Sake is inextricably bound in the popular consciousness with Japan. And no wonder; sake has been a part of Japanese life since at least 500 BC.
We associate sake with wine, a beverage best enjoyed chilled or at room temperature. However, the fermented rice wine is its own entity and defies expectations. Hot sake is a delicious and unexpected treat.
The Japanese poet Yamanoue no Okura provided the first written account of hot sake as far back as the 8th century. And hot sake spread across the United States in the 1990s when Americans became fascinated by Japanese culture.
This article provides a comprehensive overview of hot sake, telling you what to know and how to prepare it.
What Is Sake?
Sake is Japanese wine made from fermented rice. The alcohol’s origins aren’t entirely clear; however, the rice fermentation spread to Japan from China around 500 BCE.
Typically weighing in at between 15 and 17 percent ABV, sake is a bit stronger than grape wines.
Sake is made of four primary ingredients: rice, water, yeast, and koji. Koji is a rice mold.
Sake uses different rice than the conventional long-grain varietal, and sake makers polish the rice to remove the external layers.
The process is long and elaborate, and Japanese families pass the method down. More polished rice makes better quality sake.
What Happens When You Heat Sake
Hot sake fans know that warming the beverage releases new and delicious flavors. The process broadens the palate and alters the taste of the sake.
Warming the Japanese rice wine increases umami and sweet flavors while reducing bitterness. Drinking hot sake instead of cold sake also draws out the drink’s savory aspects, giving it a fuller mouth feel.
Additionally, heating sake makes it last longer. If your sake is past its prime, but you don’t want to pour it down the sink, warm the alcohol up.
When serving sake, just be careful not to overheat it. When it’s over a certain temperature, the wine loses the delicate floral aromas and aspects. Additionally, the alcohol begins to evaporate, unbalancing the flavors.
Sake served hot is particularly pleasant during the colder months. The vintage will raise your body temperature while satiating your sake cravings.
Sake Serving Temperatures
The Japanese word “kanzake” denotes warm sake.
However, the term isn’t comprehensive, as sake is warmed to several different gradations. The vintages warmed to different temperatures have unique names and values.
This chart explains the breakdown and explains which types of sake lend themselves to each preparation:
|Hot Sake Name:||Degrees Fahrenheit:||Best Sake Used For Preparation:|
|Tobikirikan||133||Junmai, Honjozo, Futsushu|
|Nurukan||104||Any sake type|
|Hitohadakan||95||Any sake type|
|Hinatakan||86||Any sake type|
|Jouon||68||Any sake type|
|Suzubie||59||Any sake type|
|Hanabie||51||Nama, Ginjo, Daiginjo|
|Yukibie||41||Nama, Ginjo, Daiginjo|
Nurukan, or warm sake, is the most common type. Atsukan, hot sake, is also very common.
Sake heat classifications break down from super hot to snow cold:
- Super Hot: 140 degrees Fahrenheit and over
- Hot: From 122-140 degrees Fahrenheit
- Warmer: 113-122 degrees Fahrenheit
- Warm:104-113 degrees Fahrenheit
- Skin Warm: 95-104 degrees Fahrenheit
- Sunny Warm: 86-95 degrees Fahrenheit
- Room Temperature: 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cool: 59-68 degrees Fahrenheit
- Spring Chill: 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit
- Snow Cold: 41-50 degrees Fahrenheit
How To Heat Sake
Here’s how to heat your sake to high temperatures without breaking down the flavors, whether it’s premium sake or cloudy sake.
- Pour your sake into a heat-safe vessel. You can’t just pour the wine into a pan and heat it, as the process needs to be indirect. Japanese decanters called tokkuri are particularly effective for this process.
- Submerge your vessel into a pot of water. The water should be at the same level as the sake in the decanter.
- Turn on your burner and gradually heat the water, which will heat the sake.
You can also heat the water before submerging the decanter. Placing the vessel in the hot water heats the liquid inside. Just be sure the decanter is at room temperature. Chilled vessels introduced to hot water will crack.
If you rely on a microwave for heating purposes, heat the wine halfway. Pour the liquid into a second vessel and heat it again until it’s reached the desired temperature.
Microwaving sake isn’t ideal. However, in a dire situation, it gets the job done.
How To Order Hot Sake
Ordering hot sake requires a bit more finesse than simply saying “hot sake, please.”
The request requires a specified sake type and a temperature.
Requesting “atsukan” sake indicates an interest in hot sake. Consider asking your server for their recommendations; they’ll know the best temperature and sake combinations.
Top Brands for Hot Sake
Not all sakes heat up equally. Selecting the best brand ensures an enjoyable hot sake experience that will bring you back for seconds.
Here are the recommended brands for hot sake:
Azumaichi Junmai Ginjo
Azumaichi Junmai Ginjo is a lovely, mild sake when served at room temperature or chilled. However, applied heat brings the vintage to life.
The unassuming, floral notes blossom into a nutty, fruit palate. The sake leaves hints of sea salt caramel, bananas, milk chocolate, and orange zest on the tongue.
Azumaichi has been making quality sake since 1922. The brand’s superior alcohol, sold at reasonable prices, draws fans globally.
Kenbishi sake brewers began making sake in 1505 and haven’t looked back. The brewery was the first to make sake in Japan.
Kenbishi Kuromatsu is an ideal choice for hot sake because it is equally but distinctly delicious, hot or cold. The vintage carries bold and unique flavors. When warmed, Kenbishi Kuromatsu becomes a decadent and sweet delight.
The hot sake tastes of chocolate and caramel. Warm cashed butter and dried plums round out the flavor profile. Each bottle costs 46 dollars, making it a middle-of-the-road investment.
Eiko Fuji “10,000 Ways”
Eiko Fuji named its sake “10,000 Ways” to honor the vintage’s versatility. The brewery has years of experience under its belt, as Eiko Fuji began making sake in 1778.
Chilled, 10,000 Ways tastes delicate and fruity. However, warming the sake draws out the alcohol’s underlying sweetness. 10,000 Ways carries plenty of tart fruit flavors, including mango, green apple, and orange zest.
The 26 dollars per bottle wine pairs beautifully with acidic greens and ramen.
Hot sake is a unique drinking experience. Warming up the fermented wine alcohol unlocks flavors that are simply inaccessible in the chilled beverage.
There is a range of classifications for hot sake. Knowing which sake variety goes best with what temperature allows you to best enjoy the drink. We’ve provided everything you need to know to select the best brands for heating, as well as the knowledge necessary to warm your own at home. Kanpai!
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