What is hot sake?

Answered by Paul Bowser

Hot , also known as Kanzake, is a traditional where Japanese sake is heated before serving. This method of heating sake has a rich history that dates back over 2000 years. As an expert sommelier and brewer, I find the process of heating sake to be fascinating and it adds a unique dimension to the enjoyment of this traditional Japanese drink.

The heating of sake, known as “Okan suru” in Japanese, is believed to have originated during the Nara period (710-794) in Japan. During this time, sake was often heated to ward off the cold winter temperatures and to enhance its flavors. This practice became even more popular during the Edo period (1603-1868) when sake drinking culture flourished in Japan.

There are different temperatures at which sake can be heated, each offering a distinct taste and aroma. The most common temperatures for heating sake are around 40-45 degrees Celsius (104-113 degrees Fahrenheit), but it can also be enjoyed at higher temperatures. The choice of temperature depends on personal preference and the type of sake being served.

Heating sake can bring out different flavors and aromas that are not as prominent when served cold. The heat can mellow out the sharpness of certain sakes and enhance their umami flavors. It also brings out the rice and koji aromas, creating a comforting and soothing experience.

One of the key benefits of heating sake is that it allows the drinker to appreciate the sake's complexity in a different way. The warmth of the sake can be particularly enjoyable during colder months or when seeking a cozy and comforting drink. It is also believed to have relaxing and soothing effects on the body and mind.

To heat sake, there are a few traditional methods that can be used. One popular method involves using a tokkuri, a traditional sake serving vessel, and placing it in a hot bath known as a yuzamashi. The tokkuri is filled with sake and then heated gently in the hot water, ensuring a gradual and even heat distribution. This method prevents overheating and maintains the integrity of the sake's flavors.

Another method involves using a small pot or saucepan to heat the sake directly over a low flame. This method requires careful monitoring to prevent overheating and to ensure that the sake does not boil, as boiling can alter the flavors and characteristics of the sake.

When serving hot sake, it is often enjoyed in small ceramic cups called ochoko. These cups are designed to retain heat and enhance the aroma and flavors of the sake. The hot sake is poured into the cups and then enjoyed slowly, savoring the warmth and complexity of the drink.

Hot sake, or Kanzake, is a traditional Japanese beverage that involves heating sake before serving. This method has a long history in Japan and adds a unique dimension to the enjoyment of sake. The heat enhances the flavors and aromas of the sake, creating a comforting and soothing experience. Whether enjoyed during colder months or simply to appreciate sake in a different way, hot sake offers a delightful and memorable drinking experience.