Know your sake: Zuma’s sake sommelier gives us the lowdown

Chiravee ‘First’ Kaewsan knows his sake. The sommelier cut his teeth at the Mandarin Oriental and Grand Hyatt Erawan before moving to Zuma last year where he was the Professional Sommelier winner during the Bangkok Restaurant Charity Week.

It was at Zuma that First fell in love with sake and began to understand the complexities of this Japanese rice-derived drink. We sat down with the sake sommelier to chat all things sake and to indulge in a little food pairing.

Zuma’s premium sake selection is one of the most extensive in the city.

LifestyleAsia (LSA): How can you spot a good sake?

Chiravee Kaewsan (CK): People think of sake as similar to wine, but it’s not. It’s brewed in a similar way to beer and, unlike wine, a good sake isn’t judged by its age. It’s actually better to drink fresh sake. The taste is delicate and the older a bottle is, the more the taste diminishes. Instead, saki is categorised in four main groups; Daiginjo, a super-premium variety in which 50-65 percent of the rice gets milled away in production. Then there’s ginjo, a premium sake in which 40 percent of the kernels get milled away, honjozo and junmai, which are most often served warm to make them more palatable. Each variety has a very different characteristic, taste and perfume.

A full-bodied sake balances out lighter food.

LSA: What are the current trends in sake drinking in Bangkok? 

CK: In Thailand, the climate lends itself well to cold sake. We sell warm saki too, but serving it cold gives the full flavour; the freshness and fruitiness. When you make it warm, the flavour disappears a little. You won’t get the ripe taste of the sake. The yuzu and mandarin cosmopolitan is popular with tourists but Thai people tend to prefer buying a bottle of premium sake, the unfiltered nama sake or sparkling sake, which is particularly popular among younger drinkers or those who are new to sake.

Choosing the perfect sake for pairing is all about balance.

LSA: How do you go about food pairing sake? 

CK: When it comes to food pairing, sake is similar to wine. You must know the character of the sake in order to know how to pair it. The aim is to achieve a balance, so, for example, a fruity nama goes well with vinegar-marinated dishes, such as sushi and sashimi while a acidic dessert, such as sorbet would go well with a sweet, sparkling sake. It works very much in the same way as wine.

Sparkling sake — which can be paired with acidic fruit sorbets — is one of the biggest sake trends in Thailand.

LSA: Do you have any tips on how to drink sake? 

CK: Again, similarly to wine-drinking, you should smell the aroma of the sake before drinking it. Then you sip the sake and, if you alternate with equal amounts of water, you’ll certainly feel better the next day than after a night drinking wine. Between sake varieties, the simplest and most effective way to clean your palate is with sips of water, which will ensure you can taste all the flavours of your next sake.

 Find First at Zuma, St. Regis, 159 Ratchadamri Road, Bangkok,


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Gaby is a gym fanatic with a sweet tooth and a penchant for a well-mixed cocktail.  Follow her on Twitter at @GabyDoman.