Why You Should be Selling Sake

Mar. 11, 2019

You might not realize it yet, but you could be missing out on some serious sales. Sure, you have beer, wine and spirits covered, but what about sake?

For many in the beverage industry, sake is a mystery, shrouded in an enigma and wrapped in a paradox. For consumers, it’s all that plus a bag of nori chips.

Sake, however, doesn’t need to be feared as if it is some unexplainable elixir. For millions around the world, sake is the beverage of choice. For your customers, it could very well be their next choice as well, if you’re prepared to sell it to them.

Fear not, Breakthru Beverage is here to help you get you up to speed on sake so that the next time a curious customer stops in, you’ll be able to confidently sell them sake.


What is Sake?

Sake is commonly referred to as rice wine, but it is neither a wine nor a beer. Just like David S. Pumpkins, it is its own thing and belongs in a category all its own.

Sake does have some similarities with the other two beverages. Sake is brewed like a beer in that it is a grain (rice)fermented alcohol. Unlike the malted barley in beer, rice does not have naturally occurring enzymes to break down the grain’s starch into fermentable sugars. Instead, sake brewers add koji mold spores to the rice to help convert its starch to sucrose for fermentation.

Unlike beer, sake is not carbonated after fermentation and its alcohol content is almost twice as much as a standard ale or lager. While sake is served still like a wine, and has a similar alcohol percentage, the fact that it is produced from grains, and not whole fruit, makes it distinctly un-winelike.

In the U.S., sake is treated as both a beer and a wine. For production and tax matters, it is classified as a beer but for labeling, advertising and distribution matters, it is classified as a wine.


How to Categorize Sake (On a menu and in the aisle)

As we stated earlier, sake is its own category, and as such, it needs its own aisle in your store and section on your menu. To further help your customers navigate this foreign category, consider organizing your list and your shelves in one of two ways:

Taste profile: This is by far one of the most straightforward and easy-to-comprehend way to organize your sake selection. This method divides sakes by tastes and recognizable flavors. Use descriptors like "dry and clean," "robust and earthy," or “bright and fruit.” Be sure to offer different price points with each of the flavor categories so that customers can really zone in on what they’d like to try.

Sake classifications: This is the most common way most bar programs choose to set up their sake menus, but it requires a little bit of general knowledge about sake classifications.

While there are many different types of rice varietals used to produce sake, the beverage is not classified by rice type, but instead, by the amount of polish the rice has received. The more polished the rice, the higher the quality and price point. Eater has a fantastic chart that illustrates the general categories, and we highly suggest you check it out.

For a basic menu, you should have at least three categories: Junmai, Ginjo, Daiginjo.  For those who understand the sake classification system, this menu can be useful, but if you decided to go this route, we suggest that you have some general flavor descriptions written out as well.


How to Pair Sake with Food

Sakes is incredibly versatile in its ability to pair with food. There are no hard or set rules, but the temperature of the sake is important. As a general rule, sake should be served at room temperature. When it is served chilled straight from the fridge, the flavors will be muted and dull. Served too hot, and the sake will taste sharp and aggressive. At room temperate, the sake will blossom into a beverage layered with nuanced flavors.   


How Should Sake Be Stored?

Sake is intended to be consumed within one year of bottling. To help keep it tasting as fresh as possible, and to slow spoiling, sake should be stored in a cool dark place. Most sake producers date stamp their bottles, so it is important to regularly check just how old your sake supply could be.

Also, once opened, sake will last for about a week. For on-premise retailers, this means that you could create a sake-by-the-glass menu without having to worry that the open bottles would oxidize too quickly.


How to Sell More Sake

The biggest hurdle most consumers have with sake is simply a lack of familiarity with the beverage. With that said, the best thing you can do to sell more sake it to educate yourself on the subject.

The more confidence you have in your knowledge of sake, the most comfortable you’ll be when talking with consumers. With a solid foundation of sake categorizations, common terminology and a little bit of history about the beverage and the breweries, you’ll be able to tell the story of sake in a way that engages your customers to make a purchase and try something new.

Above all else, remember to have fun with sake. Its packaging, bottle art, flavor expressions and mysterious aura are all elements that can be used playfully both in terms of pairings and service. The goal here is to get more sake in front of your customers. The more fun you’re having with sake, the more they’ll want to be a part of it.

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