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There 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 the sake. 

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 unique beverage. 

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. 

Finally, 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!


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