You may think that sake is served just like wine. Although they can be similar, serving sake comes with more intricacies.
By understanding the basics, you’ll be able to maximize the opportunity of serving and enjoying sake, even in the comfort of your own home.
Here, we’ll show you how to authentically serve sake using regular items you can find at home or your local supermarket.
1. Wine Glass or Small Cups?
The first thing that you should consider is what to serve sake in.
The two common vessels that you can use are a small ceramic cup or a wine glass.
Small cup and Flask Set
Do you want to drink your sake warm?
Do you want to experience the Japanese style of drinking?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, we recommend using small ceramic cups. Sake sets come with these cups and a flask called Tokkuri. These are traditionally used to serve sake in Japan. In general, the tokkuri can hold about 6 fl oz (180 ml) and is used to:
- Easily refill small cups
- Heat sake through double boiling or microwaving
- Keep the sake warm
No ceramic cups? Not to worry. Use a shot glass to substitute. No tokkuri either? Substitute with a glass flask.
If you won’t be drinking your sake warm, then it’s perfectly fine to use stemware. Sake is often served in wine glasses in most Japanese and French restaurants. The shape of the glass allows you to appreciate aromatic sake like Daiginjo.
2. Chilled, Room temperature, or Warm?
The next thing to consider is at what temperature to serve sake.
Sake can be enjoyed at temperatures ranging from 40 to 130°F (5 to 55 °C). However, the perfect serving temperature/s actually depends on the type of sake.
Follow the Brewery’s Instructions
Often, the best temperature for a particular sake is written on its label. If you find it, follow it since it is the recommendation of the sake master. And no one knows his/her sake better than the sake master.
But if the instructions are only in Japanese, as in most cases, use the chart below to identify the recommended temperatures.
An example of a Japanese label:
Translation of Instructions
Unfortunately, there is no ‘standard’ format for labeling. You will need to skim through the label to look for the instructions.
For No Instructions
If there are no suggestions on the label or if you couldn’t find it, take caution in choosing to warm sake. Not all are suitable for heating and doing so may disrupt its aroma and flavor.
Generally speaking, the following types of sake are good for warming:
- Dry sake
(like Honjozo and Junmai-dry type)
Heating this type to 122°F (50°C) enhances its dryness and sharpness.
- Strongly acidic and full-bodied sake
(like Junmai, Yamahai and Kimoto)
Rich bodied and matured, this type of sake is high in umami. Heat them at 104°F (40°C) to experience optimal sweetness and umami.
On the other hand, avoid warming:
- Fruity, fragrant and fresh sake
(like Daiginjo and Namazake)
Although these types may be heated to up to 104°F (40°C) this is generally NOT recommended because their fruit-like aroma and freshness may be lost. To fully enjoy their flavors, serve chilled (around 50°F or 10°C).
3. Preparing the Sake
Now that you know the recommended serving temperature/s for your sake, the next thing to consider is how to prepare it.
3-1. Chilled Sake
For sake types that are best chilled, bring the temperature down to 41 and 50 °F (5-10°C). Below that and you won’t be able to appreciate its delicate aroma and flavor.
Keep the sake bottle in a refrigerator before drinking.
- Iced water
If you’re in a hurry, iced water works well for cooling sake. Immersing the sake bottle up to its neck in iced water will bring the temperature down by 1.8°F (1°C) per minute.
3-2. Warming Sake
You can enjoy warm sake at temperatures ranging from 85-131°F (30-55°C). Sake’s profile changes dramatically for each 9°F (5°C) increase in temperature. 131°F (55°C) is the upper limit. Exceeding it will create a very strong alcohol odor.
- Double boiling
Soak the tokkuri (or glass flask in very hot water for a minute. This will raise the temperature of sake to about 110°F (45°C), which is ideal. When preparing, keep in mind:
- The amount of hot water should be half the height of the flask/ tokkuri.
- Make sure that its mouth is covered or wrapped with plastic wrap to keep the aroma of sake until ready for drinking.
- Do not heat the water once the tokkur i has been soaked.
- Do not fill it up completely, only up to 80-90% full. The volume of sake increases as the temperature goes up.
If you have a food thermometer, we recommend using it. Remove the flask/ Tokkuri once 110°F (45°C) is reached.
Microwaving is an alternative to double boiling. It’s easy and is very convenient if you’re in hurry. But it causes rapid and uneven heating to sake, so be careful when opting for it.
To heat sake:
- Prepare the heating vessel. Close the flask or wrap the tokkuri’s opening with plastic wrap.
- Heat sake at 500-600W for about 40 – 50 seconds. This will heat it to about 110°F (45 °C).
- Wait for 10 – 20 seconds, and swirl the decanter to even out the temperature.
If you want to enjoy sake at various temperatures, we recommend starting with chilled sake first. This would be easy if you’ve been storing the sake in the refrigerator since you bought it. Then, try it at room temperature and then, warm.
- Select the sake cups or glasses that you will use
- Decide the best temperature/s for serving
- Prepare the sake
- Enjoy it the Japanese way or through your own drinking style
4. Manner of serving sake
Now that you’ve prepared your sake to its recommended serving temperature, the only thing to worry about is serving it.
Is there a specific way of serving sake?
Yes. In Japan, serving sake involves a complex manner. And it changes depending on the situation – ceremony, business formal, semi-formal, or casual.
But bothering you with the nitty-gritty of it will only prevent you and your guests from enjoying sake. Instead, we recommend one thing – keep an eye on your guest’s cups and pour / refil sake once empty.
This represents the traditional Japanese value of ‘caring for others’ and is highly regarded among the Japanese people.
In summary, here are the things that you should keep in mind when serving sake:
Give it a try and it won’t be long before you become an expert at serving sake to your guests!