How Much Alcohol is in Sake?

Depending on where you live, sake may still be on its way to reaching mainstream status, and so you might not be crystal clear on how strong these drinks really are. Since they’re often incorrectly referred to as “rice wines,” it’s easy to assume they have comparable alcohol contents. And, since they frequently feature a sweet and sour profile, people in western countries might mistakenly believe they’re not as strong as they actually are.

So, let’s first answer the burning question of how much alcohol you can expect to find in sake, and then look beyond that to the extreme highs and lows of this versatile beverage.

1.Average Alcohol Content?

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Generally speaking, your average sake has roughly 15% or 16% alcohol by volume (ABV), ranking it rather high among popular alcoholic drinks but not quite at the level of hard liquor. To clarify, here’s how it stacks up against its peers in average alcohol content:Beer-5%, Champagne-11%, Wine-15%, Sake-15-16%, Shochu-250-30%, Whiskey-40%, Vodka-40%, and Tequila-40%.

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So, on average, sake does in fact resemble a slightly stronger wine. Looking at the list you can even draw a correlation between the alcohol level and common manner in which they’re imbibed. Beer is swigged from large pints and pitchers, while champagne and wine are sipped from smaller glasses. On the higher end of the spectrum spirits like vodka are either consumed in single shot glasses or mixed into cocktails.

On that note, maybe how sake is meant to be consumed bears explaining.

2. How To Drink Sake

Traditionally, sake is consumed in small cups, called “ochoco,” that are generally comparable to shot glasses. However, there’s a recent trend towards enjoying sake from wine glasses in the belief that these vessels help to enhance flavor and aroma.

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Anyone attempting to drink sake from a pint glass may find themselves in for a rocky morning after, but that doesn’t mean you can’t drink a lot of sake in a single session. You just need to do it properly and in moderation.

Next time you enter your favorite Japanese bar or restaurant, try asking your server for a yawaragimizu (“easing water”) along with your sake. As the name suggests, yawaragimizu is simply a serving of water in the same volume as the sake it accompanies. Essentially, it’s a chaser.

While chasing sake with tiny cups of water might not evoke the rugged, romantic image of stoic samurai pounding ochoco, yawaragimizu goes a long way in ensuring a night of boozing doesn’t get out of hand.

Once you master the way of yawaragimizu, you might just be ready to tackle the stronger side of sake: genshu.

3. Genshu – Sake with 18-22% ABV

For those looking for a stiffer sake experience, genshu is a good start. Genshu is simply sake that is not diluted with water prior to bottling like most sake are. As a result, it has a much stronger flavor and an 18% ABV (or 36 proof, for American readers) on average.

Of course, drinkers are free to dilute genshu to a lower alcohol percentage themselves. Think of it more like a blank slate that you can fine tune to your ideal taste by tossing in some ice cubes or a spritz of sparkling water. Enjoyment is the name of the game, so find the tastes and strength that best suit your own preferences.

This is the highest limit of sake in terms of alcohol volume, because, by law. the maximum allowed is 22% ABV.

What’s that? You want to go higher?