Sake School: How to Pair Sake with Desserts

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Kyotofu, a tofu-inspired dessert bar, has been pairing sake and sweets since 2006. [Photograph: Courtesy of Kyotofu]

Most people don't think of sake when considering what to drink with dessert, but Nicole Bermensolo and Michael Berl, owners of Kyotofu in NYC, make a strong argument for trying it out. Since 2006, the soy-focused dessert bar in Hell's Kitchen has paired sake with dessert for a surprising and unique flavor experience. Of course, not every sake will work with every sweet—here are some guidelines and recommendations to get you started.

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Left: Warm chocolate cake with passion fruit mochi, served alongside Hanahato Kijoshu aged sake. Right: Strawberry anmitsu with Hana Hou Hou Shu sparkling rose sake. [Photographs: Monica Samuels]

Chocolate Desserts:

To match the richness of chocolate desserts, look to the smoky, caramely qualities of aged sakes. Although koshu (aged sake) makes up less than 1% of all sake available, it's definitely worth seeking out. The dark golden and amber hues of koshu sakes suggest oak aging, but this transformation actually takes place inside of the bottle. If you're a fan of cognac or brandy with your chocolate, this pairing is definitely for you.

Some aged sakes to try: Hanahato Kijoshu and Katsuyama Genroku Aged Junmai*.

Fruit Desserts:

For cleaner fruit desserts such as a trio of sorbets, choose sparkling sakes for their froth and gentle sweetness. When the sakes are made sparkling through secondary fermentation, a creamy, almost beer-like consistency results. Hana Hou Hou Shu is a sparkling sake with hibiscus petals macerated in the fermentation mash, resulting in a festive pink color and delicate floral aroma.

For richer fruit desserts, such as pies and tarts, go with fruity ginjo sakes with a drier finish, like Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo, which has juicy peach and strawberry flavors and a clean, white pepper finish.

Custards:

Although a nigori sake would be a good candidate to match the texture of custard-based desserts, Bermensolo and Berl recommend sweeter, low alcohol sakes as a match. The fermentation on these sakes is stopped before all the sugars are converted into alcohol, and the resulting sakes are around 10% alcohol and pleasantly sweet. With Kyotofu's flanlike black sesame dessert, we liked the tart, citrusy notes of Kamoizumi's Kome Kome.

Cheesecake:

Choose a drier-style Nigori sake with a plain or fruity cheesecake (Dassai 50 Nigori Junmai Ginjo is perfect match for the mild, creamy raspberry tofu cheesecake at Kyotofu.) If the cheesecake is flavored with chocolate or caramel, choose a rich, sweet nigori like Murai Family Nigori Genshu*.

Have you ever tried pairing sake with desserts?


Disclosure: Sakes marked with an asterisk are part of the portfolio I manage for Southern Wine & Spirits of NY and Lauber Imports of NY

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