Sake Buying Guide

About Sake

Sake made its way to the U.S. from Japan shortly after World War II. Like wine made from grapes, sake has been around for thousands of years. It’s considered the national beverage of Japan, but it also has variations and followings across southeastern Asia. But why does sake still seem so mysterious, and why, with such a long history, should we give it so much attention now?

First of all, sake seems mysterious because Americans have been confused regarding what sake actually is. For years we have perceived it variously as watery beer or bad vodka, and almost always as cheap, unsophisticated, and served hot. These misconceptions are all based on very small truths. It’s true that being grain based, the fermentation of sake does indeed approximate the brewing of lagers and ales more than it does the fermentation of wine. And it’s also true that sake typically has more alcohol in it than wine (though usually about 17-18% alcohol, just a few percentage points higher than wine and much less than the 40-50% alcohol to be found in vodka). So what about being cheap and unsophisticated? Well, if you’ve had it served hot, it may well have been. But if you want to try a premium sake, served chilled as it should be, that shows subtlety and complexity like more expensive wines.

You’ll notice that our sake is presented differently, all of our sake are refrigerated in our special cooler. Unlike wine, sake does not improve with age, and is best stored chilled to keep the product at its peak of freshness. Nigori sake benefits greatly from refrigeration, Nama sake absolutely needs refrigeration as it is unpasteurized. Something you won’t immediately notice is the freshness on the dates of the bottles. Fresh sake is important to us here. Surdyk’s joins a short list of selected retailers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York that care for their sake in order to make the experience optimal for you, the consumer.

The Twin Cities market is increasingly sake savvy, and more consumers are approaching sake as an alternative to wine or beer with meals, as a main ingredient to cocktails and a delicious beverage to serve and savor on its own.

To help you make your selection, our staff is already well-educated on sake and on hand to help you pick the variety that will suit your needs and tastes, and includes Melissa Surdyk, who has received the designation of “sake specialist” from the Sake Education Council of Japan.

With such a large selection and price range there is certain to be something for every taste, whether you are just a beginner or a seasoned connoisseur.

• Buying Guide •







Pair with seafood, like citrus-marinated shrimp skewers.



Pair with a grilled vegetable platter.



Try with Moroccan Lamb Meatballs

Fortified Style = Rice, Water, Koji, + Distilled Alcohol    Pure Rice Style = Rice, Water, Yeast, Koji


NAMA SAKE: These sakes are unpasteurized, so of course they must be chilled from the time they are bottled in a kura (or sakery) in Japan until the time they unfold their distinct, vibrant notes of flowers and soft fruit on your palate. When you taste these sakes, the freshest of the fresh, you’ll find more liveliness than you’ve likely ever had, or ever imagined.

NIGORI SAKE : Unfiltered or “cloudy” sakes . Quite literally, fine particles of milled rice remain in the sake to give it a milky appearance when shaken. These sakes are usually sweeter than others, and though they tend to be simple, they are fantastic with a spicy hot stir fry or as an after dinner drink. They are, in fact, very versatile with hot foods from Asia to Latin America.

JUNMAI SAKE: …and finally, there are simply the sake made from rice, koji mold (which facilitates fermentation), and water. These sakes are designated according to how much the individual grains of rice are “polished,” or milled. All Junmai sakes must have rice milled down to 70% or less of the original size. Tokubetsu Junmai, considered a “special” sake by the toji (chief sakemaker), is usually milled down to 65% or less of the original size, Ginjo Junmai is 60% or less, and Daiginjo Junmai must be 50% (or half) the original size, and sometimes they are milled down to a mere 35%, or even less. These are the best of the best, like fine single-vineyard wines; they show elegant complexity and subtlety.