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The Beginner’s Guide to Sushi & Drink Pairings

If you’re choosing your drinks without considering the type of food you’re going to eat—or vice-versa—you’re not going to able to get the most out of your meal. The right drink pairings are just as important when it comes to sushi and sashimi as they are with a savory steak entree.

Depending on the type of sushi roll or type of fish/sashimi you choose, different drinks can complement the flavors very well. Traditionally, you’ll see water or Japanese beer served with sushi, but your options don’t stop there. You can pair sake, beer, wine, and cocktails with your sushi as long as you keep a few basic rules in mind:

  • Stick with flavors that complement each other
  • Choose similar acidity levels (your drink should be equal to or more acidic than your food)
  • Pair spicy foods with sweeter drinks
  • Choose similar weights/textures (foods and drinks can be light, medium, or heavy-bodied)

Now that we’ve established some ground rules, here is The Beginner’s Guide to Sushi and Drink Pairings:

Sake being poured at Shinto Naperville

Sake

Sake is not traditionally served with sushi because both are made from rice. But just because it is not traditional doesn’t mean it can’t be done! We do recommend pairing sake with sashimi because the fish by itself goes very well with the flavors of sake. Try a Ginjo or dry Junmai sake to bring out the best flavors of the fish.

If you do want to try sake with a sushi roll, pair a less traditional roll (like a Volcano Roll or our Little Delicious Roll) with a Nigori or flavored sake for the best results.

Beer

When pairing sushi with beer, you can’t go wrong with a crisp Japanese lager. If you’d prefer a different type of beer, pilsners and hefeweizens do a great job at letting the flavors of the sushi shine. Since sushi and sashimi are lighter foods, a good rule of thumb is to stick with lighter beers.

Wine

Wine is one of the most fun drinks to pair with sushi because there are so many different combinations that work very well together. Consider the basic rules we listed above when choosing wine and sushi combinations. For the most part, you’ll want to stick with mild wines to avoid overpowering the sushi. Here are some of our favorite pairings:

  • Spicy tuna roll with Riesling
  • Yellowtail (Hamachi) or Albacore Tuna with Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc
  • Salmon (Sake) with American Pinot Noir or a Dry Riesling
  • Eel (Unagi) with a Dry Riesling
  • Seaweed (Nori) Hand Rolls with Pinot Noir
  • Salmon Roe (Ikura) with Dry Rosé or Dry Riesling
  • Almost Anything with Dry Champagne

Cocktails

When it comes to choosing cocktails that pair well with sushi, you want to go easy on the alcohol to avoid overpowering your food. For example, a cucumber martini will pair much better than a glass of vodka on the rocks.

Your drink should enhance, rather than compete with your food. For this reason, you’ll want to choose drinks that complement the flavors well. Look for cocktails made with ginger (fresh ginger, ginger beer, or ginger ale) for the best flavor combinations.

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