Have you ever heard of the Japanese phrase, “Nihonshu wa ryori wo erabanai”?
You haven’t? Well, now you and you’re about to find out what it means.
The English translation of this phrase is “Sake never fights with food,” which is an ode to how versatile sake is.
Thanks to sake’s slightly sweet taste and low bitterness and acidity, it pairs well with almost all types of cuisines—Mexican, Italian, American, and many more!
If you’re looking for new flavors and exploring various cuisines, sake is the alcoholic drink that you should go for.
But let’s face it. High-quality sake is not cheap, and it may seem like a waste of good money if you’re just going to drink it only in small amounts.
So you might be wondering: Can sake go bad? Will it be worth the purchase?
Here’s one simple fact we want you to know:
Yes, sake can go bad. Even though unopened sake can last for many years, it won’t last as long and will not age as well as other alcoholic drinks do.
Do you want to learn how to keep your sake fresh for longer? Then, this is the article to read!
We’ll also address some of the common questions about sake, including:
- Does sake go bad?
- What is Sake’s shelf life?
- How to tell when sake has gone bad?
- How to store sake properly?
- And frequently asked questions about sake!
So let’s get this show on the road!
Does Sake Go Bad?
Yes, it can. The good news is it has a long shelf life since it’s made from fermented rice. Additionally, it contains high alcoholic content, preventing bacterial growth that may cause spoilage.
However, there’s a catch.
Extended storage periods and conditions may ruin the sake’s delicate umami taste and rich fragrance.
Even an unopened bottle of sake will not be able to endure the test of time. This is because the product doesn’t contain sulfites, a type of preservative mostly used in wine, juices, and beer.
With that said, it’s a must that you learn how to store your sake the right way.
What is Sake’s Shelf Life?
Fact: You can’t find the expiration date on the sake bottle, even on the bottles of high-quality sake.
This is because it’s not a requirement for sake brewers to indicate the expiration date in the regions where this alcoholic beverage is produced.
If you see a printed date on the bottle, that indicates the production date and not the expiry date. That is the date when sake was bottled.
We’ll use the manufacturing date as the basis when determining the shelf life of sake.
Until how long after the manufacturing date, you can still enjoy your sake will depend on the sake’s manufacturing method.
Here are the shelf life guidelines you should know about:
1. Ordinary or Regular Sake
Regular sake is pasteurized sake. It’s heat-treated and has twice gone through the “burning” process. Because of this, it lasts longer than most types of sake.
As a rule of thumb, you can enjoy an unopened bottle of normal sake for about 24 months after the manufacturing date, while the opened bottle of sake can last for about 2 to 4 weeks when refrigerated.
2. Nama Sake
It’s also called Fresh Sake or unpasteurized sake. From its name, it’s a sake variety that hasn’t been pasteurized during the fermentation process. Instead, this type is heat-treated only once—before it is shipped.
Because of this, its shelf life is a bit shorter as compared to an unopened bottle of ordinary sake: only 6 months after the date of manufacture. On the other hand, open sake can last for 1 to 2 weeks when stored in the refrigerator.
All of these apply only to sake bottles that have been stored properly and don’t show any signs of spoilage.
How to Tell When Sake Has Gone Bad?
If the bottle of sake has been in the refrigerator for quite a while, it’s a must that you inspect it first before drinking it. This is true regardless of whether it’s an unopened or opened sake.
With that said, here are some of the signs of a bad sake that you should look out for:
1. Pungent Smell
The smell is the first thing you would notice once you open the sake bottle. If it already smells bad, sour, or rotten, throw the sake right away.
2. Yellow Tint
Sake is a clear alcoholic drink. If you notice a yellowish hue, it is an indication that the drink has already undergone the oxidation process. Its taste and quality may have already degraded, so it’s no longer safe for drinking.
3. Presence of particles
These can be found at the bottom or the surface of sake. The presence of these particles indicates that the nihonsu has already started to fall apart, and the drink will no longer taste the way it used to be.
4. Off Taste
Sake tastes like dry white wine but sweeter. Others claim that it has an aroma and after taste similar to that of sherry.
If the sake no longer tastes the same way we described it or if it already has a sour or weird taste, discard it right away.
How to Store Sake Properly
Unlike most fermented drinks, sake is delicate, fragile, and prone to spoilage, especially fresh sake. To prolong its shelf life, here are some of the storage tips that you need to know:
1. Store unopened bottles of sake in a cool and dark place.
Heat, air, and light are three things you should protect sake from.
Air promotes oxidation which may cause changes in sake’s flavor and taste, so you must keep your unopened bottles in the dark place like your pantry, cabinet, or wine cellar.
Most brewers add a green or brown tint to their sake bottles as an extra layer of protection. If your sake comes in a clear bottle, it’s recommended that you wrap the bottle in paper or place it in a box before putting it in your pantry.
On the other hand, heat and light will destroy the chemical bonds of sake, leading to its spoilage. That’s why you should store it in a cool place like your fridge.
If you have a space in your refrigerator, it’s a great idea to store unopened bottles there. On the other hand, all opened bottles of sake and unpasteurized sake (opened or unopened) must be stored in the fridge.
2. Place bottles of sake at the back corner of the lowest shelf in your fridge.
In this way, it won’t be exposed to the refrigerator light.
3. Use high-quality bottle stoppers.
These can help in sucking out oxygen and preventing air from entering the opened bottles, allowing you to preserve your sake for longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you freeze sake?
Yes, you can, but you shouldn’t. This is because the low temperatures in the freezer can destroy sake’s delicate flavors.
2. Will I get sick from drinking old sake?
As long as it doesn’t have signs of spoiled sake, it’s safe for consumption. However, its taste won’t be as strong and good as before.
3. What can I do with the sake that has gone bad?
If the sake doesn’t have signs of spoilage, but it’s already way past the recommended drinking window, don’t throw it out yet.
Here’s a fun fact: you can use it for cooking! Old sake can mellow down the smell and flavor of pungent ingredients in various recipes. (*)
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The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, sake can go bad, and it goes bad faster than other alcoholic drinks because it doesn’t contain sulfite. While sake has no expiration date, it has a recommended drinking window which you should follow if you wish to make the most out of this drink.
Additionally, you must follow all the storage and handling tips we’ve shared with you, so take the next step if you want to preserve the quality of your sake for as long as possible.