Top 10 sakes in all styles to awaken your inner koji connoisseur
You can now get to know one of the best exports from Japan, including sparkling delights and heady infusions
Sake's unique blend of sweet and floral, fruity flavors, and savory hints of soy can be difficult for western palates. But, get to know this rice-based booze, highly prized and highly sought-after, and you'll find a drink that spans a wide flavour spectrum and is unrivalled in its ability to pair with food.
It's important to understand the basics before we diveheadfirst into the amazing world of sake.
Sake is made in the same way as beer: polished rice is washed and steamed before being cooled.
This also gives rise to the umami flavor. The rice's polishing ratio determines the quality of sake.
Polishing, also known as milling, removes the outer and husk of the rice kernel. This can cause undesirable flavors in the final brew.
Sake made from highly polished grains will generally be of higher quality and sell for a higher premium.
There are many styles of sake, and labels on bottles can make it difficult for novice koji experts to identify them. Here are some things to look out for...
Daiginjo is a super-premium sake that has a minimum of 50 percent polishing ratio. To enhance the fruity, floral flavors of this style, a small amount is sometimes added to it. Serve chilled.
Ginjo is a premium, fragrant sake that has a minimum 40% polishing ratio. Serve chilled.
Honjozo is a light, lightly fragrant premium sake that has been reduced to a minimum of 70%. A small amount of distilled alcohol has also been added to enhance the aroma and flavor. Serve chilled or warm. (Heat gently to 45-50C).
Junmai is Sake without any additions and with a minimum polishing ratio. Serve chilled or warm (heat gently to 45-50C). Junmai with either daiginjo or ginjo is a sign that there has been no alcohol added.
There are many sakes available. Here are ten of our favorites.
Our independent reviews are reliable. Although we may be paid a commission by some retailers, this does not affect our independent reviews. Our selections are based on real-world testing and expert opinion. This revenue is used to finance journalism in The Independent.
You'll instantly notice the sherry-like aroma this super sake gives off. The sweetness of the plum is balanced by the delicate acidity and subtle soy notes. It is a great accompaniment to fruit cakes and rich toffee puddings. It's a strong cocktail ingredient too. Mix it with Japanese blended whisky to make a great Manhattan.
Yauemon Snow Blossom daiginjo muroka nama genshu, 16%, 720ml: PS32, Tengu Sake
This premium daiginjo, also known as a namazake is a sake that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization can inhibit the flavour of the sake. Yauemon Snow Blossom has a lively and vibrant taste. It is rich in flavour and has a distinctive sharpness that enhances the flavors of pineapple, apple, and melon. Remember that unpasteurized brews such as this have a limited shelf life so make sure to keep them in the fridge.
Akashi-Tai ginjo yuzushu, 10%, 500ml: PS20.83, Amazon
This fruit-forward sake is infused with macerated Yuzu. It has a tart, citrus taste, and a cloudy yellow hue. It can be served straight from the refrigerator or mixed with soda water to make a refreshing, thirst-quenching summer spritzer.
Gekkeikan nouvelle junmai ginjo, 15-16%, 720ml: PS34.50, The Japan Centre
This well-balanced, accessible sake comes from Japan's Gekkeikan brewery.
It is light, bright, and flinty, with a rice-forward flavor and mild acidity. This sake is perfect for pairing with food. This sake is high quality because Gekkeikan has been making sake since 1637. They have worked hard to perfect their craft.
Dassai brewery, a family-owned business, regularly wins prizes for its superior selection of sakes. Dassai 50 is our choice of crop. It's a light, fruity and easy-to-drink variety that is perfect for novice sake drinkers who are just starting to explore rice-based booze. This brew can be sipped warm on cool evenings but it is best enjoyed cold to enjoy the subtle flavours of red and anise.
Sohomare junmai Ginjo, 15%, 730ml: PS35.95 at The Whisky Exchange
Sohomare's "kimoto" method produces a premium, high-quality sake called junami Ginjo. To encourage the formation of lactic acid naturally, sake and rice mold are stirred with long poles. This almost doubles the brewing process. This labor-intensive process yields a smooth, soft-sipping brew that is rich in floral notes and moreish minerals.
Hanatomoe brewery is known for its complex, modern sakes that are brewed using traditional methods. Hanatomoe "cedar" sake is made using the Yamahai method, which is a combination of wild fermentation and early introductions of lactic acid.After the sake has been brewed, it is left to mature in cedar barrels. This imparts a smooth, distinctive flavor with spicy hints and green tea.
Shichiken sparkling dry, 11%, 720ml: PS46, Japan Gourmet
Do you want some fizz, but not bored with brut? This dry, sparkling treat uses the traditional method. Live yeast is added to the bottle to allow for secondary fermentation. This produces delicate, peachy sake that has a soft mouthfeel and a sweet finish. Be aware that once you remove the cap, the previously clear bottle-bourne booze will become cloudy as the bubbles escape and hit the yeast.
Tamagawa Time Machine, 14% 360ml: PS23.25 Berry Bros. & Rudd
This thick, viscous sake is made from a 300-year-old recipe (hence the tag on the time machine). It has umami by the bucket-load. Savory soy is paired with sweet, rich molasses and tropical fruit in big mouthfuls. Although it may not be for everyone, this is probably the best way to get the authentic taste of an old Japanese brew.
The verdict: Sakes
There is sake to suit everyone. For fruit-oriented fans, choose the Akashi-Tai Shiraume Ginjo Umeshu. For fearless sake warriors looking to challenge their palates, get a Tamagawa timer and set out to ride the sweet soy waves.
Sign up to receive email updates on new recipes.