I remember my first experience drinking a hot sake. My family and I were on a holiday in the Gold Coast and it had been chilly the entire trip, something I was not used to, considering the climate we have in Singapore. We decided on a Japanese restaurant to satisfy our cravings. A Teppanyaki restaurant to be exact. And there it was, a heated flask of hot sake served, and my ochoko (sake cup) filled. Holding it was blissful, it kept me warm when I was just shivering outside the restaurant. That first sip that trickled down my throat made me go “ahhh”, similarly echoed by my family members. That was the point I became a kanzake (warmed sake) convert, only having experienced cold sake before that.
In Singapore’s context, a hot sake wouldn’t make sense. It’s the Yin-Yang effect of drinking something warm or hot when the weather feels cold that we rejoice in. But we’re a most interesting people. We have Bak Kut Teh and Sup Kambing in this sweltering heat, piping hot cups of Kopi and Teh while complaining that we’re melting.
That brings me to my point: should we only have cold sake in Singapore? Or does hot sake have its place? The answer is yes, we can and should, have both hot and cold sake in Singapore.
Singapore’s climate is notoriously hot or wet, depending on the month. A cold Tokubetsu Junmai or Honjozo is perfect for downing because the beads of sweat are trickling down my face, and I really want to gulp my sake. That cooling sensation when drinking a cold sake is the opposite but same effect as the earlier mentioned experience of the hot sake in Gold Coast. Yin-Yang effect.
A cold sake also allows Ginjo and Daiginjos to shine. Such delicate flavours and aroma are enhanced when served in a wine glass, and are even better when there’s good company at the dining table. That said, we have air-conditioning nearly everywhere in Singapore. As I am writing this, I am already seated in an air-conditioned office. On such occasions, a hot sake has its opportunity to shine. Sake, being the alcoholic beverage with the highest count of umami, can have its complex flavours and aroma develop when heated up. It’s the same as heating up your food, in a sense. What sake do we then heat up? The common reply: low grade sake, and that can’t be further from the truth!
My best kanzake experience thus far took place in January this year, when my colleagues and I were having dinner in Hiroshima. It was an isshobin (1.8L) of Kamoizumi’s Shusen Junmai Ginjo, and we knocked it back like it was a PET bottle of Yeo’s. It was delicious when warmed up, earthy and nutty, a totally different sake as compared to when it was cold. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say that it tastes better hot, and then warm, rather than cold.
I’ve since replicated heating up the same sake in Singapore, and it tastes just as good as when I was in Japan. But only now, in the comfort of my air-conditioned room.
Tips for heating up sake at home:
- Pour your sake into a glass/cup
- Fill a bowl with hot water, doesn’t have to be boiling. You’re not cooking your sake
- Place your glass/cup into the bowl
- Check on the temperature of your sake. Use your pinkie if you must
- Your glass/cup should be ready in about 5-7 mins, like a half-boiled egg
Not all sake taste great warm, but not all sake taste great cold either. Hot or cold, the choice is yours. So give it a go and try it for yourself, you never know what you might stumble upon. Welcome to the wonderful world of sake!
For a selections of sakes recommended to be warmed, please visit
PS: With the launch of this article, we will have a small discount on all the sakes in our warm sake collection from 14 May to 17 May. Kanpai!