Got some sake dating back to, well, who knows when? Before you decide to serve it to your guests, there’s a good chance you’re wondering: Does sake go bad?
Like most alcoholic beverages, you won’t find a best-before date on your favorite bottle of sake.
While it might be common knowledge in Japan, most Westerners probably have little idea how long sake lasts, its shelf life or how to store it.
In this guide, we’ll go over all the basics so you won’t need to second guess when to offer up a refreshing glass of a top-rated sake—or when it’s time to (gasp!) dump it down the drain.
How long does sake last?
Unlike other drinks you might find lurking around your fridge, sake doesn’t often feature a best-before date. This can sometimes make it difficult to know whether taking a sip is a good idea or not.
Even though it’s not a requirement to add best-before labels to sake bottles in Japan, most know that it’s not a drink that’s meant to sit around too long.
Whereas other alcoholic beverages like wine or whiskey benefit from aging, sake is meant to consumed shortly after bottling.
The general rule is that you should aim to consume a bottle within no more than a year or two.
Although the actual shelf life of sake could be longer, it’s, in general, best enjoyed as fresh as possible.
The quality of unopened sake tends to reduce the longer it sits on the shelf. While it may not be dangerous to drink per se, the taste is affected the longer it’s stored.
Once a bottle is opened, on the other hand, it’s best to consume it as soon as possible. Even just 24 hours can make a huge difference in what sake tastes like.
Opened bottles will, however, be safe to consume for a few weeks. The longer it sits, the more you should expect the quality to drop.
Unpasteurized sake (namazake) has an even shorter shelf life. Expect unopened bottles of namazake to last about 6 months. Opened namazake should be consumed within one to two weeks.
How to store sake
Now that you know how long sake lasts, you might be wondering the basics on how to store sake.
In general, sake should be stored much like wine. Unopened bottles should be kept in a cool and dark location such as pantry or, even better, a refrigerator. The best temperature to store sake is below 15 degrees Celsius.
Besides sheltering it from heat sources and temperature fluctuations, you’ll also want to ensure it’s not exposed to sunlight as it can degrade the quality faster.
Storing unpasteurized sake (namazake) follows slightly different rules.
Since it’s less stable than other types of sake, you’ll always want to store namazake in the refrigerator, even when unopened.
Once you open a bottle, it should always be kept in the refrigerator to maximize its shelf life.
Since sake begins to oxidize after opening, you’ll always want to ensure its tightly sealed. To minimize oxidation, use a vacuum sealer.
How to know when it’s spoiled
Can’t remember how long you’ve been storing that bottle of sake?
The good news is even if it’s been sitting around for a long while unopened, it’s still safe to drink. The taste, on the other hand, might not be at its best.
Open bottles, however, follow slightly different rules.
There are a few tell-tale signs that will indicate whether that prized bottle of junmai daiginjo belongs in the drain rather than in your stomach:
- Color: As you know from sake 101, good sake is typically clear (with the exception of an unfiltered nigori). If you detect a yellowish color, it means that it has begun to oxidize.
- Clarity: One of the easiest ways to find out whether your sake has gone bad is to check for particles. If you see anything floating about on the surface or at the bottom of the bottle, it’s started to disintegrate and spoil.
- Smell: Take a whiff. In general, if the sake has a distinctive pungent, rotten or earthy odor, it’s probably time to flush it.
- Taste: Even if all the other signs check out, the kicker is to take a sip. Didn’t come back up? Chances are it’s okay to drink.