Hot sake has a dicey reputation, and it's mostly deserved: Typical sushi restaurants use low-end sake (the stuff that comes in big cardboard cartons) because the heat masks the flavor. But at Public in New York City, master mixologist Eben Freeman is heating up quality sake—Kamoizumi Junmai Three Dots, which is specifically made to be drunk warm—and using it as the base for two warming, delicious new creations.
Freeman heats the sake with precision. He pours it into an aluminum cup, which he lowers into a water bath warmed with an immersion circulator to 45 degrees Celsius—any hotter and the sake would lose some of its flavor. Then, he pours the sake into a tokkuri (sake flask) that has been heated to the same temperature. The flask arrives at the table ready to be poured into cups filled with either citrusy or savory ingredients. These are the two preparations:
Freeman was inspired by dashi, the umami-packed broth that serves as the base for many Japanese dishes, when he created his savory hot sake. He places a square of kombu (seaweed) and bonito shavings in the bottom of a cup. When guests pour the hot sake from the tokkuri into the cup, everything begins to steep. At first the flavors are subtle, but as you continue to refill the cup and drink the sake, more and more of the intensely savory flavors come through. It’s like a restorative, alcoholic broth. It’s comforting, cozy and unique. “It’s not for the weak of heart,” Freeman says.