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Different ways of warming sake

 

Sake can be consumed warm or cold. The warming of sake is called kan.

 

The reason why sake is warmed is that different types of sake are most delicious at various different temperatures. Moreover, a temperature change of just 5℃ can make a surprising amount of difference to the taste and aroma of sake. In the following, various different ways of warming sake are discussed.

 

Terms for sake at different temperatures
It’s worth learning the terms used to refer to sake at different temperatures. With an understanding of these various temperature points, you can warm your sake appropriately.

 

Temperature

Term

Characteristics

55℃ or higher tobikirikan The sake flask immediately hot to the touch.
50℃ (approx.) atsukan The sake flask feels hot when held; the sake gives off steam.
45℃ (approx.) jōkan The sake flask feels warm.
40℃ (approx.) nurukan Around body temperature.
35℃ (approx.) hitohadakan Slightly lower than body temperature. Tepid in the mouth.
30℃ (approx.) hinatakan Neither hot nor cold.

 

To warm sake, pour a substantial amount of sake into a ceramic sake serving flask (tokkuri) and warm it. Pour the sake from the flask into a sake cup (o-choko) and drink it. The sake warming temperatures referred to here relate to the temperature of the sake in the sake cup.

 

Naturally, when sake is poured from the sake flask into the cup, the temperature drops a little, so it is necessary to heat the sake in the sake flask to a temperature slightly higher than the desired drinking temperature. There are three main methods of warming sake.

 

Enjoying warmed sake
• Immersion in hot water (yusen)
Put some water in a pot and warm it on the stove. Place the tokkuri (sake flask) in the water to warm it. Some people boil water in a pot and then place the tokkuri in it, while others prefer to put the tokkuri in at the start and gradually bring up the temperature.

 

When starting with cold water in the pot, the temperature rises gradually, so it takes some time for the sake to reach the desired temperature. During this time, some of the aroma and alcohol is lost through vaporization, so this method is not well suited to some varieties of sake such as ginjō-shu whose fine aroma is a distinguishing feature.

 

For this reason, the sake flask is typically placed in hot water that has already been brought to boiling point. It is important to remove the flask from the hot water as promptly as possible. For example, if it is desired to warm the sake to the jōkan level (around 45℃), rather than leaving the flask in hot water for 10 or 20 minutes warming gradually, it is better to complete the warming in one or two minutes.

 

If you are prepared to take a little more trouble over it, you can boil some water, and then add an additional one tenth quantity of cold water to bring the temperature down to 80℃ before placing the flask in it. Hot water of this temperature is well suited to warming sake to the desired level.

 

• Microwave warming (denshi rēnji kan)
Warming sake in a microwave is the most convenient method. However, a microwave heats unevenly because microwaves tend to heat some parts such as corners more readily. In addition, the rapidity of the temperature rise in a microwave tends to exacerbate the unevenness of temperature.

 

It is advisable to cover the mouth of the sake flask with plastic wrap. It is said that to warm sake to tepid warmth (hitohadakan) takes 40 seconds in a 500-watt microwave.

 

• Steaming (mushikan)
Another method is to warm the sake in a steamer. Because the sake is in a moist environment in the steamer, less of the aroma and alcohol is lost, compared to other methods.

 

Steamers are well suited to keeping things warm, so they do a good job if a particular temperature is desired. Steaming is also an efficient method to use when a larger number of flasks need to be warmed.

 

Clearly then, kanshu (warmed sake) is something that can be enjoyed at home. One thing to keep in mind is that the boiling point of water is 100℃, whereas the boiling point of alcohol is 78℃. Aromatic constituents of sake likewise will vaporize at a temperature somewhat less than 100℃.

 

So it is not advisable to leave sake sitting for a long time in boiled water, or to keep it at a high temperature. It is best to warm sake quickly so its true flavor can be enjoyed.


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