By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 17, 2009 at 8:21 AM

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In the past decade, sushi became more mainstream in Milwaukee, and the addition of numerous sushi bars and sushi stations at grocery stores naturally piqued consumers' curiosity about sake, the ultimate beverage to pair with sushi and sashimi.

"There's definitely been a surge in sake drinking over the past 10 years," says Mikey Tongpim, the manager of Izumi's Restaurant, 2150 N. Prospect Ave.

Sake -- pronounced "sah-kay" not "sah-key" -- is an alcoholic, Japanese drink made from rice. In Japan, the beverage is called "Nihonshu."

Sake is consumed either hot, cold or at room temperature, and often presented in a small carafe called a "tokurri." It's enjoyed from small saucers called "sakazuki" or handle-free cups called "ochoko."

Like most beverages, warm sake is usually consumed in winter, and cold or room-temperature sake is popular during the spring and summer.

Tongpim suggests cold sake to people trying the drink for the first time.

"I like to ease people into sake, and cold sake is ideal for this," says Tongpim, who has worked at Izumi's for seven years. "Cold sake is nice and smooth and usually has more flavor. But hot sake is great in the winter because it gives you such a warm and cozy feeling."

Izumi's serves cold sake in a bamboo tokurri, and hot sake in ceramic carafes.  A small order provides about five small shots, and a large order pours about nine shots. Sake can be sipped or slammed like any other shot.

"People always ask if they should drink it slowly or (drink it) like a shot, and you can do it either way," says Tongpim. "It depends on how you want to celebrate."

The Japanese say "Kanpai" while toasting, and traditionally, hosts make sure the rim of their sake cup clinks below the rim of their guest's to symbolize respect.

There are two basic types of sake: futs-shu and tokutei meish-shu. Futs-shu is commonly sold at sushi bars because it's more affordable.

Tokutei meish-shu means "special designation sake" because the rice goes through a different polishing process and contains a different amount of brewer's alcohol. There are three types of special designation sake: Honjozo-shu, Junmai-shu and Ginjo-shu.

Sake, sometimes referred to as "rice wine," is made from a rice fermentation process where the rice is polished to remove proteins and oils to create starch. Sake's alcohol content is around 15 percent, which is similar to the alcohol content of wine. Undiluted sake is 18-20 percent alcohol.

Izumi's features a variety of sake on the menu, including Ozeki Karatamba and Sho Chiku Bai, the best-selling sake in the United States. Izumi's servings of hot sake range from $5 to $7.50 and cold sake servings are $12-22.

In liquor stores, sake greatly ranges in price, with bottles priced between $12 and $150.

Like the price, the sake buzz varies, too. Drinking sake can result in a short but intense experience that's similar to the effects of champagne drinking.

"It can really go to your head," says Tongpim. "If you don't want that to happen, just sip it."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.