—and a slice of cucumber.
Intermediate: Kura Collins
Sake is versatile enough to pair with any number of spirits, including—believe it or not—silver tequila. They shine in this simple Collins, a classic drink format with spirit, sugar, citrus and soda. It's way too easy to suck these down.
Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces sake, 1 ounce silver tequila, 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 ounce lime juice and 1/2 ounce agave syrup (equal parts agave and hot water, so it dissolves). Shake that all up and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with 2 ounces of soda and garnish with a lemon and lime wedge.
Advanced: Sake East Side
Sake and cucumber are a natural pairing, and they're at the center of this cocktail, which riffs on an East Side—gin, mint, cucumber and lime. Bringing in sake lightens the whole thing up, making this one of the most refreshing warm-weather drinks you'll ever encounter.
Instructions: Take a 1-inch segment of cucumber and cut it into a few pieces. Put them in the bottom of a cocktail shaker without ice and muddle the cucumber until you start to get a lot of liquid. Add ice to the shaker, along with 8 to 10 mint leaves, 2 ounces sake, 1 ounce gin, 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice and 1/2 ounce simple syrup. Shake that all up and double-strain—that is, strain through the cocktail's own strainer as well as a fine mesh strainer—into a rocks glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and/or cucumber.