This Japanese Ingredient Keeps Popping Up in Cocktails

Sake, a fermented-rice beverage, has traditionally been consumed on its own but is increasingly showing up in mixed drinks.

The Red Crowned Crane cocktail at Ani Ramen House Courtesy of Rob Yaskovic/Ani Ramen House

The popularity of low-alcohol drinks has found a new ally in sake. The ancient Japanese fermented-rice beverage usually contains 15 to 20 percent ABV, comparable to big red wines. Traditionally drunk straight (hot or cold), sake is increasingly showing up in mixed drinks.

“Spring is a prominent season for sake,” says Jessica Joly, Miss Sake USA 2016. “Many breweries release their unpasteurized namazake-style sakes for spring. These tend to be more juicy and bold in flavor and are great for cocktails.” Joly, who hosts a monthly sake event at Ani Ramen House in Jersey City, has in her repertoire a namazake-style sake with cherry-blossom syrup and an edible-flower garnish.

Ani Ramen owner Luck Sarabhayavanija serves frozen yuzu sake for spring and summer. Infusing the juice of the Japanese fruit into sake, then freezing and blending, he creates a crisp, light and refreshing drink. “Both flavors really shine through,” he says. Ani also serves the Red Crowned Crane (above), which combines sake with banana liqueur and peach nectar and tops it with a red wine float.

Kelly Brophy, who has studied at the Sake School of America in Secaucus, says to avoid the priciest and cheapest sakes—mixers will mask the finesse of the finest, and the flaws of the cheapest can ruin a cocktail. “If I’m making a stirred cocktail, like a Negroni variation,” Brophy says, “I’ll use a Genshu sake [in place of gin]. Gen-shus are undiluted with water, so they’re a little more bold and boozy.”

Sake pairs beautifully with food, not just with lighter dishes. Brophy loves sake with chocolate and even Mexican food. As she relates, “There’s a Japanese saying that translates as, ‘Sake does not get into fights with food.’”


The Red Crowned Crane

from Ani Ramen House

  • 1 oz Ketel One Vodka
  • 5 oz Dassai 50 Junmai Diaginjo Sake
  • 25 oz Giffard Banana Liqueur
  • .25 oz yuzu juice
  • .25 oz peach nectar
  • .25 oz simple syrup
  • Squeeze of 1 lemon wedge
  • Floater of red wine (We use a dry Côte du Rhone)
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