“Selling Sake in Your Bar and Restaurant” Webinar Featuring Skurnik’s Jamie Graves!

"Selling Sake in Your Bar and Restaurant", a Sake Brewers Association Webinar Featuring Skurnik's Jamie Graves!

Jamie-san with a group of producers at our 2019 Grand Portfolio Tasting!

Although sake has been sold for decades at Japanese restaurants around the country, consumer awareness of ‘craft sake’ has been low until very recently. Great sake is surprisingly versatile, and its qualities can be showcased beyond the standard pairing with Japanese cuisine (sake and pizza, anyone?). But as sake branches out from the normal sushi spots, many bars and restaurants are asking, “What is sake? How should we handle it? How should we talk about it?” To answer these questions and more, the Sake Brewers Association of North America put together a group of industry professionals including Skurnik’s Japanese Portfolio Manager Jamie Graves, who was recently honored as a Wine Enthusiast “40 Under 40 Tastemaker“.



Why should restaurants and bars care about building a sake program?

Sake is something that can work– because it’s so versatile– with certain ingredients and certain foods that wine is maybe not necessarily the best pairing for. I think for a long time even the sake industry itself was trying to sell itself as replacement for wine, which I think is a big mistake. As far as I can tell it’s where we got that phrase ‘rice wine’.

What should restaurants and bars consider as a starting point for building their sake program?

One of the great properties of sake is that once you open a bottle is that it lasts for a lot longer than it would a bottle of wine. You’re thinking about that when you’re operating a restaurant in terms of cost, like ‘we’re gonna bring in this thing, how much sake are we gonna sell?’

You wouldn’t have to worry about it in the same way as bringing in an unusual, sort of esoteric wine. . . [and] a lot of great ones will last open in the fridge.

Are 1.8 liter bottles available in the United States?

There’s plenty of sake types that are only available in 1.8 liters in Japan. They sell more of those than the 720s in Japan. It’s much more common because they are used to it being much more cost-effective over there. I think inevitably we got more of the 720s because they’re closer to wine bottle size, [and are] more comfortable logistically for a lot of reasons. It’s been easier to get those over here. But there are quite a bit [in the States].
They are much more cost-effective for restaurants specifically. They’re also exciting. Anytime I was running a program, we would sell the 720 bottles, but if you got one of those 1.8 liters going through the dining room, it turns heads, and suddenly, everyone starts asking, “oh what is that table having” . . . it’s a great way to kick-start a sake program.

Do restaurants and bars need to use specific sake servingware?

They don’t have a standard for how they’re serving it. I mean, I’ve gone to all kinds of bars and restaurants in Japan and some are using wine glass stemware, some are using ceramics and cups, but that’s by no [means] the way you have to serve it.

Jamie’s tips for selling sake:

You don’t really need to really employ much jargon and much of the specialty words to be able to sell this stuff. . .

Be excited about it and don’t feel like you need to show that you’ve got this whole understanding of these terms necessarily. The enthusiasm will come through a lot better. That’s really more important than anything else.


Started in early 2019, the Sake Brewers Association of North America mission is to help grow all aspects of the sake industry with a focus on producers. Their webinars bring together top industry professionals to share their insights in all aspects of the business.