Serving temperatures of Sake (download) by Philip Harper (Master Brewer).
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.
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
Which sake should be served warm, and which cold?
– The big myth: Good Sake Cold, Bad Sake Hot.
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.
Good candidates for serving cold
Unpasteurized (nama) sake, fragrant styles (especially dai-ginjo, but also honjozo or other styles with strong fruity or floral aromatics), low-alcohol sake, .
Good candidates for serving hot
High acidity sakes (many junmai (“pure rice”) sakes, kimoto/yamahai), not-so-flowery ginjo and honjozo, many “regular” products.
copyright Philip Harper 2009
Article by Shirley Booth (link) – A quick overview of the history and culture behind sake
Tengu Sake blog – Guide to Sake types, tastes, and brewing methods