February 2005

WARM SAKE - Cold Nights

Posted by Beau Timken in 2005, February, Newsletter

As many of you know True Sake carries a majority of sakes that do well chilled, a.k.a cold sake. It's not that we frown on hot sake; rather we find most consumers prefer cold sake once they have tried it. Part of the reason for their immediate love for chilled sake is that these sakes tend to be premium versus the lower quality sakes that most restaurants and bars use for their hot "house" sake. This begs the question - are there better sakes for warming? And this doubly begs the answer - ABSOLUTELY! Certain sakes perform better at different temperatures. The trick is to find a sake's "sweet spot" as per temperature.


I was once at an "izakaya" (a sake-focused restaurant) that specialized in all things octopus, including live octopus sashimi, in Osaka with John Gauntner. A customer who recognized John ordered us his favorite sake as gift. As soon as we finished said gift another round came and we sheepishly said please no more thank you. But the fellow sake lover said "no please taste, it is still the same sake at a different temperature!" Suffice it to say the same sake came to us in four waves of four different temperatures. Both John and I have done lots of homework on finding a sake's sweet spot in terms of its peak-flavor temperature, and quite often we ask the brewers themselves. On many back labels in Japan there will be a temperature chart with five little images that represent a sake on the rocks, chilled sake, room temperature sake, warmed sake, and hot sake. And there will be a little circle placed by the brewers over the temperature image that they feel suits that sake the best. In the US, many of these labels have been covered over by our FDA warning stickers about pregnant women and heavy machinery (and pregnant women operating heavy machinery).


The point being is that inside each bottle of sake there are so many potentially different flavors, and all one has to do is to try them all! So when the weather is cold try heating things up. Upon your next visit to your local sushi shack ask for your favorite chilled sake to be slightly warmed up to "Nuru-kan"! If you like dryer sakes ask them to warm it up to "Kan", which is the temperature between slightly warmed and hot. And if you must have it piping hot then ask the chef which junmai on their list would warm up to "Atsu-kan" the best! If they offer the regular house hot sake thinking that you do not know the difference then perhaps it's time for a new sushi destination.


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