On a cold winter’s evening there is nothing quite like the feeling of warm sake to warm you up from the inside out. As your body absorbs the alcohol quicker because it is closer to body temperature you soon enjoy a lovely relaxed feeling at the same time.
The tradition of warming up sake actually started a long time ago prior to all of the advances in technology and skills now enjoyed by the sake making industry. The sake produced at that time was not as refined or elegant as the sake produced nowadays and warming served the purpose of rounding out the rough edges and making the sake easier to drink.
However, nowadays you can enjoy many different sake at different temperatures. It is said that there are three different drinks in each bottle of sake as your perception of the flavour and aromas alters with the temperature at which the sake is served. You can enjoy sake at a wide range of temperatures and can even notice a difference in flavour when a glass of chilled sake starts coming up to room temperature.
So, which sake can you warm? Futsushu, Honjozo and Junmai sake are usually all suitable for warming and, as a rule of thumb, you do not usually warm up Ginjo and Daiginjo grades of sake as these are brewed to be aromatic, and warming the sake will mean that the aromas will evaporate. That said, there are always exceptions to the rule and Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo can often be suitable for warming. However, one type of sake which you should not warm is sake with the word “Nama” in it as this is sold either completely unpasteurised or partly pasteurised so warming this sake will completely change the style and flavour of the sake from that which the brewer intended.
If you feel confident in experimenting with warming sake the main decision to warm is based upon the style of the sake. The more flavoursome sake full of the savoury umami deliciousness work well with warming and the more delicate, aromatic sake do not benefit from warming although you can compare the flavour difference from very chilled as it warms up to room temperature. As for wine, over chilling sake often means that the sake closes up and you are not allowing it to open up and release its flavours and aromas. Allowing it to warm up slightly enables you to enjoy the flavours in the sake and allows the sake to release its aromas.
There are four key acids present in sake which act differently to temperature. Warming sake can often make drier sake taste sweeter but over-warming sake can also increase the acidity when you taste it. Conversely, sweeter sake can often taste drier when served colder.
Most sake can be served to a maximum temperature of 45°C which is only warm in order to enjoy their flavour without losing the aromatics but some sake can cope with temperatures up to 55°C. Heating sake above this temperature reduces the perception of different flavours in the sake and means that the sake loses its unique flavour characteristics. Experiment with temperatures of around 35-40°C which is only just above body temperature to discover new flavours and aromas in the sake you are drinking.
So, in addition to enjoying the lovely warm, relaxed feeling you get from drinking warm sake, you can enjoy different flavours in the sake by altering the temperature. This means that, if you have a sake which does not suit your palate then you can change the temperature to find one which makes the sake more to your liking.