10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!

Sake is easily the best known alcoholic liquor unique to Japan (Nihonshu). Sake is often described as Japanese rice wine, but this is misleading for sake is not technically wine at all. With wines, alcohol is produced by fermenting naturally occurring sugar in fruits such as grapes.

Sake is ‘brewed’ by converting the starches in polished rice into sugars which are then converted into alcohol. In some ways, this process is more like brewing beer.Many people believe that sake should be drunk hot, but this is only really true in the winter and when drinking lower grade or old sake; top grade sake should be served chilled to preserve its aroma and flavor. Traditionally, we serve sake from a small flask (tokkuri) into small cups (o-choko). It is a social convention that we do not pour for ourselves but only for others. The ‘flavor notes’ of good sake can be flowery or herbal, but are most often fruity, especially notes of apple or banana derived from ethyl caproate and isoamyl acetate respectively. The label on a bottle of sake usually gives an indication of its quality and flavor, but unless you can read Japanese, this won’t be much help to the visitor. Premium sake is only as good as its ingredients and, as such, is representative of the abundant natural and agricultural resources of certain regions, so for my list of recommendations I will focus on some of these regions, places where the visitor can experience something of the sake brewing art, as well as taste some highly prized brands. But be warned, some premium sakes are hard to come by or expensive.



 

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!

 

1. Hourin, Kyoto

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_hourin

I’ll start with Kyoto as it is on most visitor’s list of places to see. There you will find Fushimi Momoyama (lit: peach mountain) which has long been famous for sake brewing. At the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, you can experience the long history of sake brewing in Kyoto and enjoy a tasting of Kyoto’s finest sake. There are also many small sake brewery tours in the Kyoto area, so it is well worth planning ahead of your trip.

 

2. Shime-hari-tsuru, Niigata

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_Shime-hari-tsuru

Visitors to Niigata, where the Shinano river allows for exceptional quality rice cultivation, will encounter three of the best brands of sake in Japan: Shime-hari-tsuru, Hakkai-san and Kubota. Of these, the latter two are more easily obtainable. The Hakkai-san brewery also offers tours.

 

3. Hiroki, Fukushima

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_Hiroki

Despite brewers still struggling with the effects of 2011’s nuclear accident, Fukushima Prefecture won most grand prizes at the Japan Sake Awards, 2015, for the third year running! Easily the prefecture’s best known brand, Hiroki is famous for its distinctive flavor and aroma.

 

4. Dewa-zakura / Juyon-dai, Yamagata

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_dewa-zakura

Yamagata is another prefecture famed for its superior rice. Juyon-dai and Dewa-zakura are two highly regarded sake brands which, interestingly, sit at opposite ends of the price spectrum.

 

5. Denshu, Aomori

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_denshu

Arguably Aomori’s most popular brand, Denshu is a very clean and fresh tasting sake with a nose of grassy, floral tones, and a fruity flavor. Though reasonably priced, only around 50000 cases are produced each year, so demand is high.

 

6. Kuheiji, Aichi

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_kuheiji

Kuheiji is another reasonably priced premium sake. From the Chubu region of Aichi Prefecture, this Sake is slightly sweeter than is usual with a distinctive aroma and flavor hinting at red fruits. Medium-bodied, it is smooth and pleasant, and quite unlike any other brand.

 

7. Kokuryu, Fukui

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_kokuryu

Sake made with soft water tends to have a subtler, more nuanced range of flavors than the crisp, dry sakes made from mineral-rich hard water. Kokuryu is perhaps the most famous soft water brewery in Japan, and Kokuryu brand sake, with its deep, sophisticated flavor, offers a delicately balanced expression of the sake-maker’s art.

 

8. Hakutsuru, Kobe

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_hakutsuru

Visiting Kobe in Hyogo prefecture, you will find some of Japan’s finest sake. Kobe’s Nada district is a well known area for sake production due to being close to a major port. In the Nada district you will find the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum, where you can learn the process of sake brewing and taste various flavors.

 

9. Hakkin, Nagano

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_hakkin

The Masuichi-Ichimura Sake Brewery in Obuse, Nagano prefecture, was founded in 1755 and has since been instrumental in reviving traditional skills, as well as preserving ancient buildings. You can visit the brewery and learn about the sake brewing process, and try their range of sake flavors. Their Hakkin brand is a masterpiece of traditional brewing methods using wooden Oke barrels, now revived after a 50 year absence.

 

10. Dassai, Yamaguchi

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!_dassai

If there is one sake that all connoisseurs seem to agree on these days, it is Dassai. Brewed by Asahi Shuzo in Yamaguchi using a revolutionary year round process, this clean and flavorful sake has become a firm favorite throughout Japan, as well as gaining popularity abroad. And don’t let its popular appeal put you off; Dassai is a superior sake in every respect, all the more impressive considering that Yamaguchi was never a major sake brewing area!

 

Conclusion

Of course, there are many other brands of quality sake, and many more locations to experience the sake brewing art, but it would require a book to list them all.

 

10 Recommended Sake You Should Try in Japan!

1. Hourin, Kyoto
2. Shime-hari-tsuru, Niigata
3. Hiroki, Fukushima
4. Dewa-zakura / Juyon-dai, Yamagata
5. Denshu, Aomori
6. Kuheiji, Aichi
7. Kokuryu, Fukui
8. Hakutsuru, Kobe
9. Hakkin, Nagano
10. Dassai, Yamaguchi