Caring for sake is one of its greatest challenges. Sake is perishable, hence it is vulnerable to light, heat, and movement.
Unlike wine, sake has no sulphites or preservatives, so it should be consumed between 12 and 18 months after the shipping date, which is usually printed on the label or cap.
It has been said that sake does not have the “staying power” found in a bottle of wine and should be handled with more care. The following are some basic handling guidelines that will ensure your sake tastes as fresh as possible.
Keep sake out of UV light
This includes everything from the sun to florescent light. Although it won’t happen as quickly, sake that is stored in a refrigerator with florescent lights will change colour, and the flavour may be affected in the long run. This is why most sake comes in dark or frosted bottles, which is an easy way to protect the fluid from light exposure.
Keep sake out of heated areas
These include cabinets near a refrigerator where the compressors continually pump out heat.
Keep sake upright
This is the opposite of wine, where you need to keep bottles on their sides to keep the cork wet. Sake can be stored on its side, but some people prefer to keep the fluid from touching the bottom of the cap for long periods of time.
However, it’s not uncommon for bottles of sake to be big, with 1.8L being a standard size. So, if available refrigerator space makes that a tough fit, you’re probably better off standing it up on a dark shelf or cupboard than lying it down in a fridge.
Keep sake away from vibrating instruments
Keep sake away from items that can cause the brew to move in the bottle. This may include being near washing and drying machines, and refrigerators.
Keep a note of the dates of your inventory
This means that you should date your inventory and keep the bottles with the same shipping dates in the same section, with a focus on drinking the older brews first.
Keep sakes that say “store in refrigerator” in the refrigerator!
This includes single-pasteurized and unpasteurized brews, high-end Daiginjo and Ginjo sakes, almost all Junmai sakes (if you are a purist), and nigori sakes. That said, most double pasteurized sakes can live in cool – out of heat’s way – dark spaces for 18 months.
Keep unpasteurized and single pasteurized sakes in the refrigerator
This means that your wine fridge is not a good place to store raw sakes. Do not be fooled – a “nama” or “nama-chozo” sake needs to be kept at food refrigeration temperatures and not wine temperatures – think in terms of orange juice: would you put orange juice in your wine cabinet fridge?
Keep sakes in their box
This means that you should store sake bottles in their boxes if they come in one, because it provides an extra layer of UV protection.
Keep sakes in their case
This means that you are protecting the brews from UV light and vibration with an extra layer of padding. This also helps you keep the sakes with the same shipping dates together for timely consumption, as opposed to scattered sakes with differing dates.
Keep “Drink by” dates on or near bottles
This is an idea that makes a lot of sense for those who tend to buy and forget. A visual reminder will help you to drink your sakes in a timely manner, thus allowing you to taste the brew's peak flavour.
Sake storage is similar to wine storage in some aspects, but is different in other contexts. Cool and dark spaces usually suffice – wine cellars work for some sakes, but not all.
Wine refrigerators also work for only some sakes, not all.
Sake should not be considered like wine in terms of when to consume as sake has no sulphites to provide longer shelf life.
As a result, sake is more unstable than wine and should be considered more along the lines of beer with regards to when it is best to consume the brews for maximum enjoyment.
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