The temperatures of Sake

Inspired by a facebook post from a friend of mine, a translator and long-time resident of Japan.

Disclaimer: I’ve been teetotal since 1969 and have no personal experience of sake, other than it smells divine to me. If I were a drinker, I would love to sample sake in all its many permutations.

One thing to note: the Japanese word sake (酒) encompasses all types of liquor. The official word for the fermented rice wine that is under consideration here is 日本酒 (nihonshu), literally “Japanese liquor.”

What is the difference between "Hot Warm", "Nuru Warm" and "Kami-Kan"?  [Basic knowledge of sake]

From a Japanese article about basic understanding of sake:

One of the charms of Japanese sake is that it can be tasted at a wide range of temperatures, from cold to warm. In fact, sake changes its fragrance and taste depending on the temperature. For example, when cooled, the fragrance becomes gorgeous, and the mouth feel becomes sharp. In addition, the umami¹ becomes lighter and the alcoholic sensation may be less. On the other hand, warming spreads the scent, makes the mouth feel mellow, increases umami, and spreads the sweetness. In this way, the same liquor has completely different aromas and flavors depending on the temperature. If you understand this, you will be able to know at what temperature to drink depending on the type of sake.

The above screen capture shows the various temperatures at which sake can be served. From the same Japanese website linked above, a key to understanding:

熱 (Netsu) – Hot temperatures

55° C (131° F)
tobikiri-kan (extra hot)

50° C (122° F)
atsu-kan (hot)

45° C (113° F)
jōkan (warm)

温 (Yutaka) – Warm temperatures

40° C (104° F)
nuru-kan (lukewarm – literally “slimy hot”)

35° C (95° F)
hitohada-kan (human skin warm)

30° C (86° F)
hinata-kan (sunny warm)

常温 (jōon) – Normal temperature

20° C (68° F)
前後 冷や
zengo hiya (almost cold)

冷 (hiya) – Cold temperatures

15° C (59° F)
suzubie (cool)

10° C (50° F)
hanabie (flower cold)

5° C (41° F)
yukibie (snow cold)

Other charts include other temperatures, and there may be still more that I’m not aware of:

-10° C (-10° F)

mizore (sleet cold)

A simple search on the internet for facts about sake will turn up encyclopedic volumes of information, guides, suggestions, and opinions about the various kinds of sake, how they are to be served, what rituals to observe and in what circumstances, what temperature they are best enjoyed at, which foods various kinds of sake should be served with, and on and on to the lemniscate – clearly the oenophiles and beer afficionados have their enthusiastic Japanese counterparts.

For myself, I won’t be able to explore all of these wondrous variations in this life, but if you can, I hope that you find great joy in the exploration.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

¹umami is often referred to as the “fifth taste,” along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Meaning essentially “savoriness” in Japanese, according to Merriam-Webster, “umami can be experienced in foods such as mushrooms, anchovies, and mature cheeses, as well as in foods enhanced with monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a sodium salt derived from glutamic acid.”

Alcohol: joyous, insidious, confusing, and funny.

“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”

― Charles BukowskiWomen


– What are you doing there?
– I’m drinking.
– Why are you drinking?
– To forget.
– To forget what?
– To forget that I’m ashamed.
– Ashamed of what?
– Ashamed of drinking!

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


I’m a drinker with a writing problem. I only drink on two occasions—when I’m thirsty and when I’m not.

– Breandán Ó Beacháin





After celebrating a bit too enthusiastically, a gentleman staggered out of a bar and began weaving down the street toward home. Ahead of him two nuns approached, and being solicitous of his impaired condition, discreetly parted to let him walk between them.



In a moment the fellow stopped, scratched his head, and said to himself, “Now how did she do that?”



“Dinna spend money on drink, but aye keep a corkscrew.”


A friend who’s in liquor production,
Has a still of astounding construction,
The alcohol boils,
Through old magnet coils,
He says that it’s proof by induction.

David Letterman’s Top Ten Least Popular Alcoholic Beverages

10. Really, Really, Really, Really Old Milwaukee
9. D Train Scotch
8. Amaretto Di Gotti
7. Orville Redenbacher’s Butter Flavored Vodka
6. McBourbon
5. Dinty Moore’s Pork N’ Booze
4. Ernest, Julio, Tom and Roseanne Gallo
3. Dr. Scholl’s Medicated Tequila
2. Seagrams 7, Mets 0
1. Chivas Regis

“There’a a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.”
― Stephen King

I’ve been mostly teetotal all my life, and fully so since 1969. My Italian relatives would give me a little wine cut with water at dinner, because that’s what was done. When I got really sick at home, mother would make me a toddy with milk, honey, and a half-jigger of brandy. I feel just great, mommy! And one time – once only – in college, I got falling-down drunk at a party up the canyon, and the next morning had the mother of all five-alarm hangovers, one which made the following seem like a romp in the park on a spring day:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

From Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.

It was at that point that I decided that alcohol was not my preferred vehicle for having a good time. Bill Cosby dealt with that particular subject expertly here:

Now in some ways, this is a pity. There are some lovely wines and liqueurs out there – I remember fondly some Lambruscos and Irish coffees and some of Uncle Carlo’s home-made wine and those aforementioned hot-toddies, to name a few. It’s a shame that synthehol isn’t a thing. On the other hand, there are some truly hellish concoctions out there as well.

History has shown how well prohibition worked – for good or ill, alcohol will always be a part of human society – but for all the humor and enjoyment humans can find in responsible drinking, the social costs of alcohol abuse are staggering. Despite unflagging efforts by organizations such as MADD, penalties for impaired driving in this country are a joke – killing while drunk behind the wheel is often punished with a slap on the wrist, while repeat offenders manage to avoid serious consequences again and again. This must stop; if we are to consider ourselves a civilized species, the social right to a “good time” ends where people and property are negatively impacted.

I got sober. I stopped killing myself with alcohol. I began to think: ‘Wait a minute – if I can stop doing this, what are the possibilities?’ And slowly it dawned on me that it was maybe worth the risk.
Craig Ferguson

The Old Wolf has spoken.