sake safety feat

How long does sake last? Can it go bad?

Konnichiwa, mina-san! We got sake for you! Let’s have a toast! But before that, allow us to introduce what sake is! 


Sake (‘sah-keh.’ Not ‘sah-kee’ or ‘sah-ki’) is a traditional alcoholic drink that is believed to have been initially produced in Japan. Now, it has become famous as it is being sold and enjoyed around the world! You might have probably heard that rice wine in Japan is referred to as sake. But, we have to clarify this part first! 


Wine is defined as alcohol that is fermented from fruit sugar. The question is, is rice a fruit? Definitely, technically, no. Just accept it. No fruit, no wine. There is obviously a misconception about that. 


But here is the thing. In contrast to wine, sake production undergoes a two-step process. The starch from polished rice is converted first to sugar. Then, once the sugar is ready, it is fermented with yeast to convert it to alcohol. Essentially, sake production is closely more like brewing beer. Imagine. Sake takes 5 to 7 months to prepare from fermentation to bottling. And the fermentation stage takes 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the types of sake produced.


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Anyway, it can’t be helped that people would refer to sake as wine. After all, it possesses properties associated with wine. Sake is smooth-bodied, and it is quite aromatic with hints of fruity flavor. This alcoholic beverage is often served during special celebrations and occasions. And it is even used in cooking delicious dishes! Overall, sake is just amazingly a unique item in the world of alcoholic beverages. 


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Basically, the ingredients for making sake are composed of rice, water, koji mold, and sake yeast (and sometimes with Neutral Distilled Alcohol). Also, sake comes in different types according to its rice polishing ratio: Junmai, tokubetsu junmai, junmai ginjo, junmai daiginjo, honjozo, tokubetsu honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo. 


Now, a friend of yours came from Japan and gave you an authentic bottle of sake. As a year goes by, you have already forgotten about it since you didn’t have an opportunity or an occasion to open it. One day, you went through your liquor cabinet and saw a bottle of sake sitting there in the same position. Then, you just realized that it has been already years since you placed it there. At this point, you would ask yourself, “Has it already gone bad?” “How long is this bottle of sake supposed to last?” “Is it still safe to drink this or use this?”. If you’re unfamiliar with sake, you would want to find the answers to your queries.


It’s a great thing that you have stumbled on our blog for this information! This article will unravel the basics of storing sake, its shelf life, and spoilage. 


And by the way, in a gathering, it is customary for people to raise their sake cups for a toast and say:


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KANPAI! (Cheers!) Let’s read on!


How to store sake?


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Bear in mind that Japanese sake is highly sensitive and delicate as it does not contain preservatives, unlike in wines. It is only the pasteurization process that helps sake stay shelf-stable and less prone to immediate deterioration. 


You can increase the shelf-life of your sake if you store it correctly. It is essential to do it correctly, especially when dealing with premium brands of expensive sake. Take note that an unopened bottle of sake will stay fresh longer than the bottle that has already been opened. 

Here are the essential storage tips you should follow to retain the quality of your sake for a longer time.

    1.  Keep it away from light exposure. Light, especially sunlight or its ultra-violet rays, is one of the significant enemies of sake because it triggers an undesirable chemical reaction with its protein, leading to its spoilage. To be specific, such exposure will make your sake smell like burnt hair. This is why some brewers use green or brown-tinted bottles to deal with these damaging effects of direct light exposure. Whether or not you have bought tinted bottles of sake or not, it will still require extensive storage care. 
    2. Keep it off from any sources of heat. Heat can negatively affect the quality of your sake. So, you should keep your sake bottle in a cool place or at least at room temperature. 
    3. Keep it in its box. In some instances, sake comes with a box as part of its packaging. If you’re not going to use the sake yet, don’t throw the box away yet. Just keep it together. The box will serve as an extra layer of protection from the damaging and unwanted effects of light. 
    4. Store it at the right temperature. Sake is sensitive to temperature. You must ensure to keep your sake at 20 degrees C as this is the best temperature for all types of sake. Avoid keeping it in storage where the temperature fluctuates. 
    5. Always seal the bottle after using it.Oxygen is another enemy of sake. Once the bottle of sake is opened, it comes in contact with oxygen in the air. When sake is exposed to oxygen, it oxidizes, making it lose its fresh aroma and quality. In detail, the flavor of opened sakes gets compact and thinner in the middle and round on the edges. Its acidity may increase, giving it a sharper flavor. 


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Make sure to seal the bottle immediately after opening it. Seal it tightly and store the bottle of sake inside the refrigerator. 


Typically, sake undergoes pasteurization, wherein it is heated at 140 degrees F to 150 degrees F for a short duration to kill bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms. This process makes sake shelf-stable (when unopened). 


On the other hand, a fresh, raw, and unpasteurized sake is called nama sake. Nama sake has a brighter, fresher, and fruitier flavor compared to the pasteurized one. Hence, you should keep it in refrigerated conditions. Ideally, namasake should be stored from 5 to 6 degrees C or 41 to 42.8 degrees F.


Can I freeze sake?


Well, you can as you can freeze other liquids too. But it is not the best storage method for your sake. The harsh cold temperature of the freezer will alter the delicate flavors of your sake. As a fermented product, you do not actually have to freeze sake.


Can it go bad?


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Sake does not necessarily deteriorate in terms of food safety, in all honesty. Instead, we’re talking about its quality as it degrades with time. In other words, if sake is placed in the wrong storage condition, its flavor may start to diminish after an extended period. It may be safe to use, but it is not in its prime quality anymore. 


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Remember that direct sunlight and the hot temperature quickly changes the quality of your sake. This is why you should keep it in a cool and dark place, especially when you have already opened the bottle. Yes, an opened bottle of sake must be refrigerated all the time. 


How long does it last?

Not all bottles of sake come with an expiration date, as this is not mandatory in most places like Japan. But, you can still check the manufacture date on the label. To make it clear, the indicated date usually refers to when it was bottled and not when it was brewed.


Once you open your bottle of sake, you should consume all within the day if you wish to enjoy its best taste. If ever you cannot use the whole bottle in one day, make sure to seal it tightly and place it in the fridge. You can keep it this way safely for a few more weeks to consume everything.


If the bottle of pasteurized sake is still not opened yet, your sake can last up to two years in the pantry. 


Once it is already opened, your pasteurized sake should be stored in the refrigerator. And it will still be suitable for consumption between 2 to 4 weeks. 


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As for the unpasteurized sake, it can last in the refrigerator for six months. Once you open it, it will be good for a week or two in the fridge.


How to tell if it has already gone bad?


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kai keisuke/


An unopened bottle of sake does not quickly spoil. However, if you have kept it for a long time, the taste may change, but it is still suitable for consumption. 


Here are the signs of spoiled sake:

  1. Liquid looks yellow in color. Sake is supposed to be clear. If it has gone yellowish, it could indicate that it has oxidized, and its alcohol is no longer strong.
  2. Small particles on the bottom and the top surface of the bottle. If this happens, that means the sake has fallen apart.
  3. Smells off. If it doesn’t smell as to how it should be, do not use it. Just throw it away. In some cases, it may smell pungent. It may even smell like rotten gas or sauerkraut-like and a burnt caramel due to poor storage conditions under hot temperatures. If it smells like onion or butane gas, that’s the result of light damage.
  4. Off-taste. Take a little sip of sake. If it doesn’t taste the same, you should keep it away.


If a bottle of sake has gone bad, others would try to heat it and see if it can still taste good. If the taste is not favorable, they use it for cooking! Interesting, right? That might be your random chance to explore the internet for recipes and try out a dish with a kick of sake!


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That’s it about the famous sake! We hope you have learned something today!


Arigatou-gozaimasu, mina-san!

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