With its remarkably diverse flavor profiles and styles, the rice-based beverage known as saké is as varied and complex as any sourced from the vine. Many purists take umbrage at the idea of mixing saké with other ingredients to create cocktails, but the mixologists who use it champion its flexibility and multifaceted character. Whether infused, sparkling or unfiltered, saké is a surprisingly fresh way to create modern cocktails.
Biwa Restaurant (Portland, Oregon)
The Chrysanthemum, made with dry vermouth, Benedictine and Pernod, is the inspiration for Biwa’s Kiku cocktail, which easily substitutes Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry saké for the vermouth.
Mana Food Bar (Chicago)
The saké-based Pineapple Ginger, Watermelon Mint and Almond Horchata cocktails at Mana feature “fresh, housemade ingredients,” notes owner Susan Thompson, and complement the vegetarian cuisine.
SEI Restaurant (Washington, D.C.)
The Liquid Wasabi spices up the nation’s capital with a potent combination of Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Unfiltered saké, vodka, lime and habañero-ginger-infused simple syrup.
Baumé Restaurant (Palo Alto, California)
The restaurant’s signature “Baumétinis” change seasonally and feature flourishes of molecular mixology like liquid nitrogen. The sweet, sparkling saké they use—Ozeki Hana Awaka—has “an effervescent tickle and a brightness that fits for an apéritif-style drink,” according to Wine Director Tim Augello.
Bao Noodles (New York)
Momokawa Organic Ginjo saké infused with cucumber, strawberry and kiwi adds extra depth and freshness to drinks like the Cucumber Rosemary Sakétini and the Summertime, created by saké specialist Chris Johnson, at this cozy Vietnamese eatery.
We caught up with Bao Noodles’ co-owner and mixologist, Chris Johnson, to find out the benefits of a saké-infused cocktail menu:
– “When used as a base for infusion, the lower alcohol content of saké allows the other flavors to come through in a very clean and integrated way. You still taste the saké, but the additional flavors remain apparent,” says Johnson.
– “You don’t have to dilute a saké base as you would vodka or other spirits, thus the flavor profile goes exactly where you want it to,” he says.
– “The flexibility you get from sake infusions allows for exciting, lower calorie, lower alcohol cocktails such as sangrias, coolers, juleps and martinis. You can also create complex and great tasting cocktails without using abundantly sweet ingredients,” says Johnson.
– “For restaurants or bars that don’t have a full liquor license, have saké cocktails!” According to Johnson, they’re a simple and delicious solution.