Sake is a popular rice-based alcoholic beverage that is widely consumed in Japan and around the world.
Does sake need to be refrigerated? Yes, since air and environmental factors can affect its quality, sake should be refrigerated. Sake is best served chilled and can also be warmed up. However, it is never served very hot because heat can destroy sake’s aroma and flavor.
Read below to learn more about sake, how it is made, how its stored, and some best practices when it comes to refrigerating it!
What Is Sake?
Sake is made from fermented brown rice that goes through a meticulous production process.
Historically, sake has been around in some form or the other for about 2000 years. The word “sake” generally means alcohol, which covers a wide variety of alcoholic beverages.
But in the case of this iconic drink, we mostly refer to rice wine – a term that holds some inaccuracy.
Sake is generally called a rice wine, but by definition, wine is anything that is made from fermented fruit.
In the case of sake, this beverage is formulated using fermented grain, which makes it much closer to a beer!
To understand why sake needs refrigeration, we need to look into the science and process behind its production.
What Makes Sake Different?
Sake is made using a rather simple process, but the sheer amount of accuracy and attention to detail required to make this beverage is the reason why it is so highly regarded around the world.
The journey of sake starts from a special type of brown rice that is cultivated according to the specifications of the brewery.
Once the grains arrive, they are dropped down into a polishing machine that gets rid of the outer layer of the rice, which consists of protein and fat.
This step is important because leaving the skin on would result in a widely different sake flavor!
The rice is polished until only 50% of the grain is left. In comparison, the rice grain that we eat at home is usually just superficially polished which preserves up to 90% of the grain!
These polished grains are highly regarded as one of the finest qualities of rice in the world.
The grains then go through a steaming process where they are constantly steamed (not boiled) for some time until they reach the right consistency.
This process is constantly monitored by master brewers on the factory floor. They are responsible for overseeing the manufacturing processes and ensuring the quality of their respective breweries.
The steamed rice is then transferred into a large container where they are left to grow mold.
Sake’s Relationship With Mold
Japanese sake is made from yellow koji-kin, a greenish/brownish mold that consumes the starch in the rice, converting it into sugar and then eventually, alcohol.
Did you know: Before koji-kin, sake was only available in a singular form called kuchikami-no-sake. This sake was produced by chewing grains and then spitting them in a pot. The added enzymes in the saliva helped break down the starch and eventually fermented the rice. Thank God for modern koji-kin!
The rice spends some time in a temperature-controlled environment where it slowly grows the required mold needed to make sake. The resulting product is then mixed with water and yeast to produce alcohol.
Why Is Sake So Well Regarded?
This delicious beverage gets its value and respect from the fact that the entire process, starting from the mixing of the water and yeast mixture, is done completely by hand.
It’s a strenuous job that requires constant monitoring and motion.
It can only be done by experts and the mixture is meticulously tested by master brewers to ensure a high-quality product that can also be exported abroad.
After all this hard work, the prepared sake is further processed and refined and then bottled up!
Why Does Sake Need To Be Refrigerated?
Sake ALWAYS requires refrigeration when it is opened.
An opened bottle of sake should be stored at 40°F to keep its flavor and aroma intact.
Rice wine contains delicate aromatic notes that are highly susceptible to their surrounding environment. This is why heating sake is not advised and should only be done by someone who has experience doing it.
Sake is best served cold or either at room temperature. Also, an opened bottle can be left over the counter for some time, which wouldn’t affect the shelf-life of the sake, but rather its quality and flavor.
While its subtle notes can stay preserved in an unopened bottle, as soon as you open it, the air gets into the bottle which slowly oxidizes the components that make up the sake, especially its flavor.
This same effect is accelerated as you turn the temperature up, which is why you shouldn’t leave sake out on a hot summer day.
If you have an unopened bottle, then you can choose to leave it on the counter, which wouldn’t affect the flavor or quality of the product. Or, you could store it directly in the fridge so that you get a chilled glass of sake right after opening the bottle.
Characteristics of Sake
Here are some of the most important characteristics of sake:
Sake has a sweet and mild flavor with hints of savory and sour notes. It also provides a mildly nutty and very subtle fruity aroma which is usually less than that of regular wine.
Chilled sake provides the same flavor. However, its sweet notes are much more accentuated, which gives this beverage an excellent mouthfeel.
Warmed sake is generally the same but the aromatic notes are highlighted depending on how the sake is heated, and for how long.
The flavor of sake is usually judged by professionals using certain flavor characteristics like Karami (dryness), nigami, (bitterness), shibumi (tartness), amami (sweetness), and sanmi (acidity).
Sake has a smooth, crisp, and almost pointed texture. It is largely clear but some varieties of sake have a cloudy appearance.
The cloudy appearance is due to the added rice residue that ends up in the bottle. This adds flavor and a very interesting texture to the sake.
The viscosity can also slightly vary between diluted and undiluted sake. In most cases, you should expect to find a largely smooth texture in all varieties.
Sake has an average ABV range of around 18-20% which is generally more than wine and beer.
The ABV can vary on the type of sake and the brewery, but most people should expect an ABV of at least 18%.
Sake can also have a 15% ABV if it is diluted with water. The undiluted beverage will naturally have a more concentrated alcoholic content.
You can check the back of the bottle to see the exact values for your particular product.
Storing Sake The Right Way
Here are some important tips to store sake:
- Always keep an unopened or opened bottle of sake away from sunlight. UV and heat exposure can greatly affect the quality and flavor of the sake within just a few hours.
- Sake can be warmed up using a double heating vessel, much like how you would heat chocolate over a double boiler. However, sake should never be boiled or it will lose all its quality and delicate notes.
- If you do want to serve it warm (which is great for the winter season) you can lightly warm it. Heat it indirectly using two containers. One holds the sake and the other boils water around the sake until it is adequately warm.
- Store the sake away from strong-smelling foods and keep the bottle at the end of the fridge at 40°F. Sake is notorious for taking on the aroma and flavor of stronger aromatic ingredients. That is why the bottle must also be kept tightly sealed to avoid air exposure.
- Always try to serve sake in a traditional sake set. These containers are made from high-grade ceramic or other composite materials that can help keep the beverage chilled for extended periods. You can find a good sake set here!
Sake is an excellent rice wine that provides a mild but very enjoyable flavor. Now that you know how to store an opened and unopened bottle of sake, here are some related questions:
Can Sake Be Stored In The Freezer?
Sake doesn’t require to be frozen because of its relatively higher alcoholic content which inhibits the growth of bacteria. But you could still freeze a bottle of sake with ease.
We wouldn’t recommend this though as it would greatly affect the overall quality and texture of the beverage.
Thawing frozen sake will likely cause a lot of molecular damage. That can change the delicate flavor and aromatic notes of the beverage.
Can Sake Be Used To Make Cocktails?
Yes, sake is a great pairing beverage that can be mixed in fun ways. There are a lot of recipes that take advantage of its mild and sweet flavor.
Sake provides an excellent base which is why we recommend trying different ingredients and coming up with imaginative beverage ideas!