What is almost sake? Is it cheap sake that you purchased several years ago to use for cooking
that has turned a healthy dose of brown? Nope. That’s past sake. Is it pure rice based Shochu?
Not really, that’s more like sake on steroids. What about these Asian inspired martinis that
combine flavored vodka and sake? Almost, though you can’t purchase those libations premixed
and must depend upon your favorite mixologist to concoct. Then it must be pre-bottled sake
infused with fruit flavors with a touch of sweetness. Bingo! A little like Asian Bartle’s & James.
Whoa! Before you use this column to line your kitty litter box, hear me out.
The company had very humble beginnings in the 1840s when Unosuke Yomo started producing
mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking) and shochu in Fushimi, Kyoto. In the 1920s, Takara Shuzo
Co, Ltd was established though it took almost 60 more years before the company started
operations in Berkeley, California. Since the 1980s, Takara Sake USA has introduced a steady
stream of products including namazake (unpasteurized sake), premium Ginjo sake, organic
namazake, rice fermented vodka (Kissui vodka) and the fruit flavored sake line through their
Hana line of sake products. Almost sake.
Hana Flavored Sake
The Hana line of flavored sake includes Fuji Apple, Lychee, Raspberry and Plum. The flavored
sake starts as traditional brewed sake but then is blended with fruit flavors to create the flavored
sake. They are meant to be chilled and served either as aperitif before dinner, with dinner for
specific types of cuisines or after dinner as a delightful liquid dessert. And at about $10 per
bottle, you won’t need a king’s ransom to purchase these beverages.
Do I Actually Drink These?
Why yes. They do make refreshing fruit flavored beverages on those hot summer afternoons and
because the alcohol content is about the same as imported beer (8%), impaired concentration
(and driving) isn’t a concern with 1 or 2 glasses. And though these aren’t the first sake I think of
when consuming sushi or sashimi, they do occupy a little niche in my own personal list of wine
and food pairings. Due to their subtle sweetness, low alcohol level and fruity qualities, I feel that
they are perfect liquid companions to Vietnamese, Thai and spicy Chinese cuisine. The low
alcohol content doesn’t magnify the chili pepper burn in spicy cuisine, the fruit flavor
complements the flavors of sweet basil, fresh shrimp, fresh spices and coconut milk found in
Southeast Asian cuisine and the subtle sweetness also balances the heat from chili peppers.
These flavored sake can also be used in the kitchen… and more than the proverbial “I love
cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food”. Instead of using simple fruit juice and
sugar to macerate fresh berries, substitute equal portions of these flavored sake – Raspberry for
fresh red berries, Lychee for mixed melons and Fuji Apple for fresh stone fruits. Add some
chiffonade fresh mint and lemon zest and you have the perfect fruit salad.
Or you could decide to forego food entirely and try one of these libations… be forewarned that
vodka increases the incoherence factor logarithmically so make sure you have a designated driver
or better yet, stay at home.
Sake Inspired Martinis
Lychee Sake Martini
1 & ½ ounce litchi flavored vodka
¾ ounce Hana Lychee sake
Fresh or canned litchi on cocktail skewer
Raspberry Sake Martini
1 & ½ ounce raspberry flavored vodka
¾ ounce Hana Raspberry sake
Fresh raspberry on cocktail skewer
Fuji Apple Sake Martini
1 & ½ ounce vodka
¾ ounce Hana Fuji Apple sake
Peeled, cubed fresh Fuji apple on cocktail skewer