A passion for sake

This traditional Japanese alcohol has won over the highly exclusive French gastronomy elite. A new “hype” drink able to enhance dishes just as elegantly as cocktails.

Before sake can even be mentioned, a myth needs to be dispelled. No, this delicate fermented drink has nothing to do with those Chinese liqueurs served in Asian restaurants, that sometimes leave a… bitter aftertaste. Neither a distilment, nor a spirit, sake is a rice-based alcohol between 15 and 18% proof, which makes it slightly more alcoholic than wine. Sake’s origins are part and parcel of the origins of rice in Japan, around the 3rd century BC. Over time, it has become more and more prominent in Japanese tradition: predominantly drunk by the emperor or during religious ceremonies, sake was renowned for driving away bad spirits. Around 1600 in the Edo era, it went on to be commercialised, using the traditional “Kimoto-Zukuri” process, a slow, labour-intensive brewing technique. It’s made from simple, healthy ingredients: rice, water, the quality of which is paramount, and a mould that facilitates fermentation.


Barrière on Japanese time


Decades later, this ancestral expertise crossed borders. In France, the fashion for sake came hand in hand with a passion for Japanese gastronomy and culture. Chefs Guy Savoy, Bernard Pacaud, Anne-Sophie Pic and Akrame Bellal, to name but a few, have already given it a rightful place among their favourite ingredients. In terms of cuisine, its subtle rice flavour is now commonly paired with specific dishes to produce fresh new combinations. Marinated sea bream, sweet and sour foie gras with bouillon infusion, cucumber gazpacho, green tea mousse: free of preservatives or tannin, sake can enhance the flavours of a dish while wine can only accompany it. When it comes to cocktails, sake creates the unexpected, balances colours and adds freshness, counterbalancing floral and fruity notes with its salty minerality. Light on the palate, its salty, spicy, iodic, acidic, and even sweet aromas reveal the scents of an extremely wide range of fruits and more: ripe banana, lychee, cloves, toasted nuts, melon, green apple, wild strawberries… The more polished the grain of rice is, the better the quality. With irresistible subtlety, the national Japanese drink can be enjoyed at any temperature, from 5° to 55° degrees. In its Normandy bar, Barrière serves a sparkling version (quite like the Group itself!), as an aperitif. In Cannes, Le Majestic is trialling an intriguing cocktail based on Dragon sake, artisanal mineral water flavoured with Golden Delicious apples, home-grown rosemary and homemade orange blossom extract.


Visit in the next few months to get on Japanese time in certain Barrière establishments, which will be offering cocktails based on this unusual Japanese drink as well as pairing sake with specific dishes.