Hot Sake VS Cold Sake
Hot VS Cold Sake... What's the difference?
There are many questions and misconceptions around Sake, especially the differences between when and why some Sakes are served cold and some warm or hot.
The most traditional way to serve Sake is hot, into square wooden cups called masu. The reason why Sake was served this way in the past centers around how Sake was brewed before modern technological advances made possible Sakes that were suitable for serving chilled.
For thousands of years Sake was brewed, aged, stored and served in wooden (usually cedar) vessels. All of this wood contact made for Sakes that were rustic, strongly flavored, woody, and sweeter than the styles of Sake that can be produced today. Serving the Sakes produced this way hot helped to mask and mellow these strong flavors and present a more harmonious and pleasant drink.
Around 50 years ago advances in brewing technology make new styles of Sake possible. Temperature controlled stainless steel and ceramic brewing vessels, new rice strains, newly cultured yeast strains and advances in rice milling technology created new Sakes that were delicate, aromatic, complex, and elegant. Sakes that didn't need wood or heat to make them palatable and teeming with ethereal qualities that would have masked or destroyed by heat and cedar ageing.
So that means "good" Sakes are served cold and "bad" Sakes are served hot, right? Not so fast. It is true that at many restaurants the house pour hot Sake is not what anyone would call top quality, but there great Sakes produced today that are meant to be served hot, warm and room temperature as well as cold.