Planning the ultimate Tokyo Olympics viewing party? Sake Samurai Monica Samuels offers four ideas for sake cocktails.

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The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony is upon us, which means it’s time to set up a spread for Friday night viewing. You could order takeout katsu from a local spot, or head to your local fishmonger to get your hands on some sushi-grade fish for poke bowls. Just make sure you don’t forget the cocktails! Try skipping beers and opting for something sake-based. 

Sake is the national drink of Japan, a favorite across the country not only for its gentle and, at times, fruity flavors but also its high alcohol content for a fermented drink. Fun fact: Sake translates to “liquor” in English.

Many sakes are served in cans with tabs attached for easy opening. Don’t be fooled by the cute covers, though: Sake still packs a bit of a bite. But that’s easily softened when it’s used as the base of a cocktail with ingredients like fresh pineapple or sparkling wine.

Sake is great in cocktails to lighten things up.

Monica Samuels, Sake Samurai
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Tozai is just one brand brewing delicious sakes available in the United States, and offers approachable styles for pros and novices alike. Each Tozai sake, brewed in Kyoto, is a slightly redefined classic made into an everyday drink. Look for their labels that feature hand-painted koi fish, traditional Japanese kanji, and origami paper patterns.

In order to help us transform some of Tozai’s sakes into clink-worthy cocktails, we chatted with Monica Samuels, a leading authority on sake in the U.S. Featured in Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40,” Samuels is also one of only a handful of women to be granted the title of Sake Samurai, the highest honor within the world of sake.

“Sake is great in cocktails to lighten things up,” Samuels says. “Even if it’s taking your favorite cocktail and converting it to a split-base between the spirit and sake.”

One of Samuels’ favorites is a simple swap with whiskey—by halving the amount of whiskey and replacing it with plum sake, you can easily create a plum sake highball, she says. Or, take the vesper martini: Replace gin with a floral ginjo sake, which are generally lighter and more floral in flavor. The Tozai ginjo, for example, offers flavor notes of melon and pistachio to balance the peppery finish.

“You’re creating a lower ABV, more session-able drink that also has more complexity and aromatics,” Samuels says.

Coverage of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on NBC begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Keep scrolling for four sake cocktail recipes from Samuels to get you started on the celebration.