Serving Temperatures

Temperatures and terminology

Hot sake: kanzake (o-kan) 燗酒、お燗. Hitohada (body temperature) → Nurukan (literally, lukewarm, about 40℃) → atsu-kan (“hot” kan, about 50℃).

Room Temperature (Jô-on, 常温).  Sake served at room temperature is confusingly called hiya, written with a character (冷) meaning cold.  

Cold Sake: Reishu 冷酒   

The mechanics of taste and temperature

As temperature rises, sweetness and umami elements become more prominent, bitter and astringent flavours less noticeable. Acidity itself is unaffected, though the shift in other flavours can make it seem more prominent to some. As might be guessed from these trends, very sweet or low-acidity sake is often served cold, and sake with strong astringency frequently benefits from warming – may, in fact, have been brewed with that intention.   

“The rule of thumb: if it’s light, fruity, fragrant and fresh, serve it cold.”

If it’s funky, ricey, earthy or old, drink it at room temperature or above.

Hot or cold?

The big myth: Good Sake Cold, Bad Sake Hot.

Cold: Unpasteurized (nama) sake, fragrant styles (especially Daiginjo, but also Honjozo or other styles with strong fruity or floral aromatics), low-alcohol sake.

Hot: High acidity sakes (many Junmai (“pure rice”) sakes, kimoto/yamahai), not-so-flowery Ginjo and Honjozo, many “regular” products.  

written by Philip Harper, BSA