Sake, also known as Japanese rice wine, is a popular alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. Like wine, sake does not improve with age once bottled. However, if stored properly, unopened sake can maintain its quality and drinkability for an extended period.
Does sake go bad?
Yes, sake can go bad if stored incorrectly or kept for too long. The main factors that can cause sake to deteriorate are light, heat, and oxygen exposure. Over time, these elements will cause undesirable changes in the aroma, flavor, color, and texture of sake.
Effects of light
Like many alcoholic beverages, sake is sensitive to light exposure. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight or fluorescent lighting can cause photochemical reactions that form free radicals and other compounds that give sake off-flavors and aromas. For best quality, sake should be stored in a cool, dark place.
Effects of heat
Heat accelerates the chemical reactions that lead to flavor and aroma changes in sake. High temperatures can cause sake to take on a dull, cooked, or caramelized flavor. For optimal freshness, sake should be refrigerated or kept in a room temperature environment between 55°F-68°F (13°C-20°C).
Effects of oxygen
When exposed to oxygen, sake can undergo oxidation reactions. This causes discoloration and development of sherried, metallic, or cardboard-like flavors and aromas. Keeping sake bottles upright and tightly sealed helps minimize oxygen exposure.
How to store unopened sake
To maximize the shelf life of unopened sake, it is important to store it properly by:
- Keeping sake out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources
- Storing sake at cool room temperature – around 55°F-68°F (13°C-20°C)
- Keeping bottles upright and tightly sealed to prevent oxygen exposure
- Avoiding places with major temperature fluctuations
Cellars or wine refrigerators designed for long-term storage are ideal places for sake. If refrigerated, allow sake to come to room temperature before serving to avoid affecting its flavor.
How long does unopened sake last?
With proper storage, here are some general guidelines for how long unopened sake will remain drinkable:
- Pasteurized sake: 9-12 months
- Unpasteurized sake: 6-8 months
- Koshu aged 1-2 years: 1-2 years
- Koshu aged over 5 years: can last decades
- 1-2 years
These timeframes assume proper storage conditions. Higher quality sakes tend to have better longevity. Once opened, sake lasts around 4-6 months.
How to tell if sake has gone bad
There are a few signs that indicate sake has spoiled and is no longer safe or pleasant to drink:
- Appearance: Discoloration, cloudiness, particles
- Aroma: Oxidized, sherried, sour, or off aromas
- Flavor: Sharp, bitter, metallic, cardboard, or vinegar taste
- Texture: Separated, chunky, ropey, or gloopy
Sake that smells or tastes noticeably unpleasant or rancid should not be consumed. If unsure about the quality, it’s better to err on the side of caution and discard sake that has been kept for a long time.
Can spoiled sake make you sick?
Consuming spoiled sake comes with health risks. Over time, bacteria and fungi can grow in sake, producing toxic byproducts like mycotoxins and ethyl carbamate. In large amounts, these compounds can cause illness.
Signs of sickness from spoiled sake include:
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Headache, dizziness
- Stomach cramps, pain
The elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible. If you experience adverse symptoms after drinking questionable sake, seek medical care immediately.
Can stale sake make you sick?
Stale sake that has not fully spoiled is unlikely to cause foodborne illness. However, it may provoke mild symptoms like:
- Indigestion, heartburn
These effects are caused by chemical changes during storage rather than pathogenic microbes. While not dangerous, stale sake does not taste good, so it is better to discard it.
Will cooking with expired sake make you sick?
Using sake that has aged past its prime for cooking or marinades poses a relatively low safety risk. Heating and mixing sake with other ingredients can mask staleness and dilute minor contaminants.
Most bacterial or fungal toxins are degraded by cooking temperatures. Unless sake shows obvious spoilage, cooking with expired sake is unlikely to cause illness.
To err on the side of caution, avoid using sake that is more than 1-2 years past its expiry. Make sure expired sake does not have visible mold, off-odors, or other signs of significant spoilage before using.
Can you freeze sake to extend its shelf life?
Freezing unopened sake can help prolong its freshness beyond typical refrigerator storage times. The cold temperatures slow down chemical reactions that lead to undesirable flavor and quality changes.
To freeze sake:
- Ensure bottles are tightly sealed to prevent oxidation
- Wrap bottles well to protect from freezer burn
- Freeze at 0°F (-18°C) or below
- Limit frozen storage to 6 months for best quality
Freezing causes cloudiness in sake, so allow bottles to defrost overnight in the refrigerator before serving. Frozen sake may have a duller flavor, but is safe to consume.
Does sake need to be refrigerated after opening?
Once opened, sake oxidizes faster and is best stored in the refrigerator. Cooler temperatures help limit aroma and flavor changes. Tightly reseal bottle lids or corks to exclude as much oxygen as possible.
For short term storage under 1 month, sake can be kept at room temperature. But refrigeration below 40°F (5°C) is recommended for opened bottles you wish to save for a longer period.
Consume opened sake within 4-6 months for best quality. Keep an eye out for any odd smells, colors, or textures that indicate spoilage.
Can you reseal opened sake bottles?
Yes, you can reseal opened sake bottles using:
- Wine stoppers
- Vacuum wine preservation systems
These methods limit oxygen exposure and prevent leaks or spills. Wrap a plastic wrap seal over the stopper or cork for an added layer of protection.
Small screw cap sake bottles can simply be tightened securely after each use. Transferring sake to a smaller container is also an option to minimize headspace and air contact.
Should opened sake be consumed quickly?
Drinking opened sake within 2-4 weeks is ideal for the best flavor. The more time sake spends exposed to air, the faster its quality declines.
Signs opened sake has been kept too long include:
- Oxidized or sherry-like aromas
- Metallic, bitter taste
- Browning color
- Flat or diminished flavors
If sake develops an unpleasant odor, taste, appearance, or texture, it should be discarded. For long term storage, unopened sake lasts significantly longer than opened bottles.
Can you drink expired sake?
It is not recommended to knowingly drink sake that is past its expiry date. Shelf life recommendations exist for a reason – to ensure sake is consumed at peak quality and safety.
While small amounts of expired sake likely won’t make you sick, its aroma, flavor, and appearance will be degraded. There is also some risk of bacterial or fungal contamination in old sake not stored optimally.
If you wish to err on the side of caution, avoid consuming sake more than 6-12 months past its expiry. Always inspect and smell sake before drinking to check for red flags like off-odors, separation, cloudiness, or foul flavors.
How to dispose of expired sake
To safely dispose of sake that is past its prime:
- Pour it down the drain – This dilutes any microbes and prevents consumption.
- Add to a sauce or marinade – Cooking helps destroy contaminants.
- Use as a meat tenderizer – Sake can be a beef or fish tenderizer.
- Use as a household cleaner – Diluted sake works as a bathroom or countertop disinfectant.
If you wish to add sake to compost, make sure your compost heap reaches sufficiently hot temperatures to kill pathogens. Otherwise, stick to the drain, cooking, cleaning, or tenderizing disposal options.
With proper storage and handling, unopened sake can retain optimal quality for 9-12 months or longer after purchase. Keep sake out of direct light in a cool environment between 55°F-68°F (13°C-20°C). Higher quality sakes and aged varieties often have better shelf life. Once opened, sake is best consumed within 4-6 months.
It is unsafe to drink sake that smells or tastes noticeably off. Signs of spoilage include oxidation, discoloration, viscosity changes, and off flavors like bitterness or vinegar notes. Consuming spoiled sake poses a health risk and should be discarded.
While not ideal, using expired sake for cooking, cleaning, or tenderizing is a safe way to utilize sake that is past its expiry. Following the storage and shelf life guidelines for sake allows you to enjoy it at peak deliciousness and safety.