Usually when I drink sake, I drink it chilled. Some people, though, say it's better hot, especially in winter, and I've drunk hot sake at a restaurant. But I was wondering if there's a "proper" way of heating it up. Can I just pour it into a mug and stick in the microwave? Or would that be bad?
Put the sake in the little bottle that came with your sake set -- you did buy one, right? -- and put that into a pan of hot water (not boiling), until the sake is quite warm. And remember that if there's two or more of you drinking, pour for each other, not yourselves.
This is one of those "lies" about nihon-shu (what most foreigners refer to as sake - sake just means "alcohol") that there's a proper way to drink it that's always proper...
First, take a look at Sake World (http://www.sake-world.com/). John Gauntner is a pretty famous expert on it (and also a pretty nice guy), and he gives tastings and lectures all over the country. One of the reasons he's so famous is because he's a non-japanese sake expert and knows more than many Japanese sake specialists.
Now to answer the specific question, most nihon-shu should be served at room temperature or slightly chilled. Cheaper nihon-shu, like the stuff you get at the 7/11, should be served warm (or just done as a shot, really). Why do foreigners generally think it should be warm or hot? Well, until about 40 years ago, most nihon-shu was rougher, fuller, sweeter and woodier than it is now - and it did taste better warmed, because warming hid the nastier elements of the taste.
Nowadays, with major advances in brewing technology, good nihon-shu is generally designed to be served chilled or at room temp. The flavor comes out at those temperatures and it is quite delicious!
That's not a perfect answer - because there is some modern good nihon-shu that should be warmed (and that's what you should be drinking on a cold winter day). The best way to find out how to serve a certain kind is to ask! [/i]
Actually, even the "One Cup" stuff is decent, and you can see businessmen drinking them in parks on their lunch breaks. They also have sake juice boxes, which are fairly good and fairly loaded with alcohol.
You do tend to get what you pay for here in Japan, but there is very little
bad sake - it wouldn't survive here. In the US, crappy products survive because they're cheap (or Boones Farm). I've had 20,000Y sake and 130Y sake, and while the 20,000Y one tastes better (it better well should) the 130Y one was totally palatable.
If you are buying sake in Japan, then I recommend you go to somewhere that has a lot of sake for sale, as opposed to convenience stores. I have a little shop around the corner from my house in Osaka, and the first time I bought sake, the owners were sooo happy to hear that I like nihonshu, that they gave me a sake set (the little pitcher and cups) free! But the reason I say go to a specialised store is because their advice saved me from buying 1.8 litres of stuff I wouldn't like! I wanted some sake in winter to drink warm. Becasue I can't read the labels, and also don't know a lot about sake, I buy by price. I picked up a bottle of what looked to be decent stuff, according to the price, and went to the counter. After working out that the lady and her husband were asking me how was I going to drink this (ie hot or cold (their words, but they would have meant warm or cold!)), they told me that the sake I had would be awful if drunk warm. It would have a rancid flavour if heated. They showed me a different sake that was good warm. They were right. And now they have a regular customer. Other sakes are good cold, but not warm, and others are good both warm and cold. Check with the people that know! You really don't need to know much japanese either. Gestures work wonders! I think I will be a master at charades by the time I finish in japan!
but the tastiest Nihonshu i've had was called Rashomon. Really good.
i drink slightly chilled from a square wooden box.
i don't know the name of that thing, if you live in japan you know what i mean.
in the 下町 of tokyo （shitamachi） you can get hot sake served with dried Fugu Tail in it. sooooo yummy. but i think the sake is cheap. but the dried fugu tail makes it taste good and enhances the aroma. i think it's true japanese taste. i think other foreigners don't like it usually, but my japanese friends think it's good and i've acquired the taste. i recommend trying it at least once!
again, i'm not an expert, but these were good for me. hope this helps everyone explore nihonshu!!