It is never a bad day to treat yourself with a glass (or two) of the best sake. Having originated in the “Land of the Rising Sun”- Japan, it is an alcoholic beverage made of fermented rice.
Sake, legally known as Seishu in Japan, leaves you spoilt for choice. There has got to be something great about this beverage because it plays an important role in various Japanese cultures and traditions and is also the national drink of Japan.
This guide offers you the chance to unravel the mysteries around this complex yet fascinating drink, the various types available for purchase, and ways to enjoy them!
What is Sake Made of?
Sake is traditional Japanese alcohol, made out of fermented rice. It is produced through a special fermentation culture, known as Koji. The starch content found in rice is exposed by milling or polishing the rice. The obtained starch is then converted to sugar, which is later converted into alcohol.
So, the main components of a pure rice style sake are rice, water, and rice koji. Another category of Sake is fortified style Sake, wherein a small amount of distilled alcohol is added at the end of the brewing process. The alcohol acts as an enhancer or flavor and aroma.
What Does Sake Taste Like?
A traditional sake has a very subtle and mellow tone to it. It feels light and refreshing to the palate. Just like other rice wines, Sake is also brewed, which leaves it with a mild and sweet flavor. Typically, since Sakes are available in different grades, each would have a different flavor to it.
Sake made out of a more polished version of rice would have a lighter flavor in comparison to a variant that was brewed from a less polished version of rice. If you want to indulge in a drink that has moderate alcohol content and a fairly mild taste, Sake is the choice.
How Strong is Sake?
Sake contains 16% to 17% of alcohol by volume. This makes it slightly stronger than your average red wine. In comparison to a pint of beer and a shot of vodka, they are half as strong. However, the alcohol content may vary from brand to brand. A serving of a high-quality, chilled glass of Sake would have a stronger, more robust flavor than a shoddy, cheap quality sake, brewed using low-quality rice.
Therefore, in the end, it all jots down to the fermentation process of the Sake, which directly affects its final flavor.
Main Types of Sake
There are typically 4 different variants of Sake, namely Junmai-Shu, Ginjo-Shu, Daiginjo-Shu, and Honjozo-Shu. Each of them has a different taste, which depends on the percentage of milling and the process of brewing. It can be quite a daunting task to choose one that suits your palate. Let’s have a small look at each type so that you can identify your choice of Sake easily.
It is pure rice Sake. No distilled alcohol is added to it. It consists of the most basic ingredients that are required to brew Sake, rice, rice Koji, water, and a catalyst. It has a strong taste to it, and the acidity level is noticeably higher in comparison to other forms of Sake.
The rice used for this sake is milled in such a way that at least 40% of the rice is ground away. Then, they are fermented at very cold temperatures for an extensive period. The flavor and the fragrance of this Sake are flowery, with a fruity undertone.
The polishing of rice for this kind of Sake leaves nothing more than 50% of the grain’s original size. Their brewing process involves heavy labor and hours of production. Due to this, the aroma and the flavor of the Sake are well extracted, making it complex, yet light.
It is a type of Sake where distilled alcohol is added to the brewed product in very little proportions to make the Sake lighter and easier on the palate. It has a very prominent flavor to it and is best consumed when warm. If you are going to drink sake for the first time, this is something you should go for.
Top 10 Best Sake Brands
Gekkeikan is a pioneer brand of sake, which was founded in 1637 by Jiemon Ōkura. It is based in Fushimi, Kyoto, and is a chief manufacturer of plum-based wines and traditional Japanese sake.
One of the most popular variants of Junmai-Shu’s Sake that has a light earthy flavor to it with hints of grapefruit.
It is a Tokubetsu Junmai-Shu, a type of sake where the rice is milled to a whopping 60%. It ferments at a low temperature for several hours, untill a crisp and mild sake is obtained.
Manufactured at the breweries of Asahi Shuzu, Dassai 23 falls under the category of the ultra-premium form of Junmai Daiginjo. It is crafted using Yamada-Nishiki rice that is polished down to as less as 23% to keep it light and refreshing. It has aromatic hues of melon and peach along with savory notes of pine wash and chestnuts. This fascinating combination of aromas and flavors leave a punchy aftertaste.
I would personally recommend you to drink it when chilled. Have it alongside your favorite Japanese fish dishes like a platter of sushi or tempura vegetables.
Hakkaisan offers a range of premium sakes that are imported from Niigata, Japan. They have a fascinating range of sakes, something to match everyone’s palate. Having tried some of their products myself, I can ensure that this is one of the best sakes to satisfy your tingling taste-buds.
A high-quality sake where the rice is milled down to 60% of its original size. It has around 15.5% of alcohol content with a clean aftertaste.
If you are in search of the sake that has an intriguing aroma to it but leaves a gentle flavor on your tongue, this is a serious contender.
Otokoyama Tokubetsu Man Mountain
A Tokubetsu Junmai that tastes very similar to an almost ripped, sweet fruit. It has a very subtle earthy tone to it and is very clean on the palate. It is manufactured in Japan’s Otokoyama Brewery, which was founded around 350 years ago.
If you are a beginner, this should be your choice. You can easily pair it up with a wide choice of simple dishes like a stir fry or sashimi. Since it is quite dry, I like to have it with a miso-based dish to divulge its true flavor.
Sohomare brewery has been in operation since 1872. It was founded by the Kono family and is located in the Tochigi region of Japan. All their sakes are hand-brewed using the finest quality Yamada-Nishiki rice.
Kimoto Junmai Daiginjo
If you are a connoisseur of sake and are looking for something that has been brewed using traditional Kimoto methods, this is a must buy. It has a slightly creamy texture to it along with an elegant and soft scent. I always have it with a plate of grilled prawns or chicken for an extra burst of flavor.
The Dewatsuru brewery is located in the southern part of Akita Prefecture, surrounded by the Dewa Hills. It has been in function since 1865 and was founded by Ito Juushiro to provide the most local and traditional form of sake.
Yamatoshizuku Junmai Daiginjo
They are brewed using high-grade local rice that is carefully selected by a team of professional brewers. It has mellow notes of grapes and pears and is semi-sweet to the palate. Pair it with a simple bowl of salad or a plate of expensive seafood, it goes well with all.
Located in the snowy center of Japan, Niigata Prefecture, in Aga, Kirinzan is a producer of some of the finest and premium quality of sake with more than 170 years of history attached to it.
Catch a whiff of summer fruits and minerals with this dry sake that tastes best with food products that taste like the ocean, something like oysters or sushi. Daiginjo KARAKUCHI sake hot or cold, tastes amazing at any temperature.
Situated in the beautiful mountains of Fukui, Kokuryo brewery was established in the year 1804, with the only vision of providing people with the best quality of sake they ever come across.
[Kokuryu Ryu] Daiginjo
It delivers everything you would expect out of a good Daijingo Sake. With a dry finish, accompanied by fruity tones of pineapple, taffy, and white flower blossoms, it leaves you longing for more.
Nanbu Bijin brewery is situated in Ninohe and is best known for acquiring the world’s first vegan sake certificate. Along with this, they serve a range of kosher- friendly and sugar-free sakes as well.
With a full-bodied taste and a flowery aroma, they are made using the best-quality Yamada Nishiki sake rice. The rice grains are milled to half their original weight so as to bring out the best flavors in the sake.
A major sake brewer since 1743, they excel in some of the most delectable forms of sake that are freshly pressed and unpasteurized.
When I am on a lookout for something that is luxurious yet affordable, I like to invest in this bottle of Sake that has a very delicate and refined taste and goes with almost any kind of savory dish.
It is never a bad idea to bring a little Japan to your weekend drinking spree. Buy one, or several, of these amazing sake, and sip away your worries, one glass at a time.
Happy "responsible" drinking!