Sake 101
Ep.5 “Sake and Hangovers”

Aya and Tomoko (Tomo), total beginners when it comes to sake,

are here to learn from Saki (sake sommelier & journalist) how to enjoy sake.
If you’re new to sake too then you’ve found the right place!

Have you ever had a terrible hangover after a night of drinking? You’re certainly not alone.
Aya and Tomoko want to know if you can get a hangover from drinking too much sake
and their good friend and sake expert Saki is back to answer all their questions.

Edited by TOMOKO
 Translated by Jojo Brandel

To be honest, I didn’t really get why anyone liked sake before we started getting advice from Saki.
I think Tomo and I are finally catching on, though.

Yeah… I guess.

What’s with the lukewarm reaction, Tomo?

Well… I found this great sake last night, and let’s just say I enjoyed it a little too much. I’m feeling pretty sick today.

I have heard that it’s easy to get a  hangover from drinking sake. Are you okay?

I usually never get hangovers, but I feel like sake gets me every time…

What a shame. We were just getting the hang of all the different ways to drink it!

Hold up, hold up.

Where did she come from?

You girls have it all wrong! It isn’t easier to get sick from drinking sake.

Really? Well, then how do you explain my killer hangover?

I hear the same thing from other people
all the time. Even heavy drinkers who love to drink alcohol, but avoid sake because they say that “the hangovers are too rough.”

So, she’s right?

No. It’s just that you guys don’t know how to drink sake properly!

Um, that was mean…

I feel like the fact that you need to even
study sake at all just to enjoy it makes it less approachable than other alcohol.

I’m not trying to be hard on you–it’s easy to learn. I’ll teach you right now!


There are four reasons why people think that it’s easy to get sick from sake:

1. Because it has a high alcohol content
2. They don’t drink it with any chaser

3. They have only tried cheap sake
4. Because it is extremely flavorful

I had no idea sake had a high alcohol percentage. It’s so easy to drink!

It may be easy to drink, but it has a relatively high average alcohol content at 15-16%.  Beer is only 5% and wine is anywhere from 6-12%. Sake isn’t considered a spirit or hard liquor but it has still got a good deal of alcohol in it.

I always drink it the same way that I drink beer or wine. I never realized it had such a high percentage! I guess I consumed a lot more alcohol than I thought.

You did indeed. That’s why you need to make sure to have a chaser with your sake too, but I’ll explain that later.

Well, what about cheap sake?

Well, there are actually two categories of sake in Japan: 
tokutei-meisho-shu, which literally means specially designated sake.
2. futsu-shu, which literally means non-premium sake.

The sake we talk about in SakeTips! are usually
junmai, ginjo, honjozo, which are all categorized as tokutei-meisho-shu. Brewers have to follow certain guidelines when making tokutei-meisho-shu to ensure a higher quality product. 

So, what is
futsu-shu then? I was under the impression that all sake fell under the category of tokutei-meisho-shu.

is sake that has not been made up to tokutei-meisho-shu standards and contains more additives and distilled alcohol than tokutei-meisho-shu as well. You will find that a lot of cheap restaurants and izakaya serve cheap futsu-shu, which leads many to believe that all sake gives you a bad hangover.

So you have to be careful when you drink

It’s not that
futsu-shu is inherently bad. It’s important to learn about Futsu-shu, especially considering that it actually makes up about 70% of the Japanese sake market. We’ll learn more about that next time though.

How about 4? Why does it matter that it’s flavorful? I do love the flavor–it tastes so much rice!

Seems like Tomoko is starting to feel a little better.

Your liver has to break down the alcohol in sake, but that’s not actually the only thing in sake that takes a toll on your body. Whenever you eat anything with a complex flavor profile your liver will have to work harder. Sake has a much stronger flavor than wine or
shochu so it takes extra time to break it down.

So that’s why it seems like it’s easy to get a hangover from sake!

So, I get why it happens now, but how are you supposed to enjoy drinking it?

Well, there are actually three ways to enjoy sake without getting a nasty hangover:

1. Be sure to drink an equal amount of water (chaser)
2. Drink slowly
3. Warm sake up

Ah, so we’re back to the chaser.

Right. Just as I mentioned earlier, sake has a relatively high alcohol content. If you drink an equal amount of water it will neutralize the alcohol content in your body. There’s actually a culture of drinking the water that is actually used to make sake as your chaser. This practice has a special name in Japan called

It sounds so calming. I think even just the sound of yawaragi is helping my headache.

Next, I’ll talk about 2. You have got to drink slowly when you’re drinking sake. It is not the kind of alcohol that you want to gulp down. It’s best to enjoy one little taste a time and whet your tongue and not your throat.


Lastly we have the hot sake method.

I always thought that it was easier to get a hangover if you heat sake up.

There’s a reason for that misconception too.

She knows everything!

Alcohol only begins to take effect after it warms up to body temperature. That’s why it can seem like it’s easier to get drunk off of hot sake. However, you also sober up faster from hot sake. As the sake in your body cools down, so does your buzz.

Wow, I have to admit that’s pretty unexpected. Who would have thought that you get sober quicker with hot sake?

Unexpected, but true. With cold sake, you feel fine at first, but as soon as the alcohol builds up in your body and warms to body temperature it’s going to hit you all at once
and hard. With hot sake, you can actually gauge how buzzed you are getting since it hits you quickly. I actually recommend drinking hot sake to people who have trouble pacing themselves drinking sake.

Sounds like hot sake is perfect for beginners.

Well, sounds like our next sake party is going to be a
hot sake party!

Sounds great! Just be careful not to drink too much like last night. 

It’s too bad that so many people have negative connotations when it comes to sake and hangovers. Seems like as long as you remember these tips you can enjoy it without getting sick the next day.

Yeah! Is there anything we can do to help?

Definitely! The most important thing you girls can do is learn the right way to drink it and pass it on to others. This doesn’t pertain to just sake either. There’s no point on blaming the alcohol when you drink too much. Always think back and ask yourself “did I just drink it the wrong way?” Try and learn from your mistakes. That’s the best way to learn to enjoy sake.

We’ll be sure to pass your lesson on to others! Then maybe one day no one will think that sake gives you terrible hangovers. Maybe somewhere along the way we’ll become sake aficionados too.

In summary

There are four reasons why so many people think that sake gives you terrible hangovers:
 1. Because it has a high alcohol content
 2. They don’t drink it with any chaser

 3. They have only tried cheap sake
 4. Because it is extremely flavorful 

… And three ways to avoid getting sick from sake:
 1. Be sure to drink an equal amount of water (chaser)
 2. Drink slowly
 3. Warm sake up

It’s never the alcohol’s fault. Always learn from your mistakes and try drinking it a different way the next time!