Although saké has traditionally been served warm, advances in brewing technology have led to nuanced saké flavours that are in fact destroyed by heat. Most premium sakés taste best when served slightly chilled. If saké is too cold, however, many of its nuances of flavour are masked, just as a wine's would be. Saké, also like wine, presents a different face at different temperatures. Each saké has its own optimum temperature, and this will vary, with the saké and, of course, your own preferences. As a general guideline and as a starting point, you might want to consider the following:

Ginjo and other premium saké are good slightly chilled. Junmai, with its slightly fuller flavour and slightly higher acidity, often comes into its own slightly cool or at room temperature.

Saké that is warmed should not be too hot, but rather just above body temperature, about 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 45 degrees Celsius).

Warming Saké

Saké can warmed by placing a filled flask (tokkuri) in a saucepan of hot water or even in a microwave. However, allowing a chilled saké to warm up and into room temperature, while tasting it from time to time, is an excellent way to find what works best for any particular saké. It will help you match it with food as well as discover what you actually like. Warmed saké should be just above body temperature, about 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to 45 degrees Celsius). However, a premium saké is best served slightly chilled. Warming the saké has a tendency to mask the true flavours intended by the brewer.

How to Pour

With saké as with beer, pouring for others is a common custom which conveys a sense of generosity and involvement. Small cups (ochoko or guinomi) and a larger serving flask (tokkuri) allow for many opportunities to refill the cups of your friends, for they to refill yours, and each others'. In formal situations, the tokkuri is held with two hands when pouring. The person receiving should lift his or her cup off the table, holding it with one hand (usually the right) and lightly supporting it with the other.

The more formal the situation is, the more that such standards are observed. Even in informal situations, pouring saké for one's table companions is the norm, although pouring and receiving parties generally revert to the more natural one-hand grip. Among close friends, after the first round or so, all pouring rituals are often abandoned for convenience. Pouring for yourself is known as tejaku and can be rude or convivial depending upon context.

Your companions may feel an uncontrollable urge to refill your cup when it is empty. Resisting their entreaties to give you more is futile, so the best tactic is to allow your cup to be filled and then take tiny, tiny sips so that it never goes dry.

Storing Saké

If you don't plan on drinking your saké soon after purchase, please keep it refrigerated or in a cool, dark place. Prolonged exposure to heat or direct light will soon spoil your saké. Ack!

It is generally best to consume your sake soon after you purchase it. Although some kinds of saké are sometimes aged, and are often wonderful, most saké is best consumed within a few months after purchase. If newly purchased saké tastes strange (like urine, for example), just take it back.

Once you open your bottle of saké, it is best to finish it within two or three hours. This shouldn't be too hard, especially if you are with friends. A sword once unsheathed should not be returned unbloodied to the scabbard and all that stuff. If you simply can't finish it all, please store it in your refrigerator and drink the remainder within the next two days. Premium saké, once opened, begins to oxidize, and this noticeably distorts the flavour.

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