Heating Sake – Tips and Tricks

There seems to be a theory that how you heat sake affects how it tastes. More precisely, putting sake in the microwave is frowned upon by many tipplers and connoisseurs. Sake warmed in hot water and sake warmed in a microwave taste completely different, or the theory goes.

Well, I took it upon myself to find out the truth. I am more of a traditionalist in most things, but this just didn’t make sense. Energy is energy, and it shouldn’t make a hoot of difference!

I began with one of my absolute favorites for warmed sake: Kamoizumi from Hiroshima. Rich, earthy and straw colored, I felt I could easily note any differences that arose.

Next, the vessels. Got to be Bizen. I selected two Bizen tokkuri and two Bizen chokko, almost identical. I warmed the tokkuri themselves in warm water beforehand, as they were quite cold off-the-shelf. I also allowed the sake to come up to room temperature before beginning to avoid the unpredictability of drastic temperature changes.

I then got a thermometer. Even slight differences in temperature affect flavor, so I wanted to control the process as much as I could. I used the O-kan meter, a thermometer specifically designed for tokkuri insertion – which I recommend for those with disposable time and income. It has these wings on the top that keep it from sinking all the way into a tokkuri. If you’re in Japan, you can find it at Seibu Loft for 1000 yen. A must-buy for sake otaku (geeks).

One tokkuri of sake was heated in a microwave oven, and checked every 20 seconds or so. The other was simultaneously heated in a pan of water over a gas flame. When the temperature of each reached 48°C, my arbitrarily chosen target for the exercise, I had my assistant fill the two chokko, not telling me which was which. And I sipped.

And sipped. And slurped, swished and thought. And sniffed. And what did I find?

There was, to my honest and great surprise, a difference.  The flame-heated sake was ever so slightly livelier. Almost imperceptible, it was, but there was indeed a difference. The microwaved sake was a bit quieter. It seemed to me that the flame-heated version brought out more of the original nature of the sake.

It wasn’t just me. In an equally blind test, my assistant came up with the exact same results. The flame-heated sake was a bit livelier.

However, we really had to search for that difference. We had to try as hard as we could to find it. Considering how much effort went into the flame heating and how little went in to the microwave version, I would go out on a limb and say it isn’t worth it. The purists might boil me (or microwave me) alive for saying so, but unless you are going to focus on nothing but the sake, the labor/performance curve is in favor of the microwave.

So, try it yourself and let me know what you discover with your taste-test, I’d love to have hear about your experiments.

More to Come

Coming up in a future post learn about why it is still hard to get great sake in America. For more information on great sake take a look at the Sake Notebook where you can discover 250 different sake to try – either heated or cooled – it’s up to you!  If you’d like to try more than 90 varieties of Sake and receive your Level 1 Sake Specialist Certification, join me at the Sake Professional Course  in Portland, Oregon on November 7, 8 and 9. For more information, click here, or email us at info@sake-world.com.

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