Sake 101
Ep.6「The Secret of Hot Sake

Aya and Tomoko (Tomo) are total beginners when it comes to sake.
They are here to learn how to enjoy sake from Saki, a professional sake sommelier, and journalist.
If you’re new to sake too then you’ve found the right place!

In the previous episode, Aya and Tomo learned that hot sake is perfect for beginners
or anyone who has trouble pacing themselves.
In this episode, Aya and Tomo have decided to throw a hot sake party,
but they somehow managed to run into trouble again.

Edited by TOMOKO
Translated by Saki Kimura & Jojo Brandel

It’s finally time to throw that hot sake party! I’ve been waiting forever for this!


Hey! Why are you ignoring me? What’s a matter?

I’m sorry. It’s just that… I have a few doubts about the party…

What do you mean?

Right. That’s
exactly why we are throwing a hot sake party tonight!

I know… but I started researching it a little more and I found that certain sake need to be heated to a specific temperature and now I am wondering what the appropriate temperature is for the sake we bought for the party. I’m not even sure if it’s appropriate to serve the sake we bought warm.

Ugh, I’m getting a headache. I just wanted to enjoy some hot sake…

What’s wrong girls? You look a little down.

Saki! We need your help! 

Don’t overthink it. Let’s start by just warming up everything you bought.

I can’t tell if she’s just being condescending. It can’t really be that simple!

Just do as Saki says. Don’t overthink it! Let’s party! 

Looks like someone is eager to start drinking.
Even if she says
just warm them up, I still feel like there is a more appropriate way to do this.

Honestly, I’m ready for a drink myself.
The easiest way to decide which sake to heat up is to try them at chilled or room temperature first. If they don’t suit your taste then try heating them up. 

Really? Is it that easy?

Some sake hide their true flavor at lower temperatures but as soon as you heat them up they can taste amazing. 

So does that mean you shouldn’t heat them up if they already taste good chilled?

It really depends.
That’s why I recommend warming up any sake at least once to see what you like better.

I thought you were just dumbing it down for us, but I think I get it now…
But what about all those different categories of sake, like
ginjo or junmai. Can we use these categories as a guide to tell which sake is suitable to drink hot or chilled?

Good question. Until recently, sake aficionados believed that only sake made with rice that was less polished such as
futsu-shu, honjozo, junmai was best for hot sake, while sake made with highly polished rice such as ginjo or daiginjo should not be warmed up.

Come to think of it, all the cheap sake I had at izakayas when I was in college was always served piping hot.
What’s the logic behind that?

There are several reasons. First off, this idea has goes back to post-World War II when a sake called
Sanbai-zojo-seishu hit the market. Sanbai-zojo-seishu was brewed with added distilled alcohol, sugar and additives and people started to warm it up to make it more flavorful. Sanbai-zojo-seishu led people to believe that cheap sake should be warmed up and that premium sake is too good to warm up.


I’ll explain more about that later in the future. The second reason is that most
ginjo or daiginjo sake have a fragrant flavor, which become unbalanced at higher temperatures. This could be one of the reasons why sake drinkers believe that ginjo or daiginjo sake is best served cold.

That makes sense. I feel like alcohol smells stronger when it’s warm.

On the other hand there are some
daiginjo that can be tastier when served at higher temperatures and some futsu-shu taste better chilled.

I guess it’s true what they say. You can’t judge a book by its cover. 

Exactly! I always suggest that you try warming up the sake and tasting it first because it can be hard to judge simply based on categories or the
seimaibuai (the ratio which the rice has been polished) alone. The key is to drink a lot of sake so that you can gradually develop your own sense of which sake tastes good warm. 

Ugh, I want to be a pro already!

Until you develop your own sense of taste, I encourage you to try warming up everything! Even
daiginjo, sparkling and nigori (cloudy sake). You never know if your experimentations will lead to an exciting new discovery! 

We’ll try it all!

By the way, what exact temperature is best for hot sake?

It depends on the sake. Sake has several taste components like sweetness, acidity, bitterness, astringency and spiciness, and each component fluctuates depending on the temperature. For example, sweetness increases, the bitterness decreases, while acidity stays the constant, and so on.

That sounds kind of mysterious…

The most suitable temperature depends completely on the sake because the balance of each component is different between products. For example, sweetness – which is strongly tied to
umami – peaks at 35℃ (95℉) and then decreases gradually. 

So sake tastes sweetest at 35℃?

This does not mean that sake always tastes best at this temperature, but it can be a rough guide to finding the most suitable temperature. If you feel like a sake is lacking sweetness, then you will be able to taste all of the sake’s
umami at 35℃. Hot sake served at this temperature is called hitohada-kan (literally human’s skin) in Japanese.

Ah, because it’s nearly the same as your body temperature.

Sake served at 40-45℃ (104-113℉) is called
nuru-kan, 45-50℃ (113-122℉) jo-kan and higher than 50℃ (122℉-) is called tobikiri-kan.

Sounds like it will be fun to experiment. 

Are there any specific methods to warm up sake that you recommend? The easier the better for me.

Hmm. Well, the easiest way is to microwave it, but it’s difficult to heat to an exact temperature in a microwave. It usually comes out too hot or unevenly heated.

What’s the
tastiest method? I want to learn that one.

She’s always greedy for

In that case, I recommend trying the
yukan method, warming it in a hot bath.


Just put your sake in a vessel and submerge it in hot water, just like you would do when you melt chocolate or butter when you make sweets.

Sounds like a pain…

Now, now don’t be lazy. It is a little time-consuming, so I’ll teach you an easy method that I often use when I drink alone.
1. Boil water in an electric kettle.
2. Pour hot water into a large bowl.
3. submerge a cup of sake in the bath.

Sounds so easy that even a lazy girl like Tomo could do it.

Honestly, in the best case scenario I would like you to warm your sake carefully with a pot or special tools and use a thermometer.
If you have to use a microwave, heat the sake halfway and then transfer it into another container and heat it again until you reach your desired temperature. 

Got it!

I get the general idea, but I want to practice.
Would the best way to test different temperatures be to heat it up all the way and taste it as it gradually cools down? 

That’s actually a big misunderstanding. You lose the original flavor and fragrance of a sake once you warm the sake up. It will never go back to the way it initially tasted even as the temperature drops.

So the best way would be to just warm up sake little by little and enjoy the difference between each temperature, right?

Exactly. Some sake even tastes better than it does at room temperature after being warmed up once and then cooling it down again. This kind of sake is called

Wow. Sounds interesting. I want to give that a shot too!

Well, I think I’ve answered all your questions. Now let’s party!


In summary
– Try warming up chilled or room temperature sake that doesn’t quite suit you.

– Warm up any kind of sake and enjoy the difference between temperatures.

– It’s difficult to judge which sake should be served warm based on categories alone.

– The best temperature depends on each sake, but it’s helpful to know that sweetness (umami) peaks at 35℃ (95℃).