There are a wide range of temperatures at which to enjoy sake. For example, JOUON (room temperature), HIYA (unheated) and ATSUKAN (warmed up). The HIYA type delivers a tastier, more-open sake, whereas the ATSUKAN style is simply amazing.
There was a time when, in some Japanese bars, even if you ordered HIYA it would be served chilled instead. There is will be no shortage of people who have had this slightly surprising experience.
What is the difference between HIYA and REISHU?
In actual fact, the term HIYA（冷や） refers to sake served at room temperature and REISHU （冷酒）refers to sake served chilled. Semantically speaking, in their makeup both Japanese words carry the same ‘cold’(冷) nuance. However, it is the Japanese character ‘YA’(や) in HIYA that sets them apart.
Using the word HIYA even though the sake is not cold may seem a little strange to new comers.
To drink sake chilled is a new trend.
There is a reason for this. In the past, when fridges were a rarity, there were only two temperature variations: unheated and heated. Chilling sake was something you couldn’t do easily and so HIYA referred to any type of sake that had not been heated up, in other words room temperature.
Basically, historically speaking, serving chilled sake called REISHU is a more recent trend.
Despite the fact that it is thought that warm sake was divided up, just like it is now, into NURUKAN (lukewarm 40℃) and ATSUKAN (hotsake) etc , there was little appeal to serve sake chilled. Then, in the 1980s, there was a boom in GINJO type sake and as the refrigerator became commonplace the idea of chilled sake started to spread.
How have bar owners adapted?
The difference between HIYA and REISHU might be a no-brainer for the sake aficionado but to a new younger audience it is not quite so clear-cut.
We asked an owner of a bar in the Bunkyo district of Tokyo, who told us that an increase in young customers has meant that when someone orders HIYA he now makes a point of double checking whether it is chilled or at room temperature that they want. Apparently quite a lot of young people are not drinking sake at room temperature.
Personally speaking, I think room temperature is the best temperature at which to experience the unique flavor of sake.
Alcohol beverages that have a different flavor and a different name depending on the temperature are still quite rare outside Japan.
Depending on the temperature there are actually a number of different terms.
The extent to which the temperature influences the flavour of sake is what sets it apart from other alcoholic beverages. It is a characteristic which the natural climate, topography and culture have helped to shape. This is the very culture that we want to show off to the whole world. There will already be people for whom this is sake’s charm.
How does temperature change sake?
Generally speaking, from HIYA to HINATAKAN the sake is sweeter and has less bitterness. In other words, warming it up brings out sweeter flavours from the sake.
And then, once you enter the territory of HADAHIE to TOBIKIRI (PIPING HOT) you get a clean finish and pleasant dryness. (of course this might vary depending on the makeup of the sake and or the individual’s palate).
Once again, depending on the temperature range of sake, the flavour and nose of sake changes. In some cases, the flavour transforms.
Therefore, to a sake aficionado the difference between unheated and chilled sake is a matter of life or death. Unheated, the flavour is enhanced, whereas chilled sake has a more florid bouquet and is lighter on the tongue.
Perhaps the idea that UNHEATED = ROOM TEMPERATURE is already obsolete.
However, recently, at a lot of bars chilling the sake in large fridges has become something of the norm so in many ways the problem has already been solved.
Times have moved on, chilling is now the norm so there is probably no longer any need for young newcomers to have to remember that unheated is the same as room temperature. While I am a little suspicious, I am ready to accept that this is one of the positive results of the evolution of sake.
Original article written by shima chiroko