For those new to the world of sake, one of the hardest questions to answer is, "What style of sake do you like?"

People almost invariably claim to prefer dry brews, but when offered, for example, a classic honjōzo-style sake, which is generally light and crisp in character, many sake neophytes find the flavor too subtle, or even too dry. Consumers are rarely accurate in describing their own taste preferences, especially without prior knowledge of sake basics. It's like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle of an image you've never seen: How do you know where to start?

Several sake specialty bars have replaced printed menus with lists of flavor descriptors, giving recommendations based on broader categories. Although the prompts are intended to offer guidance, the vagueness of terms such as "fresh," "elegant" and "wild" can leave some feeling flummoxed.