are lots of ways to enjoy sake. Whether you want to drink it
straight up or as part of one of the many new mixed sake
drinks available, sake makes a great aperitif, dinner
companion, or dessert wine. But what you may not be able to
determine easily is whether you should be serving it warm or
cold. While you may have believed that all sake should be
served warm, there are a few varieties better suited to
cooler temperatures. By finding the right temperature, you
can enhance your sake experience.
Sake can be enjoyed at a variety of temperatures, from just
above freezing to approximately 130 degrees Fahrenheit. At
each step of the temperature gradient, a single type of sake
can have a subtly different taste. In general terms, sake
becomes dryer and more flavorful when heated, and crisper
and more aromatic at lower temperatures.
Warm sake has been enjoyed in Japan for hundreds of years.
Warm or hot sake is referred to in general as "kanzake."
Warmth increases the effect of the alcohol in sake, which is
probably why most westerners who have enjoyed warm sake say
that it "packs a punch." In actual fact, most sake
has about 18 percent alcohol, similar to most wines. The
flavor of the sake is increased by heating, as is its
dryness. Because of this dryness, warm or hot sake is the
perfect companion for plain foods such as sashimi (raw fish)
or sushi. The dryness will also help to cut the oiliness of
hot pot dishes made with fat or oil.
If you are planning to serve warm or hot sake, the best way
to heat it is by placing your tokkuri (jar) of sake in water
that has been heated until it almost boils. The amount of
time spent heating varies depending on how warm you want it
to be. Generally, warm sake should be about 104 degrees F,
and a good visual cue to judge this is to look into the
tokkuri at the sake. If bubbles swell up on the sides of the
tokkuri but do not rise, the sake is warm ("nurukan");
if the bubbles do rise, the sake is hot ("joukan").
You can use a microwave to heat sake, but you run the risk
of boiling it accidentally, which could spoil the flavor of
Chilled sake is usually served in the warm summer months,
when it is both refreshing and tasty. Chilled sake is
generally referred to as "reishu," while room
temperature sake is called "jouon" Sake can be
served over ice, which is known as "Yuk-hie" (cold
snow falling). This is best with sweet and sour foods, or
those with a particularly piquant taste. You can also serve
sake that has been cooled in the refrigerator. Although it
is rare, there are some types of sake that have been
produced to be served below freezing. While the alcohol in
these sakes does not freeze, the water surrounding it does,
and the result is a crystallized ice or "sleet" in
the sake. While the taste of the sake is sometimes hurt at
these temperatures, it is a refreshing way to enjoy this
Another determining factor of temperature is the quality of
the sake. In general, the higher quality types of sake will
lend themselves better to being served cold. Any sake that
has had distilled alcohol added will generally benefit from
heating, because it enhances the flavor of these types.
While there is nothing wrong with added alcohol, the pure
alcohol created by the traditional brewing process is better
suited to cooler temperature.
you must remember that there are no hard and fast rules
about sake temperatures. If you would like to try
variations, then give cooler temperatures a try. But if you
enjoy your sake warm then serve it warm, and bon apétit!