July 20

buying fresh sake in boston.

Sake, like any other grain based brewed alcohol, has a shelf life. Luckily alcoholic beverages do not traditionally “go bad” like milk or orange juice; but the time for the Sake to taste how the brewer intended it to is most assuredly finite. Here in Boston it is not uncommon to find some dusty bottles lining shelves in random package stores, but are these bottles old? and more importantly are they worth buying?
Most premium Sake is brewed by small breweries in Japan that still follow the traditional model of brewing in the winter, aging the Sake for 6 months and then bottling the batch in the fall for sale across Japan and overseas. It is important to realize that this is the time period that concerns us as Sake buyers – Sake is usually packaged in the fall. There is no hard and fast rule about when Sake gets too old; however buying Sake within the same production year as it is packaged is a safe bet. Let’s look at some bottling dates on Sake around Boston:

These pictures illustrate some common places to find bottling dates on Sake bottles. Although in different places, they show some common formatting; Year – Month – Day (2 examples) and simply Month – Year (1 example) . As you can see these Sake were bottled in the fall of 2010 and are now for sale around Boston. Since we are in the summer of 2011, these bottles are still valid for this brewing season – most Sake in Japan is now being aged for bottling this fall.
Of course, like anything, there are exceptions to these rules; large Sake producers make Sake all year round as do a handful of small Japanese breweries (ex. Asahi Brewery – makers of Dassai). In general the “brew in winter and package in the fall” model proves true with most Sake from Japan. But fear not, if you have some Sake at home that has gotten a bit long in tooth it is still perfectly fine to drink; the taste often changing to favor earthier flavors like Koji, chestnuts and spice. You can also use older Sake to make Sake cocktails or to cook with as well.