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An Easy Guide to Understanding the Strength of Sake

Tom Inoue

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Seeing heavily drunk businessmen passing-out in public places has become commonplace in Japan.

Locals may be used to this site but for everyone else, we wonder: what are they drinking and is it really that strong?

Stress Drinking and ABV



Photo Credit: http://smatterist.com/

It’s a very common for Japanese businessmen to work very hard during daytime and play just as hard at night. Because of stressful work, relationship problems, and genetic low alcohol intolerance, alcohol often gets the best of them. But for the record, it isn’t just sake that they drink, but also wine, spirits~ you name it.

For now, let’s focus on sake and answer once and for all if it is indeed THAT intoxicating.


Sake comes in three different types based on Alcohol By Volume or ABV. Most commercial sake have 14-16% ABV, which is similar to wine. Sparkling sake and low-alcohol variants mostly made for young women come in at 8-10%, which is more similar to beer. Unprocessed sake, which is sake that has been not been diluted prior to packaging, has an ABV of 18-20%.

To know more about Unprocessed or Genshu sake, read our article here (coming soon).

Compared to distilled spirits (vodka, rum, whisky), sake comes up short in ABV.

With a rather low ABV, sake does not seem that strong, at all. The next thing we now consider is how much of it should be consumed at a given time.

How much to Drink?

how much to drink

The image above uses wine as our standard drink. If one cup of wine gets you drunk, you need twice the volume to get drunk on beer and 0.8 the volume to get drunk on sake.

Although it depends on alcohol tolerance, your basic guide will be drink 0.8 times that of wine, or 0.4 times of beer. In other words, if one cup of wine gets you drunk, don’t finish an entire cup of sake. If one cup of beer gets you drunk, drink only about half a cup of sake.

Otherwise, if you drink more than usual, you will be following the footsteps of our Japanese businessmen.

The numbers above are based on regular sake’s ABV (15%). For unprocessed Genshu sake, drink 1/3 the volume of beer, or 2/3 the volume of wine that gets you drunk. For low alcohol sake (8% ABV), you can increase that volume to ¾ of beer, or 1.5 of wine that gets you drunk.

How to Avoid Getting Drunk

Here are four important tips to enjoy sake without ending up a sleeping drunk:

1. Drink Hot Sake with Caution

hot sake

Warming or heating sake makes it taste deeper, and makes you lose sight of the number of tiny cups you take in. Because increasing its temperature can also increase its alcohol effect, moderation is the key to enjoying warm sake. The body absorbs it easily, so we advice you to drink it slowly. 

2. Sip instead of Gulp

don't gulp

Sake should be enjoyed like wine. It is aromatic and tasty, and should be appreciated while keeping your alcohol levels at bay. Since you don’t gulp wine, sip and feel the delicate, aromatic flavor of sake.

3. Enjoy Sake with Food

enjoy with food

A vast majority would traditionally pair sake with Japanese dishes, but it can go well with various global cuisines.

Pairing sake with food makes it more enjoyable and slows down alcohol absorption, which prevents you from getting drunk.

4. Drink it with Water

drink with water

We recommend drinking the same amount of water with sake. Water dilutes the alcohol levels and stimulates its fast elimination from the body. Water also prevents dehydration which results in, you guessed it—hangover. Ideally, drink twice the volume of water to prevent this.


There’s really nothing to be afraid of when it comes to drinking sake. It’s just a bit stronger than wine and with proper tips to follow, you can enjoy it without ending up with a bad hangover or worse, drunk on the streets. Play around with temperature, serving cups, and food pairing; the ways to enjoy sake is unlimited, and it’s up to you to find the best way to do so.

To know more about production of sake, read How to Make Sake.

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