Sake, hot or cold?

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Japanese sake has been enjoying a surge in popularity in the last decade and is now enjoyed the world over. Sake is celebrated and appreciated in the same vein as fine wine.

While the similarities to wine and beer are many, sake is truly a unique beverage in a niche all its own. As you learn more about sake, you will recognize and taste a variety of flavors such as honeydew melon, strawberries, and white chocolate tones.

Sake is rice and water that has been fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Although sake drinks far more like wine, sake shares a similar brewing process to that of beer. This ancient libation has its roots in China, but it has become all Japanese. In fact, the word for sake in Japan is Nihonshu or “wine of Japan.” Brewers have been making sake in its current form for roughly 1,000 years, and today there are over 1,400 breweries producing anywhere between 15-25 product offerings each.

Sake conjures up images of Japan. As French wines, German beers, and other libations have become commonplace in the American market, the time is here to elevate sakes profile so that the beverage is better accepted, appreciated, and understood. Currently over 800 sakes are registered in the US and more and more brews continue to make their way to our shores.

As the sake market expands, consumers will be able to enjoy far more flavorful brews than the ones we have grown accustomed to—including those really harsh all-you-can-eat sushi bar sakes that are usually served warm.

It is important to remember that you are simply drinking rice and water. Therein rests the most amazing aspect about sake: rice and water can taste like so many delicate and expressive flavors. The Japanese word “nigori” is commonly translated as “cloudy,” and this style of sake has these beautiful white clouds of sake lees in it.

Sake kasu are particles of undissolved rice that remain after fermentation. It can be sweet or dry, thin or thick, still or sparking.

You might have heard it described as “unfiltered sake,” but it is better described as “cloudy sake.” It is a style that dates back to Kyoto in the mid-1960s and is very popular in the USA.

When serving nigori sake, tilt the bottle to gently mix the rice lees with the sake. Do not shake it because you are just trying to gently wake the clouds in the bottle before serving. The best serving temperature for nigori sake is cold.

Some brewers produce nigori that they recommend over a short temperature range from “over ice” to “room temperature.” Most often, the best serving temperature for nigori is between “yuki-hie” (snow cold) 40 degrees Fahrenheit/5 degrees Celsius and “suzu-hie” (refreshingly cold) 60 degrees Fahrenheit/15 degrees Celsius. Fridge-cold, like with full bodied white wines, is perfect for nigori sake.

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