READING: The Reason We Don’t Age Sake

Sake is a staple in Japan that dates back to 712 AD. And over the past decade, its popularity has soared. Many who stray into this territory often struggle to come to terms with its complexities. How should one drink it? What do you pair it with? And more importantly, how soon do you pop the bottle? In this second part of our series of Ask An Expert, we broach the subject of ageing sake. Will it improve with time? Sean Ou explains why.

Sean Ou, Wine & Sake Expert

When you become a Sake Samurai, it means you’re a part of a very small and elite global society of sake evangelists. That also means pledging to promote Japanese culture, the drink and protecting sake’s honour. Sean Ou, 36, plans to be one and we hope he gets it. He graduated from getting sloshed on bourbon to earning his badge as a sommelier while stewarding for Singapore Airlines. He never quite appreciated the goodness of spirits at first, but his desire to achieve more superseded and sure enough, he got hooked.

Sake’s a delicate subject and is usually made for immediate drinking. Store it upright in a dark space and drink it within two or three years.
Why don’t we age sake?

Unlike whisky and wine, the process of keeping sake is a bit more delicate. You can’t keep it for too long, and you usually have to drink it within the first two years. At most, three. To prolong its life, always store it upright and away from the sun. Store them at room temperature, and keep the unpasteurised ones in the fridge. To be safe, store them all in the fridge to slow down the ageing.

Ageing changes its profile. It takes on a more tertiary profile and develops earthy tones of caramel and mushroom.

Sean Ou
Check out Hassiseo by Kikuzakari, an eight-year-old Junmai Daiginjo distinguished by a warm, cherry nose and a palate full of chestnuts and plums.

If you find it off, you get pretty much the same indicators as a bad wine — pickled vegetables, premature oxidation and musky aromas. But experiment and try it out for yourself. It could turn out good. Otherwise, you can always salvage it by adding it to seasoning in robatayaki.

You see, ageing changes its profile. I won’t say it goes bad, but it’s just different. It takes on a more tertiary profile and develops earthy tones of caramel and mushroom. Fresh sake, on the other hand, exudes primary nuances of fresh fruit. Deliberately aged sake, or koshu, is definitely more of an acquired taste. Hassiseo by Kikuzakari, an eight-year-old Junmai Daiginjo, is distinguished by a warm, cherry nose and a palate full of chestnut and plum.

Fun fact: Back in the old days, maybe the 1800s, people drank it aged. Then breweries started getting taxed as soon as the sake got pressed, and it became too costly for ageing. The drink was therefore made to be drunk immediately, and the culture became a norm. Besides, it tastes better fresh.

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