how to warm sake without tokkuri
Sake How-To

How to Warm Sake Without Tokkuri (and Just What is a Tokkuri)

There are many dilemmas about drinking sake. One of them is whether it is better to warm it or not, A.K.A. the ‘hot or not’ debate. If you decide to heat it, the next one is how to warm sake without a tokkuri.

One of my earliest memories of sake is watching the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, and hearing Sean Connery profess his love for sake. But only if served at the correct temperature of precisely 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit (36.9 degrees Celsius)! The film is from 1967 and testifies that sake was usually heated to some degree at the time.

Until the 1980s with the arrival of premium sake, sake was mostly heated. The very process of heating was regarded as something of an art form. There used to be a person in charge of the heating of sake called an ‘o-kan-ban’, and this job held a high status in restaurants across Japan. 

While there are certain rules, the decision to heat or not to heat is really as much about personal preference as anything else. Sake is probably unique in that even a slight temperature change can lead to quite a noticeable difference in flavor.

So why wouldn’t you play around with heating it up and see what flavors you can release and what you learn from it? In his book “Sake Confidential,” John Gauntner, the only non-Japanese certified Master of Sake Tasting, quotes sake masters as professing that the best sakes are those that perform across a wide range of temperatures and can be enjoyed both chilled and warm.

In fact, you can enjoy sake anywhere from 0 to 55 degrees Celsius (32 to 131 Fahrenheit). You can’t really go too wrong here.

If you decide to try warming sake, you don’t need elaborate equipment or a degree in chemistry to try. You don’t need a tokkuri (sake decanter) either. Most glass or ceramic containers will do!

It is well within the capabilities of most kitchens to do a more than adequate job. Just approach this most versatile of alcohols with an adventurous spirit and have fun with it.

How to Warm Sake Without Tokkuri – 4 Options

how to warm sake without tokkuri

1. Microwave

This option may not satisfy purists as it heats the sake too quickly and inconsistently. Yet, it will be the most convenient way to heat sake for most drinkers. You may have to experiment a bit with the settings and timings before finding the right formula.

As a guideline, try a 600W setting for 40 seconds for 180ml of sake. Swill around if it isn’t hot enough. Heat for a further 20 seconds until you are happy.

Instructions

  1. Pour your sake into a glass or ceramic container which is microwavable.
  2. Put some plastic wrap over the top to retain flavor and assist heating.
  3. Put your microwave to a lower power setting (600W).
  4. Heat for 40 seconds for 180ml and see the results you’ll get.
  5. Continue to heat using short intervals of power to get to the right temperature.

2. Hot Water Bath

This more traditional method heats the sake more slowly. Overall, it is the best way to heat sake and is not that hard.

Instructions

  1. Fill a saucepan or similar about ¾ with water. The water should go up to at least half the level of the vessel you are warming. Ideally, cover the level of the sake if possible.
  2. Heat the water only up to when it is bubbling vigorously.
  3. Turn off the heat.
  4. Place your container in the water for 3 minutes. Either measure the temperature with a thermometer or taste to decide if it is ready for drinking.
  5. Serve. You may need to wrap a cloth or small towel around your container if it is too hot to hold.

3. Heated Glass

This method is excellent for small servings, and when you are looking for just a tiny temperature change.

Instructions

  1. Pour boiling water into a heat resistant glass or ceramic container. 
  2. Pour out the water leaving a warmed glass.
  3. Pour in the sake and leave for a minute or two.
  4. Serve

4. Sous Vide or Sake warmer

You can consider these methods if you are a commercial operator or an obsessive amateur! These offer custom made solutions and a great deal of control. Please refer to the link below for the six recognized temperature ranges.

Instructions

Sous Vide

  1. Set the sous vide to the temperature you are looking to serve the sake
  2. Place the glass or ceramic container in the water.
  3. Wait for the sake to reach the desired temperature.
  4. Serve

Sake Warmer

There are several designs available for the sake warmer but they will all follow similar principles. It is best to follow the instructions provided by the maker.

Frequently Asked Questions

how to warm sake without tokkuri

Can you heat any sake?

Yes! You should remember that you can overheat sake, so do the heating gently and alter the temperature by just a few degrees as you develop more experience. 

What are the recommended temperature ranges for serving sake?

There are many designated temperatures for serving warm sake. Take a look at six of the optimal temperature ranges!

What temperature should warm sake be served at? 

It depends on personal preference. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to go higher than 45 degrees Celsius, 113 degrees Fahrenheit or lower than 5 degrees Celsius 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Many recommend around body temperature – around 96 degrees Fahrenheit, 36 degrees Celsius. 

What happens to the sake when you heat it? 

It releases more aromas and gets sweeter.

How long does sake keep?

You should treat it like a bottle of wine. So, be ready for a party if you get your hands on the 1.8l bottle – what the Japanese called ‘ishobin’. You can keep a bottle in a refrigerator to extend the drinking life.

If you don’t have a thermometer, are there any other methods?

A kitchen or specific sake thermometer is highly advisable. If you don’t have a thermometer, there are two options:

  1. Use the 3 three minutes in boiled water guide and then manually taste to determine if you like the flavor.
  2. Touch the base of the vessel to get a feel of how the heat is radiating.

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