Whether it’s hot sake to warm you on cold nights or a delicate cold glass in summer with some fresh sushi, sake lovers around the world have a lot of options today. I personally love Japan’s national liquor and try to introduce others to the charms of sake.
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If you already know what you like, it’s easy to choose from the many sake brands in the market. But for those who are new to trying sake beyond Japanese restaurants, it can be a tough choice. I’ve rounded up what I think are some of the best sake brands out there that you can buy beyond Japan.
My list is in no particular order, and I’ve included a good mix of premium and budget, hot and cold sakes to suit different palates. Enjoy!
Kokuryu was one of the first brands to mass-produce the highest quality Daiginjo sake from Japan. Daiginjo sake is made of 50 percent-milled rice, water, koji mold, yeast and a part of distilled alcohol.
Kokuryu uses a French wine maturation process to make its sake. The sake is stored under 32 degrees F for several years, to allow maturing over a longer period of time than most other sakes.
The result is a liquor with a gentle and mild aroma and flavor that I personally love with vegetable dishes and salads at the start of a meal.
2. Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai
If you enjoy hot sake with a Japanese meal, you’ll love the warmth and dryness of this sake, with its robust rice flavor. It’s a balanced sake that goes down easily with food.
Junmai sake keeps 70 percent or less of its rice unpolished, which lends that wonderful flavor to the sake.
Highly recommended for winter nights, relaxing with friends.
If you’re new to sake, Dassai’s sweet, fruity and fresh aromas and flavors will slowly introduce you to the world of Japanese rice wine.
Brewed by Asahi-shuzo, this sake has been designed for everyone to enjoy.
This is a very popular brand in Japan and beyond.
Some consider Juyondai to be a prize, since it’s a beautiful sake that is really hard to find.
If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of premium Juyondai (of course it comes at a premium price) at an expensive restaurant, you’ll find it has a rich and generous taste that beats many other sake you may have tried.
This sake has been produced since the 17th century by Takagi-shuzo breweries, and they have a very strong tradition of carefully and lovingly communicating’ with the yeast during the process of fermentation to get the right flavor.
5. Kirin Zan Junmai Ginjo
You can enjoy the Junmai Ginjo both chilled and warm.
You’ll find the label recommends warming. When you do, you’ll find it goes down easy and has a clean taste.
If you’re afraid of hot sake tasting of alcohol, you’ll be pleased with the fresh taste of the Junmai Ginjo.
6. Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
The rich and plump taste of the Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai is likely to blow you away if you enjoy your sake warmed.
It has a velvety and smooth taste in the mouth, making it a comfort sake for winter nights.
Hakkaisan is a brand that tries to elevate ordinary sake and bring it at par with what is known as the Ginjo category of sakes.
Ginjo quality sake is made from rice that is milled 40 percent, with 60 percent of each grain remaining.
Hakkaisan’s ordinary’ sake manages to achieve a light, sharp and dry flavor that is very popular across Japan and in the US you can pick it up for anywhere between $10 and $40, depending on the quality.
Another popular and widely available brand that is quite budget-friendly is Gekkeikan.
This common brand of sake actually makes up around a quarter of the sake market in the US.
You can pick it up for anywhere between $7 and $30.
The Japanese brewery is one of the oldest companies in the world, and it has a subsidiary in California today.
If you enjoy velvety and smooth fruity flavor varieties, you’ll enjoy Tozai sake.
This affordable range of flavors has one that is the most popular – the Snow Maiden cloud sake’ which is chewy and thick but dry.
10. Tentaka Shuzo
If you have money to spare, try some of the premium organic sake that Tentaka Shuzo produces.
The company does have lower end sakes, but sakes like the Silent Stream (which you can buy for around $120 in the US) are clear and fantastic.
This sake is made near the small town of Yuzukami, and though it has buyers around the world, it is the locals who are the largest patrons of Tentaka Shuzo.
This list is by no means a comprehensive list of the world’s best sake. But it is an introductory list for those who are new to sake or those who are looking for something different.
These are some of the best sake in their respective categories. I hope you find something that you enjoy on this list.