Pick the right drinks to make the most of Sushi Night

Pick the right drinks to make the most of Sushi Night

Photo caption: Light white wines are a great pairing for delicate sushi. Photo from: Wein Verstehen & Geniessen.

When it comes to pairing drinks with sushi, Japanese beer and teas are the most popular pairings. However, there is so much to choose from, and the best choices also come down to personal preference and the type of fish ordered. Obviously, you should drink whatever you enjoy most, but some of your favourite drinks, like mixers, strongly flavoured cocktails and coffee, might be better left to dessert/after the meal.

Most sushi restaurants offer a range of different foods including soups, fried noodles, and spicy cooked dishes. Note that this article is delving into what goes with the delicate flavours of sushi dishes in particular. As we’re on the islands, not every suggestion is available, so we’re tailoring them to some extent where needed. Overarching theme: light, a little crisp/acidic is generally the way to go.


Beer is the most popular pairing, both in Japan and abroad. Japanese beers, that are a little crisp, seem to have the consensus on being the best – think Asahi, Sapporo and Kirin. Bill Allen (upscaledrinks.com) suggests that if you can’t find a Japanese beer, then go for light beers such as Coors light or Amstel light. “Both do well with sushi and are light enough not to hide the flavours,” he says. “Any sort of dark beer will just overpower the taste of sushi, as will hoppy beers and most IPAs.”


Wines pair well with so many foods. Think along the lines of what you already know for fish in general. Don’t go for dark, bold, full reds, instead opt for light whites which complement rather than overpower the delicate flavours in sushi – plus-points for slightly fizzy and acidic.

We found a great article by Liza Zimmerman (Forbes.com) who has been writing about gastronomy for more than 20 years. We picked three key takeaways from a recent interview she had with sushi and wine pairing expert Claire Coppi:

Q: What types of wine generally pair best with sushi?

A: Generally, a high-acid, white wine will pair best with a wider range of fish. These are going to be wines made from grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Grüner Veltliner.

Q: What types of wines don't work with sushi and sashimi?

A: Monolithic, high-alcohol wines are unfortunately not sushi friendly. Extreme levels of tannin and fruit will completely obliterate the fish and the high-alcohol levels will exacerbate the heat of the wasabi.

Q: How do the presence of soy sauce and wasabi affect the wine pairings?

A: Soy sauce adds a good deal of umami to a dish, so I enjoy pairing wines, white or red, that have a savoury or saline component with fish that are dressed in soy sauce. Wasabi adds the element of heat, which can be easily offset by a wine with a kiss of residual sugar.

Teas and non-alcoholic drinks

Different green teas are typically enjoyed with sushi. Don’t pick anything too overly fragrant or sweet. Ginger tea also complements it nicely. Unsweetened lemonade is also recommended, and if you want soda, Ginger Ale is the one most recommended (although sugary drinks are generally not).

Mixed drinks

In this category, you can easily pick something much too heavy. Try to keep strong choices like rum punches and rum/whiskey cokes for after dinner. Allen also advises against any straight liquors, whether on the rocks or not. Instead, go for light and bubbly drinks like a vodka tonic or rose spritzer.


You might think that sake and sushi are traditional pairings, since your exposure to sake is most likely through a Japanese restaurant. However, they are traditionally not enjoyed together at all, since it combines rice wine, with rice. However, it is more common now, especially since sushi is enjoyed all over the world.

“Nowadays, coupling sake with sushi and sashimi is no longer a taboo but rather an enjoyable way to enhance the flavour profiles of the fish and seafood,” according to Toronto-based sushi restaurant JaBistro.

“When finding the perfect sake to go with your dinner, it is important to consider the content of the oil, fat, and protein in the fish,” the restaurant asserts, in what we found to be the most succinct and easy to follow overview.

Expert advice from JaBistro:

Sweet flavours with a fruity sake

Some fish, such as salmon, have a natural, slightly sweet flavour. For sushi and rolls with a slight sweetness, it’s best to pair it with a similar tasting sake that has fruity and floral notes to open up the palate. The wine and fish work together to create a harmony of flavours.

Complex flavours with a mild sake

For sushi and rolls that have many layers and ingredients, it’s best to choose a mild sake with light and airy notes so that it doesn’t overpower the palate with additional aromas. The sake should help highlight your food rather than take away from it.

Spicy flavours with a dry sake

Spicy sushi dishes are best paired with a sake that is dry and clean tasting. It’s best to avoid sakes that are fruity and floral as they would interrupt the fiery flavours of the food.

Richer flavours with a light sake

Fatty, oily, rich, and creamy pieces of sushi and sashimi such as fatty tuna and California rolls go best with sakes that are light to emphasize the oils of the fish. If you chose a sake that was as full-bodied as your food, it would take away from your meal rather than enhance it.

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