My introduction to sake was back in college—gathered with friends around wooden tables on a Friday night at one of Davis’s few Japanese restaurants, taking advantage of sushi specials and all-you-can-drink sake deals. I remember $2 bullets of Asahi and Sapporo poured into small glasses, with chopsticks hovering in parallel over the top. A shot of sake was poured, balanced on the chopsticks, and we yelled (obnoxiously, as college students do): Ichi, ni, san—SAKE BOMB! With a pound of our fists on the table, into the beer slipped the sake and we chugged until we could see the person across from us through the bottom of the glass. It was one of the more sophisticated times in my life.
Sadly, that was as far as my exposure to sake went. I never grew to like hot sake—something about the sourness and the warmth made my stomach turn. Cold sake was a little better, but nothing I felt compelled to seek out.
Recently, though, I set out on a mission to make homemade dumplings—and because I love a good theme night, I decided to make a sake cocktail to go with them. I scoured the internet for inspiration (my search terms were something along the lines of “sake cocktail for people who don’t really like sake”) and I came across a recipe from Food & Wine that sounded perfect—cucumber, mint, lime and gin—I was convinced I would barely even notice the sake.
And that was mostly true—this cocktail is refreshing and simple, but I do think the sake adds a little something that can’t be replicated by anything other sake itself. The bottle of sake I used is super reasonably priced ($14—and you’ll get a ton of cocktails out of it, or sip alone), though I think most dry sakes would work well. Even my non-cocktail-loving (or sake-loving) husband guzzled this one down in record time.
Muddle, shake, sip—and skip the sake bombs.
Sake East Side
makes 2 cocktails; adapted from Food & Wine
- 8 slices of cucumber
- 20 mint leaves
- 4 oz dry sake – I used Momokawa Silver
- 2 oz gin
- 1.5 oz fresh lime juice
- 1 oz simple syrup
Muddle cucumber slices and mint in a shaker. Add ice and all other ingredients. Shake until well combined and very cold, about 20 seconds. Double strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a cucumber wheel.