Sake Drinking Fundamentals - Is Sake Strong?

by Benjamin Knopp

Benjamin Knopp

Co-founder of Kurashu and in charge of spreading the word on sake.

Depending on where you live, sake may or may not have reached mainstream status as an alcoholic beverage in your area. The drink is growing in popularity, so it's increasingly likely you have come across it and found yourself wondering "is sake strong?" 

This article will fill you in on sake alcohol content and how best to enjoy this traditional Japanese beverage.

Why Is Sake Commonly Mistaken as a Strong Liquor?

We think there may be a variety of reasons behind sake's reputation as a "hard drink," as it's often considered to be in the same league as whiskey or vodka. 

The media often portray sake as a more potent drink than it is. Most of us have seen at least one Hollywood scene where a raucous crowd throws back one sake after another until they are outrageously intoxicated. 

Sake is often served in small cups, which may have created an association with shot glasses used for consuming high alcohol content beverages like tequila or vodka. 

Another reason that might have something to with the false impression of how strong sake is could be the many products labeled as sake but are quite different from the traditional beverage and contain a much higher alcohol percentage. 

Even though the servings are small, it doesn't mean you should drink sake like a shot. Instead, enjoy your sake more like a good wine by appreciating the subtle hints of flavor and aroma ( ginjo-ka), and the feel of it on your palette before swallowing

Is Sake Strong?

Traditional sake has a higher alcohol content than beer, but usually only two or three percentage points higher than wine and sometimes a little less. This volume of alcohol puts sake at a much lower alcoholic volume than most hard liquors. 

The average sake alcohol content will mostly range between 10% and 16%. Undiluted varieties can reach as high as 18% or more, but never over 22% as that is the legal limit for sake.

The lower alcohol volume means you can enjoy a few servings of sake before intoxicating yourself, but, like with wine, you might find your morning a little rough around the edges if you polish off a bottle or two in a single sitting.

Sake Alcohol Content Comparisons

At 10% - 15% alcohol volume, sake isn't as potent as most liquors, but you should still treat it with the respect it deserves because over-indulgence can still pack a punch. 

Here's how sake alcohol content compares to other alcoholic beverages: 
 ●      Beer - 5% 
 ●      Champagne - 11% 
 ●      Wine - 15% 
 ●      Sake - 15-16% 
 ●      Shochu - 25-30%, 
 ●      Whiskey - 40% 
 ●      Vodka - 40% 
 ●      Tequila - 40%.

As you can see, sake is much stronger than the average beer, slightly more intoxicating than a nice glass of red, but a long way from being a hard liquor. That's not to say you won't have a rough morning if you've spent the night guzzling sake. As with all alcoholic beverages, enjoying sake in moderation, preferably in good company with a fine meal, is the best way to enjoy this unique beverage.

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