Sake: A lesson in the Japanese drink made by steaming rice

John Wilson goes to Cork’s Michelin-starred Ichigo Ichie for a sake-pairing dinner

Almost two years ago, I was treated to a sake tasting by specialist Irish importer Colly Murray of Retrovino. It was a fascinating glimpse at a drink that has always intrigued me. I swore I would investigate further but somehow that never happened.

So a recent invitation to a sake-pairing dinner at Cork’s Michelin-starred Ichigo Ichie restaurant was a must. Chef-proprietor Takashi Miyazaki takes his sake very seriously, importing a range from the London branch of specialist Japanese food company JFC.

Yuichi Hashimoto of JFC was there to guide us through six different sakes, served alongside 17 dishes. This included a hot sake served at the start of the meal and three Junmai sakes, one Daiginjo (pure rice) and two which had added alcohol. The most unusual was Choryo Yoshino Sugino Taruzake, a sake aged in cedar barrels, drunk from a masu, a square-shaped cedar-wood cup, to enhance the woody flavours.

Some of the food was sensational (a scallop with egg and winter black truffle was memorable, as was the west Cork wagyu beef) and all of the sakes were interesting.


We finished with a plum sake to accompany kanmi, a Gubbeen cotton cheesecake with porcini mushroom cream. At 11 per cent alcohol, this was sweetish, but with a lovely sour fruity note.

Sake is made by steaming a specific variety of rice, which is then injected with a fermentation culture known as a koji. It reaches 14-20 per cent alcohol, but is usually diluted with water to about 15 per cent alcohol. Sake can be dry or sweet; the nihonshu-do on the label gives an indicator of sweetness.

I have never been to Japan, but I read that the Japanese prefer to drink sake as an aperitif, with sashimi and canapes or with starters, ideal partners for the small dishes served at Ichigo Ichie.

I preferred the three Junmai sakes, all served cool or at room temperature, and will certainly investigate further – this time I mean it.

Various shops around Dublin have a decent range, including Whelehan's, Celtic Whiskey, Mitchell & Son.