Sake and famous Japanese Sake brands in 2024

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japanese-sake-brands

The alcoholic beverage sake is made from fermented rice in Japan. It is a beverage that is highly adaptable and may be consumed both on its own and with food. Check out our ranking of the top Japanese Sake brands to try if you enjoy drinking sake. There is something on this list for everyone, from thrilling cocktails to distinctive flavors. Therefore, be sure to taste these Japanese sake brands whether you’re looking for a new beverage to enjoy or want to discover some other possibilities.

I/ What is Sake?

The Japanese alcoholic beverage sake, sometimes written saké, is manufactured from fermented rice. Whenever someone asks, “what is sake called in Japan?”, then the answer is saké. Sake is non-carbonated, has a pale color, a sweet taste, and between 14 and 16 percent alcohol by volume.

Because of its look and alcohol content, sake is frequently mistaken for wine, but it is really manufactured using a method called multiple overlapping fermentation, in which a grain (rice) is changed from starch to sugar and then converted to alcohol. When the outer layers are carefully removed from selected strains of rice, the grain is shrunk to between 50 and 70% of its initial dimensions.

What-is-Sake
What is Sake?

Aspergillus Oryzae, a fungus, and Kome-koji, a combination of steamed rice, are the basic ingredients for production. Koji transforms the starch in the rice into fermentable sugars. The koji is traditionally combined by hand with water and freshly steamed rice, then it is incubated to create a pleasant crumbly dry material while being covered in a blanket.

In a vat with additional rice and water, this is next put. With the aid of sake yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), this mixture ferments for about four weeks, turning into the approximately 11%-alcohol beverage known as moto.

A second fermentation, lasting about seven days, starts when more koji, steamed rice, and water are added to the vat. Sake fermentation differs from the fermentation methods for other alcoholic beverages, like beer, in that the grain stays in a single vat throughout. A further week of resting is followed by filtering, pasteurization, and bottling of the sake. It is possible to introduce alcohol in the proper dosage.

National-drink-of-Japan
National drink of Japan

Sake is the national drink of Japan, and it is served ceremoniously. It is heated in a little earthenware or porcelain bottle known as a Tokkuri before being served and is typically sipped from a tiny porcelain cup known as a Sakazuki. Cold or on ice is used to serve premium sake, which has a delicate flavor.

Sake was largely made by the imperial palace and significant temples and shrines in ancient Japan, but starting in the early 12th century, the general populace started making it as well. The present method of manufacturing sake had all but been developed by the early 1600s.

However, due to the lack of rice throughout World War II, manufacturers were compelled to add distilled liquor to the rice mashing, which inadvertently resulted in a massive rise in sake production and made it simpler for producers to satisfy demand. After that, sake with added alcohol was manufactured often.

famous-Japanese-Sake-brands
Famous Japanese Sake brands

Sake is referred to as the drink of the kami by the Japanese religious tradition known as Shinto (gods). It is consumed during festivities and presented as an offering to the kami. A Shinto wedding ceremony involves the bride and groom drinking sake from lacquer cups.

So what is Japanese sake made of? To make sake, you need rice, water, yeasts, and koji. 

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1.1. Rice 

The most popular types of japonica rice used in sake brewing are the short- and medium-grain variants. A grain of japonica rice is chubbier and denser than a grain of ordinary long-grain rice. Because it has a bigger starch core, it is the perfect choice for thorough rice polishing and fermentation. Additionally, it is more absorbent and has less fat and protein, making it ideal for sake production.

Only 5% of Japan’s total rice production is special sake rice. There are also a number of high-quality sake-brewing rice types within the japonica genus. The name Sakamai or Shuzotekimai refers to these superior sake rice grains. They can be found all over Japan. The highest-quality Japanese sake, such as Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo, is brewed with Sakamai.

These are a few of the most well-liked premium sake rice varieties:

  • Yamadanishiki
  • Gohyakugomangoku
  • Miyamanishiki
  • Omachi
  • Wakamizu
Japanese-sake-made-of-rice
Japanese sake made of rice

Yamadanishiki, one of the premium rice varieties, is the most well-liked. Hyogo Prefecture in the Kansai region, which includes Kyoto and Osaka, is where the variety first appeared. Yamadanishiki is still grown today in areas of Japan that produce rice. Even in Miyagi Prefecture, which is 400 km the North of Tokyo, it has grown!

Naturally, other ingredients are also necessary to create the various types of sake in addition to the rice itself. The ultimate product is significantly affected by how it is processed.

Sake rice needs to be polished before being used in the brewing process. The outer layers of the grain of rice are eliminated during the rice polishing procedure. Although most of the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals are found on the outer layers of the rice, they are not ideal for making superb sake.

1.2. Water

Without excellent water, premium rice and koji mold spores are nothing. The fact that many of the top sake distilleries in Japan are found close to mountains and springs is not a coincidence. In actuality, one of the key ways well-known sake brands differentiate their products is by the water source! 

Japanese-sake-made-of-water
Japanese sake made of water

When making sake, water is used twice. It is initially used during fermentation. Since water makes up as much as 80% of the ingredients in sake, sake breweries are quite picky about the water’s purity in order to achieve the proper flavors and smells for sake. In order to complete the flavor towards the end of the brew, water is also added to undiluted sake.

The ultimate flavor of the sake is most significantly influenced by the water’s mineral composition. A high mineral content, such as iron, can enhance the flavor profile. On the other hand, soft water may result in a more “boring” finish. Water is frequently filtered when employed in the dilution process to guarantee the sake’s final taste and odor are undetectable.

1.3. Koji (Aspergillus Oryzae) 

Sake’s “exotic” and most difficult-to-find component is koji. Koji, a mold also known as Aspergillus Oryzae, aids in the conversion of rice starch into glucose so that it can be fermented. Sake wouldn’t develop the characteristics of sake without koji mold. Similar to yeasts, Koji, a form of mold, poses no health risks to people. Other Japanese alcoholic drinks like Shochu and Awamori are also made with koji, as well as soy sauce, miso, mirin, and vinegar.

Japanese-sake-made-of-Koji
Japanese sake made of Koji

Koji manufacturing is a major endeavor for master sake brewers (Toji; Seigiku). Like with all of the other primary components of sake, the koji’s quality has a significant impact on the flavor profiles of the beverage. Starting with steamed rice, koji is made. Koji mold spores are added to the rice before it is put into a special space called a koji-Muro. You’ll have the koji rice to mix in after a couple of days.

1.4. Yeasts 

One of the key components in sake production, just like in beer, is yeast. The fermentation process, which turns glucose (sugar) into alcohol, uses yeasts (Kobo). The flavor and aroma of the brew can greatly differ depending on the kind of sake yeast utilized. For this reason, a Sake bottle’s label frequently lists the kind of yeast that was utilized. The Brewing Society of Japan stores and makes available most types of yeast.

Japanese-sake-made-of-Yeasts
Japanese sake made of Yeasts

To make a yeast starter, it is combined with koji, hot water, and cooked rice (Shubo). Once a yeast colony has developed in the Shubo, the mash is created by adding the yeast to a fermentation tank with water, steamed rice, and koji rice (Moromi). Over the course of four days, the Moromi grows three times in size. The yeast transforms the sugar produced by the koji, which is made from rice starch, into alcohol and carbon dioxide. A typical fermentation takes 18 to 32 days to complete.

1.5. Brewer’s Alcohol

Brewer’s alcohol deserves consideration even though it is not a necessary component of sake. Distilled alcohol may occasionally be added to the Moromi during the fermentation process to enhance flavor. A smooth and aromatic sake results from the additional alcohol. A popular type of sake known as “Honjozo” includes distilled alcohol. 

Brewer’s alcohol is produced by distilling a variety of ingredients, such as potatoes, corn, beets, or sugar cane. Only the manufacturer of Honjozo and Futsushu uses it (a cheaper sake variety). To keep their extremely premium labels, other Japanese sake kinds like Junmai cannot be made with alcohol added.

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II/ What number of sake varieties are there?

Two primary categories of sake exist overall. These two groups encompass all domestic and imported sake:

Futsu-shu/Basic

The term “basic” or “regular” sake is used to describe Futsu-shu sakes. In both terms of availability and affordability, Futsu-shu sake is frequently contrasted with commercial table wines. Nearly two-thirds of all sake produced globally is regular sake, which has a light flavor and texture, a softly sweet palate, and little to no acidity. At most 70% polished, and with or without additional brewer’s alcohol, the rice is used to make Futsu-shu.

types-of-sake

Tokutei Meisho-shu/Premium

Tokutei Meisho-shu, often known as “specially categorized sake,” is thought to be a more expensive and opulent beverage than Futsu-shu sake. Overall, Tokutei Meisho-shu produces sake with outstanding flavors and textures and accounts for one-third of all sake production worldwide.

Premium sake can only be brewed with rice, water, yeast, and koji, a type of fermenting mold, in accordance with national requirements. Furthermore, premium sake is separated into eight distinct classifications known as grades, as opposed to the wide stamp of Futsu-shu sake.

Sake maintains a core set of distinguishing taste, body, aroma, and production characteristics, similar to beer and wine. However, each type of sake will inevitably have its own distinctive characteristics that were cultivated by the particular Kuramoto (brewery) and Toji (brewmaster) that produced it.

III/ Top 15 famous Japanese sake brands

Do you know the best Japanese sake brands? The following Japanese sake brands list will show you 15 famous Japanese sake that you can refer to buy when searching for a sake brand. 

3.1. Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo “Otter Festival”

Japanese-sake-brands-Dassai-45-Junmai-Daiginjo
Japanese sake brands – Dassai 45 Junmai Daiginjo

You’ll keep going back for more since this sake’s flavor is so distinctive. Asahi Shuzo Co. Ltd.’s well-known Dassai 50 has been updated as this sake type. With fruit overtones that linger in your mouth, this Daiginjo offers a full-bodied flavor. It is thick and broad, with a variety of vast components that will entice even people who aren’t generally drawn to Japanese alcoholic beverages.

3.2. Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai

Japanese-sake-brands-Fukucho-Seaside-Sparkling-Junmai
Japanese sake brands – Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai

Fukucho Beach Japanese brewery Fukucho, run by one of the famous Japanese sake brands – Miho Imada, is known for producing sparkling Junmai sake. Hattanso rice, an extinct hereditary breed that gives sparkling sake its bright, colorful body, is used to make this sparkling sake. Imada believes that this Junmai provides the most evocative depiction of equilibrium, taste, and intricacy. This flavorful sake goes well with seafood. The bottle packs a strong punch despite its little size!

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3.3. Tamagawa Red Label Junmai Sake

Japanese-sake-brands-Tamagawa-Red-Label-Junmai-Sake
 Japanese sake brands – Tamagawa Red Label Junmai Sake

Tamagawa Sake is the third company in Japanese sake brands that have developed fame for producing sake of the highest caliber. The unique Japanese sake factory managed by a non-Japanese person, the famed Philip Harper, is the 1842-founded Kinoshita brewery. This top sake has a round, chewy, rich, and lively flavor. Your mouth is filled with rich, earthy flavors that leave a feeling in your mind.

3.4. Akashi-Tai Ginjo Yuzushu

Japanese-sake-brands-Akashi-Tai-Ginjo-Yuzushu
Japanese sake brands – Akashi-Tai Ginjo Yuzushu

Excellent Japanese sake is well-known for coming from Akashi-Tai. To produce distinctive, unmatched flavors, it employs conventional brewing methods and organic fermentation processes. Ginjo Yuzushu’s sake is light and delicate, with fruits and lemon infusions, and has a fresh, bittersweet, and invigorating flavor. It tastes strongly of grapefruit and lemon acidity. The sake tastes crisp and citrusy. As a versatile cocktail ingredient, this sake can be used instead of pure tropical fruit.

3.5. Toko Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo

Japanese-sake-brands-Toko-Divine-Droplets-Junmai-Daiginjo
Japanese sake brands – Toko Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo

Kojima Sohonten was the renowned Uesugi samurai clan’s major sake supplier, which was established in 1597 and quickly rose to prominence. Since that time, they have proudly produced sake in honor of Japan. With the help of the Mogami River’s crystal-clear water, Kojima Sohonten produces unique sake for the enjoyment of all people. The nose is rich and subtle, with equal amounts of rice and fruit aromas. It is low in acidity, has a moderate body, and hints of umami.

3.6. Shichiken Junmai Ginjo 

Produced in a factory at the base of the Japanese Alps utilizing delectable sake that is brewed with spring water from the area. The Ojiro River, one of the top 100 water sources in Japan, receives its freshwater from Mt. Kaikoma. After traversing the granite’s purifying stages, it arrives in the Daigahara region, where the dry winter and crisp air transform it into a purer state.

Japanese-sake-brands-Shichiken-Junmai-Ginjo
Japanese sake brands – Shichiken Junmai Ginjo 

This sake’s complexity and nuance will wow you as you sip it. Although it has a fruity and strong flavor, the finish is incredibly smooth. There is a beautiful balance between sweet and acidic tastes. Unlike what is generally offered on the market, it has a distinctive flavor profile.

3.7. Four Fox Junmai Daiginjo

Japanese-sake-brands-Four-Fox-Junmai-Daiginjo
Japanese sake brands – Four Fox Junmai Daiginjo

The Niigata-based Naeba Brewery is one of the country’s first family-run breweries on this Japanese sake brands list. This sake is dry, rich, clean, and well-balanced since it is made from carefully milled sake rice and pure snowmelt water. Drinks made with it can be consumed straight from the bottle. An age-old concept is given a fresh spin.

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3.8. Otokoyama “Hiyaoroshi” Junmai 

The Otokoyama brewery’s sake, which has a 340-year history and was a staple of the Tokugawa shogunate, comes in second on the list of Japanese sake brands. The Hiyaoroshi Junmai was brewed with water from Mount Daisetsu in Hokkaido, which is loosely translated as “a lot of snow.” The severe environment of Hokkaido, with its icy water and frigid air, contributes to the bitter, arid flavor of sake.

Japanese-sake-brands-Otokoyama-Hiyaoroshi-Junmai
Japanese sake brands – Otokoyama “Hiyaoroshi” Junmai 

Otokoyama Junmai Hiyaoroshi, a fantastic table performer, almost cries out for food. The bulk of fried and ramen dishes benefit from the umami undertone and the flavorful freshness. It has the right amount of complexity and a good balance of umami and berry flavors.

3.9. Shirakabegura Junmai Daiginjo

Shirakabegura is owned by the Kyoto-based Takara Brewing Company. In 2001, they erected state-of-the-art facilities. Nadagogo, a region in the coastal village of Kobe, is well recognized for having water rich in minerals that promote effective fermentation.

Japanese-sake-brands-Shirakabegura-Junmai-Daiginjo
Japanese sake brands – Shirakabegura Junmai Daiginjo

If you like a wine with a fruity flavor that isn’t excessively sweet, Shirakabegura is just what you are looking for. In contrast to traditional Daiginjo sake, this distinctive sake slightly alters in flavor depending on warm or cold conditions. It is a terrific addition to many dishes because of its adaptability.

3.10. Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai

Kosuke Kuji, the proprietor of Nanbu Bijin, is responsible for its outsized personality. To acquire distinctive flavor characteristics, they use unpasteurized spring water and a unique inside-the-bottle sterilization procedure.

Japanese-sake-brands-Nanbu-Bijin-Tokubetsu-Junmai
Japanese sake brands – Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai

Although it’s simple for a beginner to get started, it has enough complex tastes to gratify a seasoned sake drinker. It is warm and welcoming and includes undertones of orange cream. The flavor is dry and rich with just a touch of sweetness. This sake is delectable and a delicately delectable way to try sake.

3.11. Akashi-Asahi Shuzo Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo

Asahi Shuzo has been active for 200 years and is recognized for consistently reinventing itself to address modern concerns. It is a member of the Japanese sake brands that produce Dassai. The Dassai numbers in their name refer to the amount of rice that is left over after polishing.

Japanese-sake-brands-Akashi-Asahi-Shuzo-Dassai-23-Junmai-Daiginjo
Japanese sake brands – Akashi-Asahi Shuzo Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo

Dassai is one of the best sakes now on the market, pushing the boundaries of rice polishing. Once the rice grains are shrunk to 23% of their original size, even though it takes a long time, the work will be well worth it. This sake is a genuine pleasure and isn’t the cheapest, but it’s still worth the money!

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3.12. Tai Junmai Ginjo Sparkling Sake

The sparkling sake Akashi-Tai Junmai Ginjo is made by the Akashi Sake Brewery. In Akashi, which has excellent soils and is a great location for a sake brewery, the Yonezawa family constructed the brewery in 1886. These regions are excellent for growing rice and are rich in the pure spring water needed for sake production.

Japanese-sake-brands-Tai-Junmai-Ginjo-Sparkling-Sake
Japanese sake brands – Tai Junmai Ginjo Sparkling Sake

Traditional sake fermentation techniques are combined with secondary fermentation techniques similar to those used in Champagne to create Akashi-Tai Junmai Ginjo Sparkling Sake. This sake is a great alternative to prosecco wine. The second fermentation of freshly made Junmai Ginjo sake preserved its fruity, zingy characteristics.

3.13. Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo “Demon Slayer”

The Omuraya Brewing Company, which was founded in 1832, is the proprietor of Wakatake Onikoroshi. Due to the Oi River floods, traders and travelers regularly camped along the Tokaido Road, where this old brewery is situated. They have devoted particular emphasis to employing premium ingredients, including their three-generation-old rice machine tool and the soft Minami Alps water.

Japanese-sake-brands-Wakatake-Onikoroshi-Junmai-Daiginjo-Demon-Slayer
Japanese sake brands – Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo “Demon Slayer”

Unless you can battle demons with sweetness, this well-known brand called “Demon Slayer” doesn’t smell anything like its name. This transparent Junmai Daiginjo is a Junmai Daiginjo, with deep fruit notes, a silky mouthfeel, and a crisp, clear finish. It stands out as one of the wonderful Japanese sake brands because of its brilliance.

3.14. Urakasumi Misty Bay Junmai

Japanese-sake-brands-Urakasumi-Misty-Bay-Junmai
Japanese sake brands – Urakasumi Misty Bay Junmai

“Urakasumi,” the name of the sake, translates to “Misty Bay.” An equilibrium sake should be like this one. When served at room temperature, it has a lovely chocolate piece and a savory finish. It tastes fruity after cooling.

3.15. Fukuchiyo Shuzo Nabeshima Junmai Ginjo

Japanese-sake-brands-Fukuchiyo-Shuzo-Nabeshima-Junmai-Ginjo
Japanese sake brands – Fukuchiyo Shuzo Nabeshima Junmai Ginjo

Unlike ordinary pasteurized sake, which is heat processed twice, the Nabeshima, also known as Nama-Cho, indicates that this sake was kept unpasteurized until bottling. It underwent thermal treatment only once. This preserves some of the sake’s crisp, lively flavor during the post-pasteurization aging process while also highlighting its roundness and depth.

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Conclusion 

Fans of Japanese cuisine are usually on the lookout for well-known Japanese sake brands. Have you tried any of the aforementioned 15 names of Japanese sake brands yet? If not, savor each one gradually.

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