One thing that puts many people off making their first purchase of sake is not knowing how long it will keep or how to store it properly. Does sake even have an expiry date? Nothing should keep you from experiencing sake, so this article will attempt to provide the answers to all these questions.
The Expiry Date of Sake is Not Printed on Its Label
You certainly won’t find an expiry date printed on the sake label.
Printing the date of manufacture is mandatory, so you will find this, but this is not the date when the sake was brewed; it is the date when the sake was bottled.
How Long Is The Shelf Life of Sake?
For sake there isn’t really such a thing as an expiry date because sake will never deteriorate to the extent that it will become harmful beyond the usual effects of consuming alcohol. That being said, the flavour may start to change after a period of time. This so-called shelf life varies by sake. To enjoy sake at its best, we strongly suggest finishing the bottle within this period of time. The main thing that determines how long a sake will last is whether it has been pasteurized or not. Some sake is pasteurized; some isn’t.
The estimated shelf life for both pasteurized and unpasteurized sake is listed below.
1 year after the date of manufacture.
Unpasteurized Sake (Namazake)
If refrigerated, 6 – 7 months after the manufacturing date.
Unpasteurized sake will not keep for very long outside the fridge, 2-4 hours at most in a dark, cool environment*
※ The shelf life mentioned is only an estimation
After production, sake is normally immersed in boiling water, just before bottling, to sterilize and stabilize it. This pasteurization step is called hiire in Japanese. Namazake (unpasteurized) sake has basically skipped pasteurization so it is fresher, but it also very unstable, and will not last nearly as long as its pasteurized counterpart.
While most sake stores in Japan only sell sake well within its shelf life, some old sake stores continue to sell for longer. Using the above information as a guide, it is best to check the shelf life before you purchase.
3 Basic Rules of Storing Sake
1. Keep it Away From Sunlight!
Sake is extremely vulnerable to direct sunlight.
UV radiation causes the components and color of sake to change rapidly. It may even sometimes taint the aroma, causing it to develop a burnt aroma like singed hair.
Make sure to keep your sake away from direct sunlight at all times!
2. The Right Temperature Control is Vital
Sake is also extremely vulnerable to changes in temperature, so you should always keep your sake refrigerated.
The ideal temperature is 5-6℃. If this is not possible, the next best option is a cool place set below 15℃.
3. Never Leave The Bottle Open Without a Cap
Never leave the bottle without a cap.
Sake’s biggest enemy is oxygen.
When sake comes into contact with oxygen it oxidizes. Ginjos in particular lose their fresh aromas and develop aromas of baked fruit,honey,caramel and dried fruit, which while perfectly acceptable in an aged sake, do not suit the delicate profile of a ginjo.
Make sure to consume your sake within a few days after opening. In general sake is best enjoyed young.
Never chuck old sake. It makes a great ingredient for stews, hot pots, and soups.
The best way to store your sake is to decant it into a small container and keep it in a cool dry place. You can also reduce contact with oxygen by using a wine preserver or a tool that vacuum sucks the oxygen out of the bottle.
Pouring into a smaller size bottle is another great way to reduce contact with oxygen because the surface area in contact with oxygen is smaller. Make sure to keep the gap between the cap and the sake as small as possible. This is one of the reasons that sake is best stored upright as opposed to laid down.
Be sure to clean the bottle / container thoroughly before transferring the sake to it.
Bonus: Long-term Aged Sake
Long-aged sake, called choki jukusei in Japanese, is a different type of sake entirely. While most sake is shipped young, some is held back and put into storage for an extended period of time.
Although not a legal requirement, the Association of Long-term aged sake dictates that the standard length of aging should be at least 3 years or longer.
It’s the unique color and flavor of long-term aged sake that makes it so loved by the Japanese.
Sake has to be produced in a particular way that brings out richer flavours that develop well with maturity, so it is difficult, but not impossible, to achieve get good results from aging sake for long periods at home. It takes practice and a little knowledge about which sake ages the best.
Hopefully, that answers the question. Now there is nothing putting you off buying that bottle of sake you have always wanted to try. Get out there and discover this magical beverage. Here in Japan, KURAND provides the perfect space to discover many different types of sake. Be sure to pay us a visit the next time you come to Japan. Our staff will be waiting to welcome you.