With over 1,300 breweries and over 80 different varieties of sake rice, navigating the vast world of sake can be a real challenge. Whether you want to spend less than $10 or more than $50, it’s important to know what your options are and which sake is right for you. These five sakes offer the best of what is available in their price ranges, ranging from budget sakes to premium and super premium options. Whichever sake you choose, you can expect a wonderful experience with fantastic flavors that will create even better memories.
Gekkeikan is a brand of sake that, while it will never be the best sake you’ve ever had, is often the best sake available. This sake is very affordable although the price varies greatly by region, from $7 to $30 per bottle and is available in most markets. Gekkeikan is also one of the most popular sakes in the United States, accounting for over 25% of the market. As freshness is key to great tasting sake, the fact that there is a Gekkeikan brewery in California means this sake is a great choice. Herbal in taste with hints of grapefruit and light earthy notes, this is a great sake for any occasion.
This brand of sake is particularly known for being incredibly sweet and deliciously fruity. This sake comes in many flavors, although the most popular by far is the Tozai Snow Maiden which is a Nigori (cloudy sake). This opaque sake has a thicker and more mellow texture while being particularly dry. Readily available for under $30 in the US, this is great sake if you want to try something a little different.
Although another cloudy sake, the fantastic Ozeki Nigori couldn’t be more different from Tozai Snow Maiden. This amazing brand, also known as Champion Nigori, is known for its rich, almost enveloping sweetness. Ozeki also has a brewery in California, offering an economy price of between $7 and $20 a bottle and wonderfully fresh sake. As it is unfiltered, this sake is a little higher in alcohol than most, but its sweetness makes it a great introduction for anyone looking to get into sake.
Isojiman is a Jinmai Ginjo sake, which means that the rice grains used to make the sake have been polished to at least 70% and it is made entirely from rice. This means that all of the hard shell has been removed and no additional natural alcohol has been added to achieve the desired abv. The resulting flavors are light and fruity while retaining a wonderful complexity and sweetness that less refined sakes could never hope to achieve. This classic sake can be found between $40 and $50 in the United States and is readily available in most metropolitan areas.
While there may be better sake available at a similar price, Tentaka Shuzo is unrivaled in its ability to craft the best organic sake on the planet. While most of this crystalline sake is consumed locally (a staggering 80%, in fact), it can also be found overseas. With a number of different labels available, the super premium Silent Stream can be found for around $120 in the US.
Dassai 23 gets its name from the fact that it takes the concept of Jinmai Ginjo even further, by grinding 77% of each grain of rice down to just 23% (the heart of the grain). This super premium bottle has a full-bodied floral aroma and a smooth, refreshing taste. Crunchy and slightly dry, this wonderful sake can be found in some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. An excellent gift, a bottle was also given by the Prime Minister to former US President Barak Obama. The rich complexity of the Dassai 23 comes at a price, however, and this bottle often costs well over $100 in the United States.
This sake is excellent, although it has achieved near-cult status, largely due to its very limited availability. This super premium option is a must buy if you’re ever lucky enough to find a bottle. The brewery exists since the 17th century and Juyondai is sought after by any serious sake drinker. What makes this brand so special is that even though the brewery follows traditional brewing practices that are hundreds of years old, they are not afraid to experiment with modern techniques, producing the best sake imaginable. If you can’t find a bottle, this rare sake can sometimes be found in expensive restaurants. However, every time you taste Juyondai, expect it to be fragrant, delicate, fruity and endlessly drinkable.