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Drinking heated and unheated sake: 5 degrees makes a difference to the taste


Sake can be drunk either chilled or at room temperature. It is usual, however, for sake to be warmed, and warmed sake is referred to as kanshu.


A 5℃ change of temperature can make a dramatic difference to the aroma and flavor of sake. Because of this, the temperature at which sake is drunk is very important.


Terms used for sake at different temperatures
The term kan refers to the heating of sake. Sake is normally drunk either at room temperature or warmed. However, in some cases, it is better to chill the sake. Depending on the variety of sake, warming may rid the sake of any strange taste and make it more mellow, or chilling may produce a more fragrant and refreshing drink. Each variety of sake has its own characteristics.


For this reason, when enjoying a drink of sake, it is necessary to pay attention to the temperature at which it is served. The general term for heated sake is kan, but there are different names for different levels of warming. For example, atsukan refers to hot sake, while nurukan refers to sake served at around body temperature.


Drinking chilled sake, the situation is similar. That is, depending on the degree to which the sake is chilled, a different term is applicable. The table below lists the various terms.





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.
20℃ (approx.) jō-on A little on the cool side.
15℃ (approx.) suzubie The cold is definitely detected.
10℃ (approx.) hanabie Immediately feels cold.
5℃ (approx.) yukibie Cold enough for condensation to be observed.


The reason why there are so many different terms is that the taste and aroma of sake changes so much at different temperatures. A difference of just 5℃ changes the character of the drink significantly. So even with the same sake, changing the temperature can lead to new discoveries in the drinking experience.


Generally speaking, as the temperature increases, sake becomes drier and more aromatic. As the temperature is lowered, the sake takes on a fuller, smoother flavor.


If sake is consumed cold, it has a sharp and delicate flavor. The aroma decreases, and the true taste of the drink is evident.


Elsewhere in the world, it is rare to find a drink that can be enjoyed at such a wide range of temperatures. The changeability of its character at different temperatures is something that makes sake unique.


There’s no reason why you can’t drink ginjō-shu warm
Ginjō-shu is known as a fruity, aromatic type of sake. For this reason, it is generally consumed at room temperature or chilled. With its gorgeous aroma and light flavor, it is indeed suited to being served cold. On the other hand, if ginjō-shu is warmed, it loses its aroma, so it tends to be regarded as a drink that is unsuited to being served warm.


But in fact, it’s not true to say that ginjō-shu must necessarily be served cold. There is no reason why it should not be served warm. By trying sake in different ways without being unduly swayed by preconceptions, you can enjoy the experience of drinking sake more.


As we saw with the example of ginjō-shu, whether or not sake is suited to being served warm depends on the variety of the sake. By drinking different varieties of sake, you can discover that some are better served warm and others are not.


Moreover, there is no reason why some types of sake can not be considered more suitable to be consumed at certain times of the year. It would be reasonable to view ginjō-shu as a type of sake suited to being served cold in summer, for example, and to regard koshu (aged sake) as a drink to serve warm in the cold winter months. People’s tastes vary, so it is natural that, depending on the season and the location, the appropriate variety of sake and the serving temperature might also vary.

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