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Does Sake Go Bad?

| Alice Hama

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Last updated: June 6, 2022.

Does sake go bad?

The answer is: yes and no. It all depends on how well the sake is stored. Before we move on to details, let me clarify some information you can find on a sake label.

The date you frequently see on a label means the date of bottling and it has nothing to do with expiration date. In general, sake does not have any specific expiration date.

Sake’s expiration date on a label
The label of a sake bottle showing the bottling date. (In this case, the sake was bottled on Oct. 19, 2021). It is not an expiration date.

Does sake go bad after opening and how long does it last?

Opening a bottle of sake will expose the liquid to the air. This will gradually start the oxidation process and eventually lead to the sake developing an unpleasant flavor.

The warmer the temperature is, the faster the oxidation progresses. This condition can also accelerate the risk of bacteria-related deterioration. Therefore, regardless of the type of sake, we recommend putting it in the fridge after opening.

Kind sake to be stored in the fridge

Compared with regular sake, delicate sake such as unpasteurized sake tends to go bad faster, so they need to be in the fridge even before opening. Why? Unpasteurized sake means that the sake is in a raw state which makes it more vulnerable to spoilage. Regular sake, on the other hand, is usually pasteurized twice, and because pasteurization stabilizes sake, they tend to last longer.

Sake can be enjoyed for a longer time than wine. Generally speaking, an opened white wine needs to be consumed within five to seven days, and red wine within three to five days. Sake can easily last for a week or two, and maybe up to a month if stored in the fridge.

Does unopened sake go bad and how long does it last?

Even though most unopened bottles of sake can last for a very long period of time like wine and whiskey, sake does not value aging or vintage as much as they do. In general, sake is meant to be drunk young (within one year). You can still find aged sake in a specialty shop but those are usually brewed with aging in mind. Certain types of sake, on the other hand, are not suitable for aging at all because of their unstable nature, especially those that are unpasteurized or partially pasteurized. (Learn more about sake and aging in our previous post: Koshu: Aging Sake Brands, History and How-to.)

Unpasteurized and partially pasteurized sake

Unpasteurized sake are examples of delicate sake that need extra attention when it comes to storing. At Tippsy, there are three subcategories of unpasteurized sake:

  • Nama (or namazake) is a type of raw sake that is not heat treated or pasteurized at all.
  • Namachozo, on the other hand, is partially pasteurized, meaning it has gone through the pasteurization process only one time, just before bottling.
  • Namazume is also a type of sake that is pasteurized only once, just after filtering and pressing. Seasonal sake released in the fall called “hiyaoroshi” or “akiagari” are some examples of namazume.

These categories of sake are not as stable as other regular sake with longer shelf life. Therefore, they need to be stored in the fridge, and for the best quality, it is recommended to consume within six to nine months.

Tippsy’s recommended nama and namachozo:

Regular sake and nigori

Regular sake is comparably stable as it goes through the pasteurization process twice. Those sake, if unopened, can last for one year if stored under appropriate conditions.

Does nigori go bad? Nigori, unfiltered sake, often gets confused with unpasteurized sake. However, this type is usually pasteurized twice like other regular sake so it can last about the same time.

Tippsy’s recommended pasteurized and nigori sake:

How to tell if sake is bad

It is not difficult to determine if your sake has gone bad. Here’s a guide to finding common sake faults.

Color

Check if the liquid is dark yellow/amber or has a noticeable gray hue or cloudiness. Note that there is a type of sake, koshu (aged sake), that is intentionally aged as a part of the brewing process. Most koshu, of course, would have yellow/amber color, but it doesn’t mean the quality is bad.

Also, this color rule does not apply to unfiltered sake like nigori.

Difference between fresh and old sake color

Smell

Check if it smells pungent, moldy, stale or has unpleasant chemical notes. You might even smell something like vinegar or wet dog from a non-fresh sake.

Difference between fresh and old sake smell

Taste

Check if it tastes rotten or has other unpleasant flavors.

Difference between fresh and old sake taste

Other

Check if there are sediments or any particles floating in the liquid that are not supposed to be present. (Again, nigori sake is the exception.)

Old sake sediments

How to properly store sake

Regardless of the type of sake, we recommend storing it in a fridge for a longer shelf life. (For more information on how to store sake, check our Sake Guide.) In general, here are three things you should keep in mind when storing sake:

Light

Make sure to avoid direct sunlight or strong fluorescent light. Dark places away from any light are recommended.

Temperature

Make sure to avoid a place that can have a drastic temperature fluctuation. Store in a cooler place with minimum temperature change.

Smell

Make sure to avoid a place with strong smells. Smells can transfer to sake or bottles.

Places sake should not be stored

Experiment: What is the best environment for storing sake?

To test these theories, we did an experiment, placing the sake under three different environmental conditions.

  1. Sake stored in a regular fridge for one month
  2. Sake left at room temperature for one month
  3. Sake placed on an outside patio exposed to direct sunlight for one month
Sake comparison of preservation conditions
We used the same sake (the same brand, classification and bottling date) shipped from Japan in the same pallet.

1: Stored in the fridge

Sake stored in the fridge

Color

The color looks clean. It has a very slight hue but it’s like water, mostly transparent.

Sake color change comparison
From left to right: (1) stored in the fridge, (2) left at room temperature and (3) placed on an outside patio.

Aroma and flavor

It is crisp and clean and has a great, smooth finish. It has the aroma of summer cucumber, nectarine and peach. On the palate, the flavors align with the aroma. I could taste fresh cut cucumber, peach, and melon, with a touch of exotic spice like white anise.

I re-tasted this sake at room temperature later, just to make sure I taste sake with the same serving temperature as others, but it tasted almost the same, maybe with more ripe fruit nuances.

I really liked this sake. It has the style reminiscent of Italian Pinot Grigio and will be a great pairing sake with carpaccio and caprese salad.

2: Room temperature

Sake stored at cool spot

I left the bottle in a cool place in the house without any sunlight. However, it is summertime in Los Angeles, so as you can imagine, I turn the AC on and off all the time. Therefore, I must admit that there were temperature fluctuations in the room which could have affected the sake.

Color

The color of the sake had a touch of pale yellow compared with sample 1.

Aroma and flavor

Overall, it tasted similar to sample 1. The aroma had more white peach and steamed rice, and it offered fruitier flavors such as Asian pear and cantaloupe with a hint of herb, like fennel.

I found nothing faulty about this sake. It is still a great sake.

3: Outside with sunlight exposure

Sake stored at hot spot

Color

It has a noticeable straw tint to the liquid.

Aroma and flavor

On the nose, I could easily smell some acidic, vinegary notes. There was an aroma of ripe grapefruit and cantaloupe, but I could pick up a sherry-like profile. It tasted better than its aroma, but the pronounced flavor of hops and oatmeal did not feel right, and the bitter aftertaste was unpleasant.

To be honest, I did not like this sake. I was very surprised to find this sake very distinct from 1 or 2.

My conclusion

Compared with wine, sake has a relatively stable shelf life due to its unique production process where it goes through pasteurization twice. It can last long if stored with care.

However, through this experiment, I learned that the damages that can be caused by temperature fluctuations and sunlight exposure are no joke. It did go bad. How you store your sake does affect the aroma and flavor by a great measure.

In order to avoid any risk of environmental influences, and to enjoy your sake with its full potential, I recommend storing sake in the fridge. If you have a temperature-stable wine cellar, that will work as well.

Frequently asked questions on how to store sake

Here are some common questions regarding how to store sake at home. Can’t find what you are looking for? Shoot us your questions through this form.

Can you age sake at home?

Unlike wine, where they cherish the complexity that comes with age, most sake is meant to be drunk young (within one year), however on a rare occasion you will find aged sake that can be further aged at home. Store sake in a cooler, dark place, without temperature fluctuation.

Examples of sake that can be aged at home:

Can you put sake in the freezer?

Although it is better than leaving sake in hot temperatures, and even though some sake are intentionally matured in below freezing temperatures before bottling, freezing is not a recommended method for storing sake at home. Certain sake types are sensitive to harsh environmental conditions, and such an excessive temperature drop can negatively affect the aroma and flavor of sake.

Will I get sick when I drink bad sake?

It can make you sick if it has turned very acidic or deteriorated due to bacteria or chemicals. Always look for indications such as color, smell and taste to see if the sake is safe to consume.

How do I use sake when it goes bad?

If you have an opened bottle not stored properly and the sake does not taste its best, you can opt for reusing it for cooking. For example, put a couple of tablespoons in a hot pot with dashi soup stock. It will help reduce unwanted smell of fish or poultry and gives depth to the flavor. You can also use it as an alternative to wine when cooking pasta or sauce. These will level up your sake pairing as well.

Here are two recipe ideas using old opened sake.

Easy Pork Belly Hot Pot

Pork belly nabe
  • 3 cups water
  • 5 grams dashi powder
  • 4 tablespoons sake
  • 300 grams tofu
  • 300 grams hakusai cabbage
  • 100 grams mushrooms
  • 2 negi green onions
  • 500 grams sliced pork belly
  • Optional ponzu

Directions:

In a large pot, bring water to boil, and add dashi and sake. Simmer for one minute, then add tofu, cut hakusai, mushrooms and negi. Cook until vegetables get soft. Add pork belly and cook for a minute or two. Serve with ponzu.

Clam Pasta (Spaghetti Alle Vongole)

Seafood pasta with clams spaghetti alle vongole
  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • Salt for pasta water
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 red chili
  • 10 ounces clams (pre-cleaned)
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Chopped fresh parsley
  • Ground black pepper

Directions:

Boil spaghetti in salted water for the time suggested on the package. On a pan, add olive oil, minced garlic and red chili and slowly heat for 1 minute. Add clams, sake and lemon juice and cook to reduce the sauce. Remove clams and set them aside once they open up so those will not become too hard. Add spaghetti to the pan, toss well and add salt or pasta water if needed. Add back the clams and garnish with fresh parsley and black pepper.

Sake’s lifespan depends on you!

Sake is a relatively stable liquid due to its high alcohol content (ABV: 14-16%) and the unique heat treatment process called pasteurization that takes place during production. It can last long if stored in an appropriate environment. Enjoy!

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