How to Store Japanese Sake

by Kurashu Staff

Sake is a lovely drink and, because of its incredible versatility, is quite unique in the realm of beverages. Some styles are pasteurized while others aren’t; some are fortified, while others are bottled straight from the fermentation tank; some you drink chilled, while others are best heated to different temperatures. Some even spend some time in barrels! The result is that sake is an incredibly versatile drink that is suitable for many occasions at all price points.

With such an array of choices, there’s a pressing need for adequate knowledge about correct storage, and just like the beverage itself, sake storage is a bit tricky to understand. Here’s all you need to know about how to store sake, its shelf-life, and the best practices for keeping it safe. 

For quick answers to all your sake storage questions, you can also head down to our handy Frequently Asked Questions about how to store sake. 

How to Store Sake Before Opening. Can Sake Expire?

Sake has alcohol, a preservative, but it usually has between 15-18% abv, and that’s not enough alcohol to prevent the drink from evolving (a 40% abv bottle of whiskey is basically frozen in time). Sake’s mortal enemies — light, heat, and oxygen slowly take a toll until eventually your bottle of sake loses flavor intensity and might even develop funky aromas.

A key thing to note with sake, and what makes sake storage very different from wine storage, is that sake is designed to be drunk within a year of release. That doesn’t mean it can’t be aged (and some people do age their sake), but it does mean that if you’d like to taste the sake as it was intended to be drunk, then don’t keep it longer than 1 year, no matter the storage condition.

When it comes to unpasteurized “Nama” sake, the situation is more dramatic. Since it’s unpasteurized, the bacteria and yeast in Nama will continually change the sake until it is no longer enjoyable, so it should be both stored in a refrigerator and drunk within a month or two after bottling. After opening a Nama sake, it’s best to enjoy it within a few days.

To store a closed bottle of sake, keep it in a dark place away from light or heat sources and a relatively cool temperature. The most delicate styles, such as Nama, should be kept in a fridge at around 4°C (40° F) but most other sakes can be stored at temperatures similar to wine, until about 15°C (60° F) or even room temperature.

Lower temperatures slow down sake’s natural evolution. The only difference between storing sake at room temperature and controlled temperatures is how slowly it changes. 

How to Store Opened Sake?

Once you open a bottle of sake, oxygen will oxidize your rice “wine” relatively fast (but not as fast as wine). Store opened bottles in the fridge and consume them within a week. The fridge’s cold temperature slows down the sake’s deterioration and prevents bacteria from thriving in the nutritious liquid. 

Keep in mind that once opened, there’s natural gas exchange between the air trapped in the bottle and the air outside. In rare cases, this might lead to sake getting infused with scents from the food store alongside it, especially pungent food like garlic. 

If your opened bottle of sake doesn’t taste right for you, don’t toss it, it’s not spoiled! You can perhaps use it for a cocktail or cook something with it!

Pro tips:

  • Keep those opened bottles upright in your refrigerator and enjoy them within a few days. 

  • Use a wine vacuum pump for sake, and your opened bottle will last for much longer, perhaps up to two weeks if kept in the fridge. If there’s less than half the liquid in the bottle, you can also transfer it to a smaller bottle to reduce oxygen exposure. 

When To Drink Sake?

Sake is incredibly versatile and best if drunk young, so our recommendation is to just have some whenever you’d drink wine or beer, for example. Since sake fits surprisingly well to a range of foods (from cheeses to spicy food, to roasted chicken and even pasta) just pour yourself a glass and start experimenting. Sake can also be drunk well on its own, without any food, as an aperitif for example (check out our pairing recommendations here). 

All You Need to Know About Sake Storage, The FAQ

1. Does Sake Go Bad?

Similar to fine wine, sake unfolds in the bottle as it reacts to light, oxygen, and heat, and it will eventually lose some of its organoleptic properties. It doesn’t go bad per se, but it does evolve from the product it was intended to be. Whether that’s desirable is up to the person drinking, but we recommend consuming pasteurized sake within one year of bottling.

Unpasteurized sake declines faster, however, so store it chilled (4°C or lower) and open within a month.

3. Can Sake Be Kept After Opening?

As with any other fermented drink, sake’s shelflife after opening is somewhat short, up to 5-7 days if kept in the fridge and perhaps double that if you use a vacuum pump. Keep opened bottles of sake in the fridge, away from heat and sunlight, and protected from oxygen for better results.

4. Should Sake Be Refrigerated After Opening?

Yes, store your opened sake bottle in the fridge after opening to enjoy within 5-7 days. Good sake storage practices, like using a vacuum pump, can extend its life, but it will ultimately lose its delicious personality!

5. Will Sake Freeze in A Freezer?

Alcohol volume in sake is about 13-18%, so it freezes at a temperature of around -6°C (22°F), and your freezer works at -18°C (0°F) so sake will freeze in your freezer. However, since the alcohol and water separate when ice forms, sake’s delicate aromatic molecules, and flavor compounds suffer, so don’t freeze it