Characteristics of Sake at Different Temperatures

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

The sake experience is often referred to as being multi-dimensional. And with good reason. The way which the flavor and aroma changes at different temperatures is one such dimension. In earlier articles we explained the health benefits of warm sake, looked at its origins, and how to prepare it. In this article, we look at the sort of typical characteristics that sake will exhibit at each mark along the thermometer.

Characteristics of Reishu

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Reishu generally refers to sake that is served between the temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees. Aromatic sake such as ginjo is quite suited to this temperature because of the way the elegant fruity and floral aromas blend into the palate and melt on the tongue. Any off-flavors can be masked to some extent by lowering the temperature even more. However, this type of sake often has a very clean, simple palate to allow the aroma to shine; the sort of palate that will start to lose its character and become too uniform below a certain point. The aroma may also go to sleep slightly. Just steer clear of temperatures close to zero if you want your ginjo to be fun.

Characteristics of Jouon

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Jouon is a difficult one to define, but it normally falls somewhere in the middle of chilled and warm. It often gets translated as room temperature in English, but it is not quite room temperature either. This ambiguity means it is actually quite difficult to drink sake jouon. Most restaurants classify jouon as 15 to 20 degrees. Either way, it is neither warm nor cold. Most professional sake tasting is done at this temperature because it is considered to be when all the flavors are the most balanced.

Any off-flavors will be clear and present, but you might find it helpful to identify these early on so that there are no surprises when you move into other temperature zones.

Characteristics of Okan

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Okan is the general Japanese term for all heated sake. Okan is also really where sake is at its element. Each temperature range of okan has a different name. Between 30 to 40 degrees, it is called nurukan (lukewarm). 45 degrees is called joukan. 50 degrees is called atsukan. And finally, 55 degrees is called tobikirikan. The flavor of sake changes every 10 degrees, so even within the sphere of okan, a myriad of different flavors can be enjoyed.
Generally, heating sake up increases the umami producing components, such as amino acids and lactic acid. Namazake in particular contains a lot of lactic acid which add up to an even richer flavor when heated. In okan, the alcohol can be felt quite strongly but the bitterness and off-flavor of the sake is masked. It is important to choose sake that is suited for okan. People who are not used to drinking sake might find sake more to their taste if they warm it, but it is important to note that the purpose of altering the temperature is not to make poor quality sake taste better; it will do nothing more than make it that bit more tolerable.

Summary

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Sake changes depending on the temperature zone. There is an infinite variety of people’s preferences so it is impossible to cater to everyone, but this article can perhaps serve as a point of reference. Searching for the best temperature zone for each sake is an exciting adventure that should be done without being bound by the sake classes.


So there you have it! Altering the temperature is a great way to discover the depth sake has to offer and add an extra dimension to your experience. You will be hard pressed to find another alcoholic beverage in the world that offers this many temperature ranges to play with. Sadly very few sake brewers list temperature serving guidelines on their labels — perhaps due to a lack of space or the practicality — so it’s a case of experiment and discover. And there is no better place to do that than KURAND where each branch is equipped with a special water bath for heating sake. The majority of sake at KURAND SAKE MARKET is refrigerated, but all the sake that is not refrigerated, next to the water bath is sake suited for enjoying at jouon or as okan. Please try these sakes warm! You also have the freedom to warm any of the sake in the fridge. You may even discover a new temperature and sake combination that even the brewers aren’t aware of!