Sake Lessons from Japan: Choosing between Cold or Warm

SakeFor anybody trying sake for the first time, one of its most intriguing aspects is that it can be served warm or chilled, although it has traditionally been served warm.

Recently, premium sakes are being served and enjoyed cold, but that doesn’t mean that warm has become obsolete.

How can you best enjoy sake?

Modern sake brewing technology are said to have flavor profiles that can be destroyed or marred by heat. This is why serving it chilled nowadays has become popular. That doesn’t mean, though, that all must be served chilled. Each rice wine is unique with a specific range of temperature by which it must be served.

“Kan Sake” – Serve It Warm

Heating sake has a pleasant effect on its taste because it can mask unpleasant flavors.

This works best to improve the taste of the cheaper regular varieties called futsushu. Junmai or

Junmai or junmaishu are ideal for heating since they have a full flavor with higher acidity that often comes into its own slightly cool or at room temperature.

According to Popsugar’s What’s the Difference Between Cold and Hot Sake, Anyway? by Nicole Perry …

Full-bodied, less aromatic sakes, like some bottles labeled junmai, are actually best enjoyed warm (around body temperature), as heat brings out their bold flavor and mutes any bitterness that may be present in a robust brew. 

In contrast, lighter, more delicate sakes (look for the terms gingo, junmai-ginjo, daiginjo, or junmai-daiginjo on the label) and unpasteurized sake (as indicated by the word nama) are best served at a similar temperature to white wine — slightly warmer than refrigerator temp — as this allows their crisp acidity and aroma to be emphasized.

Honjozoshu and tokubetsu, as well as taruzake are premium sakes that are best served warm.

Honjozoshu is premium rice wine that tastes lighter and smoother when warmed because of the added brewer’s alcohol.

Taruzake has been aged in a cedar cask and is generally preferred at a higher “hinatakan” temperature as through it has been warmed in the sun.

Hiroko Shimbo of Drinking said there are 5 Reasons Why Sake Is Best Served Warm

Five reasons to drink your sake warm:

  1. Warming helps to blossom its natural flavors and fragrance.
  2. Warming balances its sweetness, acidity and astringency.
  3. It is wonderful to consume warmed sake with meals during the cold winter. It’s like mulled wine, but with no added sugar.
  4. Warmed sake is absorbed by the body more quickly, so we can “feel” it sooner and control the amount we drink.
  5. Without learning how to appreciate the warmed product, we can never say that we have a complete understanding of this wonderful beverage.

Hiya  – Chilling with Cool Sake

The very best of the breed such as Ginjo are best enjoyed slightly chilled. Eat-Japan’s Sake: Hot or Cold offers a perspective about sake…

Sake experts generally agree that most premium product is best served chilled, with the optimum level for ginjoshu, daiginjoshu, junmai daiginjoshu and unpasteurized namazake considered to be suzuhie or ‘cool’, at around 15 degrees Celsius… They may be chilled further, to hanahie (‘flower temperature’) or yukihie (‘snow-temperature’) levels, however excessive chilling may dull the senses of taste and smell, and the subtleties of flavour and fragrance will be lost. Namazake, because it’s unpasteurized, must be stored at below room temperature, and should never be warmed or heated… It can generally be served colder than other types of sake, with either suzuhie or the slightly colder hanahie being considered ideal.

Chilled sake is a refreshing drink served below 5 degrees C (41 degrees F) during summer, and up to about 8 degrees C (46 degrees F) when the weather is not so hot.

The light hint of the aroma of cold Japanese sake contributes to its richness and freshness that delightfully harmonizes to sour foods and slightly sweet desserts. In addition, a chilled glass goes well with oily foods as it tends to wash-down the lingering flavor.

So, how would you like your sake served? You can enjoy it warm or chilled.

Take a mouthful from an elegant crystal or wine glass and savor its lightness or robustness.

Nicole Perry said, “Ultimately, though, it all comes down to one thing: personal preference.”

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