Trying my Hand as an “Okanban”

IMG_0673Almost every sake party or event I’ve been to in chilly Niigata has had someone assigned to be the Okanban. In short, the Okanban is the person in charge of warming sake. They make sure the sake is at the right temperature and ready when needed. At a busy event, it can be a lot to juggle, but a good Okanban keeps the sake and the party flowing!

I recently had my first chance to be the Okanban at fun sake event. Hakkaisan was included in a sake tasting at the beautiful Ryugon Hotel in Muikamachi, Niigata. This beautiful onsen hotel includes a structure that is a 200 year old samurai house. The sake was set up in one of the hotel room suites so that guests could walk around the hotel and sample food and sake along the way.

IMG_0664The main tool of the okanban is the shukanki. This is a metal-lined wooden box that allows you to create a hot water bath inside for the sake carafes. A dial on the outside allows you to set the water temperature. This along with a good sake thermometer are what you need to get started.

I was using smaller size (180ml) sake carafes to serve Hakkaisan Uonuma de Soro junmai sake. My first challenge was pouring from the large 1.8 liter size isshobin bottle into the small carafes! Go slowly and don’t overflow! After filling the carafes are set in the warmed water bath. Slowly the sake will come up to temperature. The thermometer is used to keep an eye on the temperatures to make sure nothing gets overheated. Here is an overview of sake heating temperatures you can aim for.

Japanese Name Celsius Fahrenheit English Name
Tobikirikan 55° C 133° F Very Hot Sake
Atsukan 50° C 122° F Hot Sake
Jokan 45° C 113° F Slightly Hot Sake
Nurukan 40° C 104° F Warm Sake
Hitohadakan 35° C 95° F Body Temperature
Hinatakan 30° C 86° F Sunbathing in Summer

For my sake warming, I was targeting a Jokan temperature! I found that using four carafes in rotation I could keep a steady supply of sake ready to go for our guests. Soon we had a room full of guests enjoying Hakkaisan sake. Each guest was issued their own cup and could enjoy sake from many different breweries. Since the day was rainy and chilly, warm sake was a popular option! I stayed on top of refilling the carafes as soon as they were empty and got more sake heating up. Pouring sake can be tough on your fingers if the carafe gets too warm, so i kept a small towel handy not only to catch the drips but to use to handle the carafe.

Once I got in the swing of things, this experience was really fun. I really enjoyed my experience being an Okanban!

Ryugon Japanese Style Hotel

Ryugon Japanese Style Hotel