Sake bombs aren't Japanese

If you attended college in the US, you probably found yourself hanging out at a cheap karaoke bar at some point, eating mock crab California rolls and pounding sake bombs. If you’ve never had a sake bomb, you can either consider yourself as having missed out or, alternatively, greatly privileged. Sake bombs, typically comprised of cheap beer and cheap sake, are unpleasant, both in taste and consumption method. If you wish to subject yourself to a sake bomb, grab a glass of watery beer and lay two chopsticks over the cup’s rim. Atop the chopsticks, place a shot glass full of shlocky sake. Surround yourself with people who are willing to do the same. Then, collectively, yell this out:

Ichi…ni…san…sake bomb!

(Translated: One…two…three….DRANK!)

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Or, if you’re feeling a bit more barbaric:


At this point, everyone should bang on the table, causing the sake to fall into the beer. The resulting mix is to be guzzled quickly, before you can taste what you’re drinking. You might be wondering why the Japanese would invent a drinking game that subjects sake, a potentially delicious and often holy beverage, to such a strange practice.

The answer is, they didn’t.

…most Japanese think the West is crazy for wasting sake by dumping it into beer. Basically, doing a Chardonnay bomb would accomplish the exact same thing and how many oenophiles do you see doing Chardonnay bombs?

The origins of the sake bomb are oddly mysterious, but there seems to be a consensus that the drink –  or drinking ritual, depending on how you look at it – did not originate in Japan, and is basically never practiced there. A few sources suggest that sake bombs were actually invented by American soldiers occupying Japan in the years following World War II. It’s hard to know if this history is ironic, or makes perfect sense.

Sake bombs aren't JapanesePerhaps part of the reason sake bombs have proven more popular in America than they have in Japan is because many Americans believe that sake doesn’t taste any good We think of it as something to be shot, rather than sipped. But the truth is, sake can be a downright delicacy. As Sake Social, an online sake retailer, brilliantly puts it, “…most Japanese think the West is crazy for wasting sake by dumping it into beer. Basically, doing a Chardonnay bomb would accomplish the exact same thing and how many oenophiles do you see doing Chardonnay bombs?”

Perhaps if we only had access to low-quality Chardonnay in the US, we would be kicking back Chard-bombs. Monica Samuels, National Sake Sales Manager for sake importer Vine Connections, believes that Americans have been consuming sake exclusively via sake bombs for decades because it was extremely difficult until recently to purchase premium sake in the US. Therefore, as only bad sake was available, we masked it like we would the taste of any cheap booze: by dousing it in mixers. In this case, the mixer was beer.

While you’re still welcome to throw a sake bomb down the hatchet – we’ve tossed back a few in our day – there are much better, less obnoxious ways to drink sake. Instead of boiling a bad sake to scorching temperatures or plopping it in a pint glass, enjoy a small portion of excellent sake with some light food, like a radish salad, rice, and a little fish. We recommend starting with Tozai Snow Maiden Nigori, which is easy to drink, fruit forward, and available online. Ichi…ni…san…good sake!

Header image via Kaje / Flickr