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Suitable temperatures for different varieties of sake


As well as being consumed at room temperature, sake is also served chilled or warmed. In particular, warming sake is referred to as kan. Sake is consumed at such a wide range of temperatures because the flavor changes as the temperature changes.


In addition, there are some varieties of sake that are better served cold and others that are at their best when warmed. Here we will take a look at sake varieties and the serving temperatures to which they are suited.


The taste depends on the temperature
Sake has flavors that can be described as sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and astringent. These are largely perceived with the tongue, but the perceived flavors change depending on the temperature of the sake.


For example, sweetness is less noticeable at lower temperatures. If the temperature is raised, sweetness is heightened. The perception of sweetness is at its peak when the temperature of sake is around the same as body temperature, 37℃. Above this temperature, sweetness does not increase.


Also, bitterness is greatly reduced when the temperature rises above 37℃. Astringency likewise is less perceptible at higher temperatures. For these reasons, if sake has an unpleasant taste, try warming it. Often, this is enough to transform the sake, eliminating unpleasant flavors, and making it delicious.


A sour acid flavor does not change in strength with a change in temperature. However, one’s impression of it does change.


If a lot of malic acid is present in sake, it will taste refreshing if it is chilled. But if it is warmed, the sourness is evident. For that reason, it is best served cold.


On the other hand, in the case of lactic acid, when it is present in significant quantities in sake, the flavor is better when the sake is warmed. If it is served cold, it tastes harsh. When heated, though, the lactic acid becomes mild and makes the sake more flavorsome. Depending on the type of acid present, it can be better to chill or to heat the sake.


Sake that tastes better chilled
Fragrant sake contains many aromatic constituents. If the temperature is too high, they will evaporate. For this reason, ginjō-shu and daiginjō-shu varieties are regarded as unsuitable for warming.


In addition, there are carbonated varieties of sake such as kassei-shu (sparkling sake) and kassei nigori-zake (sparkling unfiltered sake). Warming will dissipate the bubbles, so naturally these varieties are best served cold.


Namazake is also consumed cold. The term namazake refers to sake that has not been pasteurized. Since it has not undergone heat treatment (hi-ire) at the brewery, it contains live yeasts and enzymes. It is intended to be consumed fresh.


The fresh and refreshing taste of namazake would be lost if it were served warm, so normally it is not heated.


However, it cannot be stated absolutely that ginjo-shu and namazake should not be served warm. There are some people who do drink them warm. The recommendations given here are only general guidelines.


Sake suited to being served warm
Some types of sake are better served warm. Generally, sake that has some body to it benefits from being warmed. Sake prepared using the traditional kimoto or yamahai methods, for example, is often heated.


These two types of sake both contain a lot of lactic acid. For this reason, they have a piquant flavor when served cold. They are generally warmed because heat quickly turns them into a smooth, mellow drink.


That’s because heat brings out the savoriness provided by elements such as lactic acid and succinic acid that are present in sake brewed according to the kimoto and yamahai methods.


There are cheaper types of sake that are diluted with alcohol, or have added sugars or flavorings. When these are consumed cold or at room temperature, they often taste rough. Heating the sake can help to mitigate this sort of unpleasant flavor.


As we have seen, some types of sake are suited to being heated. When sake becomes more delicious as a result of being heated, it’s called kan-agari. It works by enhancing the sweetness and suppressing bitter or astringent flavors in the sake.

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