This is a question that comes up pretty often. However, if you are anything like my friends, the sake won't last longer than a week after purchase. They'd even consume it at the time of purchase if they could.
There are varying ideas regarding the length of time that sake can be kept. Depending on who you ask, you could get different answers every time, so, in my opinion, you should make an excuse to drink the sake as soon as possible!
Okay, all kidding aside, some of the general guidelines that are suggested are as follows:
Pasteurized sake - 6 months to 1 year unopened, 2 days to 1 month after opening and Refrigerated
Ginjo and Junmai usually have a shorter shelf life than Honjozo.
Nama (生) unpasteurized – 1 month unopened, up to 1 week after opening and stored in refrigerator.
Some of you more experienced drinkers may say, “What about koshu? Isn’t that sake that’s more than a year old? How can that still be drinkable?”.
Yes, koshu is sake that has been aged on purpose prior to release for sale, and this is another great topic that we can explore later.
The way the sake is stored also affects the flavor. Exposure to light, oxygen, high temperatures and even vibration all have adverse effects on sake. It would be best to store the sake in cool, dark place. Dark brown or green bottles tend to block the light better than blue or clear bottles. If you have left-overs from drinking an isshobin (一升瓶),1.8L bottle, it may be better to pour the remaining sake into a smaller bottle to limit the exposure to oxygen!
My take on it is that sake should be enjoyed fresh.
Bear with me as I philosophize a bit...
Unlike wine, sake has a small window in which it can be enjoyed. It can’t be stored or saved for that one special occasion you think may occur in the future. Hoarding sake would deny you of experiencing the sake as the toji (杜氏) intended. The longer you hold on to the sake, the higher the risk that you’ll forget about the sake and have the sake transform in flavor and character, thus losing the chance to fully embrace the sake as it should have been experienced. This reminds me of Hanami (花見cherry blossom viewing) or hotaru (firefly) viewing seasons in Japan. There would only be about one week in which to view the blossoms in full bloom or catch the fireflies lighting up the evening sky with their aerial dancing. Their beauty and wonder were only available for that one week during the entire year…and then they were gone.
I believe that the same applies to sake. We should not wait for a special event. You should enjoy your sake as soon as possible! Why wait? So wondering how long sake lasts shouldn’t even matter.
Everyday should be considered special and should be celebrated, and if you celebrate with sake, even better!
Carpe sake diem!