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The Best Sake Brands to Try in 2023

Best Sake Brands to Try in 2023

Sake is a popular Japanese beverage that has been enjoyed since ancient times, particularly in Japanese sushi restaurants and throughout the country. The pronunciation of sake is “sakeh.” 

Whether you’re completely new to sake or you’re a connoisseur, here at Thirst, we have some great recommendations for the best sake brands that you should try in 2023. 

Read on as we share our top picks and what makes each brand special.

Hakkaisan – Tokubetsu Junmai 720ml 

Hakkaisan’s classic sake has a smooth and refreshing taste that is mild. You can enjoy it either warm or chilled, but if you gently heat it, the delicate aroma will become more prominent.

Hakkaisan’s Signature Brew is a clean and dry drink that is easy to consume and does not become dull. It can be enjoyed at many different temperatures. When heated, the koji-rice aroma becomes even more pronounced.

Hakkaisan Brewery was founded in 1922 and is located at the base of Mount Hakkai in Niigata. The brewery uses the spring water from the mountain to produce its sake.

The brewery has three guiding principles: to create the best sake that people will always enjoy, to ensure high production standards for all its sakes, and to make Hakkaisan sake with smooth, pure, and mellow flavors by producing it in small batches, using hand-made koji and slow fermentation at low temperatures.

While you can serve this dish chilled or at room temperature, we suggest pairing it with a fresh and creamy dish such as fish in a white sauce. However, it’s important to note that the floral and herby flavors of the dish also make it suitable for serving any fragrant food.

Dassai – 39 Junmai Daiginjo. 720ml

If you’re a fan of sake, then you’ll know that Junmai Daiginjo is highly sought after because of its high rice milling rate and floral aroma. So, if you try a bottle of Dassai from Asahi Brewery in Yamaguchi Prefecture, you’re in for a treat.

The Dassai brand is known for its Junmai Daiginjo sake, which is polished up to 23%. This makes it one of the world’s most popular sake brands. I recently tried Dassai 39, and my admiration for the brand has increased even more.

This Daiginjo has a milling rate that falls between Dassai 45 and 23. It shares some similarities with its sister brews but also has some differences. The aromas include fruity notes of koji rice, apple, honeydew, and strawberry.

This sake is very rich and full of flavors that remind you of a fruit basket, with a strong acidity similar to wine and a long aftertaste. It has a chewy, round, and soft texture yet remains bright. You can taste hints of pear, apple, blueberry, and honeydew. Overall, it is a spirited and smooth sake.

What to Look For in a Sake

If you’re new to buying Sake, you may find the many types and information overwhelming. However, there are three simple questions you can ask a Sake sommelier or shop attendant to help you find a Sake that you’ll enjoy. 

These three factors will guide you in selecting a suitable Sake based on your taste preferences. They are:

  1. Fruity Aroma

Would you like Sake with a fruity aroma such as apple or banana? This type of aroma is known as ‘Ginjo-ka’ and is often found in Ginjo Sake. Alternatively, Junmai Sake usually has a savory steamed rice aroma or a non-fruity aroma.

  1. Body

Do you prefer full-bodied or light-bodied Sake? Full-bodied Sake has a strong and powerful Umami flavor, while light-bodied Sake is easier to consume with cleaner flavors. 

  1. Aftertaste

Do you prefer Sake with a long or short aftertaste? Some types of Sake leave a lingering taste and aroma in your mouth even after you swallow, while others have little to no aftertaste, and the taste disappears quickly. Junmai Sake usually has a longer aftertaste, whereas Sake with added alcohol typically has a shorter aftertaste.

As a general tip when purchasing Sake for the first time, it can be helpful to provide three key factors: the level of the body, the aroma type (fruity or non-fruity), and the length of aftertaste desired. This can increase the likelihood of receiving a Sake that you will enjoy. For instance, you could request a “full-bodied Sake with a fruity aroma and short aftertaste” or a “light-bodied Sake with a non-fruity aroma and long aftertaste.”

Types of Sake

Table sake without a specific grade, also known as futsuu-shu, makes up around 60% of the market. These Japanese sakes do not have any unique requirements for production, and distillers often add a significant amount of pure distilled alcohol to increase their yields. They are mostly intended for cooking, so if you want to enjoy drinking sake, it’s better to go for a premium grade.

Premium sake is classified into six legally defined grades based on various factors, one of which is the milling ratio of the rice. This ratio, which is called Seimaibuai in Japanese, indicates the portion of the rice kernel remaining after it is milled during production and can be found on every bottle of premium sake.

A lower Seimaibuai typically means the sake has a lighter and cleaner flavor profile, which is a characteristic of higher quality. However, it’s important to note that simply examining the milling ratio isn’t enough to determine the overall quality of the sake.

To help you understand premium sake better, here are some common terms you should know for each of the six grades:

  • Honjozo-shu 
  • Junmai-shu 
  • Ginjo-shu 
  • Junmai Ginjo-shu 
  • Daiginjo-shu 
  • Junmai Daiginjo-shu

How to Enjoy Sake

In the Philippines, there is a lot of misinformation about sake. Although most restaurants won’t restrict or instruct you on how to drink sake, there are certain things you should be aware of if you want to have a more traditional sake-drinking experience.

There are three different ways to drink sake based solely on temperature.

Okan 

Okan refers to warm sake, which is typically made using cheaper sakes or those with a less refined flavor profile for two purposes. Firstly, warming it removes the fruity notes, while secondly, it brings out the sweetness and reduces acidity. However, it’s essential to note that sake should not be served hot. 

Warm sake should be served within a temperature range of 104℉ to 122℉, but never higher than that.

Reishu 

Reishu is a type of sake that is served cold or chilled. Similar to wine, the colder temperature enhances the robust flavors of premium sake and masks some of the subtle flavors, much like chilled wine. However, some wines may lose their character when chilled or cold.

Hiya 

Hiya sake is typically served at room temperature and maintains its distinct flavors without significant changes. Premium sakes are also served at room temperature as they are carefully brewed to maintain the correct notes while preventing unwanted flavors from overpowering the taste.

If you’re looking to explore the delightful world of sake, come to Thirst for the best recommendations! Our sake collections on our website have something for everyone and are sure to inspire your next beverage adventure. 

Find out what makes each sake brand special, and enjoy the unique taste of each one while you make new discoveries! Shop our selection today!   

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