We hear this question a lot. Almost as much as "I have this bottle of sake that someone gave me 3 or 4 years ago. Is it ok?"
Well unfortunately it probably isn't :-(
Sake has a shelf life of approximately 1, maybe 2 years. Remember, it has no preservatives. At all. It is meant to, in the majority, be drank fresh.
Now there are some exemptions to this. If you look at a use by date or a production date that is in excess of 2 years don't automatically assume it is no good. There are exceptions.
- The sake has been kept at 5 degrees or less for a period of time. Some makers will keep their sakes for a period of time, in the bottle, to let it settle and mature. But it has to be at the most 5 degrees or lower.
- Some suppliers, like us here at SuperSake, keep their sake in refrigerated containers. We keep all our sake at 5 degrees because firstly we have 'nama' sake (unpasteurised) and it necessitates this temperature (otherwise it will go off) and secondly it essentially halts the ageing process. We like to keep it fresh for you.
- Some sake shuzos deliberately age their sake in earthenware vessels to produce a certain flavour. These are known as 'koshu' nihonshu (sake). It gives it a slightly bitter, burnt, caramel like flavour that appeals to many connoisseurs. We ourselves have been in a sake shuzo and observed firsthand in Kyoto the storage of thousands of these vessels and tasted the product, at various ages. It is not for everyone but some people will like it.
- Some shuzos age their product but do so at low temperatures. We feel this is the best and in our opinion it tasted the best (but we could be wrong). In our portfolio we believe Kinmon from Akita does this. We have a 11 year old koshu nihonshu, the 'Yamabuki'. We like the taste. We also have a much older and more expensive one from Chiba, the 'Koshigoi' which is circa 1987 and is aged at room temperature.
- Koshu nihonshu (sake) will be darker in colour, often Amber and sometimes black like soy sauce.
We hope this clears up the many misconceptions concerning this topic. In summary ...
- if it's past 2 years and been kept at home it's probably gone bad.
- If you buy from a reputable supplier and its past the official date ask them if it has been stored correctly. Odds are it has.
- Don't be surprised to pay a lot for a koshu sake. The taste is, as all tests is, subjective.
So, if that bottle of sake in the cupboard has gone off, and you want to buy some fresh sake, please consider us.