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Become A Sake Connoisseur: KOTSUZAKE 101

In-Japan-river-fish-such-as-char-sweetfish-and-yamame-trout-are-popular-kotsuzake. Food & Recipes

Do you know how to enjoy Japanese sake called “KOTSUZAKE”?

If you’re already a sake connoisseur, you’ve probably heard about it.

In this post, we will dive into the charm of “Kotsuzake”, such as how to make “Kotsuzake” and how to enjoy it deliciously.

Not Only HIREZAKE To Enjoy Japanese Sake

“Kotsuzake”, also sometimes called “Kotsushu” is the way to enjoy hot sake while soaking fish bones or fins.

Therefore, Hirezake is a kind of Kotsuzake, and both ways are attractive among sake connoisseurs because the umami of the fish melts into the sake, and you can enjoy it like a dashi soup.

So, why the sake connoisseurs are obsessed with Kotsuzake?

The secret key to hot sake becoming savory with fish bones/fins is that the umami ingredient melts out of the fish bones in the hot sake.

Generally, kotsuzake often is made of whole fish, bones, or fins that are dried well.

Since they are washed and dried thoughtfully, the umami flavor increases while the amino acids increase.

Besides, grilling them slowly and soaking them in the hot sake bring a more toasty flavor without a fishy taste.

The Best Fish For KOTSUZAKE

There are no specific rules for the type of fish to make Kotsuzake, however, white fish is more likely preferred.

In Japan, river fish such as char, sweetfish, and yamame trout, are popular kotsuzake.

Especially, when we use these river fish for Kotsuzake, we grill and soak the whole dried river fish and use a unique special fish-shaped sake decanter.

It’s a good idea to make Kotsuzake when you can get really good rainbow trout.

Simply, redfish or seabass is easily available in popular US grocery stores so they use only bones to make Kotsuzake.

Also, bluefish such as horse mackerel and sardines also taste quite good when you use only dried bones since these fish relatively contain rich oil.

For Hirezake, I will talk about more in this post.


  1. Make piping hot sake (called atsukan)
  2. Grill fish or bones slowly
  3. Never reheat Kotsuzake

Make piping hot sake (called atsukan)

As I explained the types of hot sake, the hot sake is called different names depending on its temperature.

To make Kotsuzake, it should be around 75 to 80 C (167 – 176F) which is relatively hotter than regular hot sake because we don’t want the fishy taste in hot sake.

We call it “Atsukan” and check out this post on how to heat Japanese sake properly.

Grill fish or bones slowly

Slowly grill the bones over low heat to remove the fishy smell and increase the aroma and umami of the toasted fish bones.

You can use a toaster oven or skillet on the stovetop.

Never reheat Kotsuzake

Kotsuzake and Hirezake also have a fishy smell if you leave them for a long time after making them.

Enjoy the change in flavor and drink it up sooner.

If you drink it all up and then pour in some new hot sake, you can enjoy all of them about twice.

How to make Kotsuzake

How to make Kotsuzake

Rico McConnellRico McConnell
Kotsuzake is one of the traditional ways to enjoy hot sake more in the unique method which is infusing the flavor of the toasted or grilled fish/ dried fish/ bones in the hot Sake. Commonly, In Japan, use whole river fish such as iwana mountain trout, ayu sweet fish, but, you can substitute with light-flavored white fish to make Kotsuzake.
Cook Time 13 minutes
Total Time 13 minutes
Course Cocktail, Drinks
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 2 servings


  • 1 small fish or fish bones (dried or grilled) *7 oz
  • 1.5 cups Japanese sake


  • Slowly toast the dried fish or fish bones in a toaster oven or a stovetop over low heat.
    Or, grill the fish when using fresh fish.
  • Meanwhile, make "Atsukan" hot sake. {75 to 80 C (167 – 176F)}
    *How to make Hot sake properly
  • Infuse the toasted fish flavor with the hot sake. Soak the grilled fish/bones in the hot sake and cover with plastic wrap for 3 minutes.
  • Serve and enjoy! "Kanpai"



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Keyword Alcohol, Cocktails, Sake, Traditional

How Does Kotsusake / Hiresake Taste Like?

Kotsuzake / Hirezake are often described as “it is like fish soup”.

To me, this Kotsuzake infused with dried Iwana fish (which I bought in Japan) was so smooth and delicious packed with rich Umami flavor but not fishy flavor at all.

The dried fish dramatically changed the sake flavor even the sake tasted better and become easy to drink.

You’ll need to be careful to drink it too much because Kotsuzake is so good.

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