Best Sake Picks

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Caveats and Disclaimers
There are about 1600 sake breweries in Japan. Each produces at least several grades and/or types of sake. Each of these will change somewhat from year to year.

I am fundamentally against ranking systems.  (Actually, that is a gross understatement.) Sure, there is a difference between good sake and bad sake. However, to say that one good sake is better than Illustration by Takiguchi Kiheijianother good sake borders on silly, as there is so much subjectivity involved in making such an assessment. What are your personal likes and dislikes? Will you have one glass or several? With or without food? What kind of mood are you in? Who are you with?  There are just too many factors involved to make ranking sake a meaningful exercise.

And ranking systems take many forms. There are experts that complain that a 100-point system is nasty, but they themselves rank A, B, C or D. Or perhaps one star to five stars, or maybe one single star is awarded to the best values in a group. In the end, ranking systems are ranking systems, they are all the same, and while potentially helpful, they can never replace a consumer’s personal experience.

My grudging concession to this necessary semi-evil was to create a series of lists of

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good sake that will help you find what might be appropriate based on your wants and needs.

Lists to choose from:
Super Popular Sake
Fairly Large Brewers
John’s Favorites

More lists to come !

We all need a place to start. I have been tasting sake for 23 years, and have tasted thousands of sake. Most others do not have that advantage. Nothing can replace your own personal experience and your palate when it comes to assessing the merits or lack thereof of a sake, but an idea of where to
begin – an arrow at the crossroads so to speak  -  sure comes in handy.

I have done all that I can to shirk responsibility, yet be helpful to the consumer at the same time. Below are lists of sake grouped around what might attract you to them. Do you just want to know what is popular? What is stable? Who the large, reputable brewers are? Sake with meals? Sipping Sake? Obscure sake? My personal – if quirky – favorites? Generally good sake? It’s all here, in one list or another. Good luck and enjoy!

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Super Popular Sake

Brand Name Prefecture Description
Juyondai Yamagata Elegant, fruity, fragrant
Isojiman Shizuoka Balanced, slightly rich
Kubota Niigata Light and dry
Koshi no Kanbai Niigata Light and dry
Michizakari Gifu Light and dry, yet full
Kikusui Niigata Light and dry
Hakkaizan Niigata Light, dry, slightly full
Urakasumi Miyagi Settled and balanced
Koro Kumamoto Fruity and Fragrant
Kokuryu Fukui Earthy, balanced, rich
Denshu Aomori Full, rice-laden, rich

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The Largest Brewers

The largest brewers in Japan make mostly mass-produced, inexpensive sake. However, it must be remembered that they are all extremely good, solid companies, and while much of their run-of-the-mill sake is less than distincitve, they are very, very skilled brewers, and in the end, have the ability to make outstanding sake. And all of them do, in some quantity. The top-class sake of all of these huge brewers is indeed excellent

Brand Name Prefecture Description
Hakutsuru Hyogo Solid, straightforward, clean
Gekkeikan Kyoto Soft, complex
Sawanotsuru Hyogo Full, flavorful, direct
Ozeki Hyogo Solid and lively
Shochikubai Kyoto Gentle and mellow

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Fairly Large Brewers

Brand Name Prefecture Description
Kamotsuru Hiroshima Solid, earthy
Nishinoseki Oita Gently sweet
Urakasumi Miyagi Dry and balanced
Ichinokura Miyagi Clean, even
Momokawa Aomori Clear, flavorful
Masumi Nagano Gentle, balanced
Tsukasa Botan Kochi Dry and crisp
Suehiro Fukushima Soft and gentle
Hatsumago Yamagata Crisp and clean
Eisen Fukushima Light yet full
Ginban Toyama Full, flavorful
Tosatzuru Kochi Dry yet soft in back
Umenishiki Ehime Gentle and inviting
Aramasa Akita Slightly full and clean
Koshi no Homare Niigata Dry yet flavorful
Dewazakura Yamagata Fragrant and light
Okunomatsu Fukushima Balanced and unique
Fukumasamune Ishikawa Crisp and layered
Tateyama Toyama Mellow but full
Ryozeki Akita Solid and mellow
Hakutaka Niigata Dry but tight
Hakubotan Hiroshima Soft and sweet
Takashimizu Akita Elegant and clean

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John’s Personal Favorites
(Asterisks indicate where many “experts” may not agree with me!)

Brand Name Prefecture Description
Suminoe Miyagi Intuitive, layered *
Juyondai Yamagata Fruity, complex
Isojiman Shizuoka Autumnal, balanced
Tsukuba Ibaraki Deep and intuitive *
Rikyubai Osaka Balanced yet full
Kamoizumi Hiroshima Earthy, unique
Kaiun Shizuoka Light and fragrant
Otemon Fukuoka Full and mellow
Azumi Ichi Saga Full and rich
Kikuyoi Shizuoka Elegant and friendly
Shigemasu Fukuoka Creamy and full
Ama no To Akita Earthy and full
Hamachidori Iwate Grainy yet elegant
Tsuki no Wa Iwate Complex and elegant
Eiko Fuji Yamagata Clear and tasty
Oroku Shimane Rich and unique
Rihaku Shimane Nutty and full
Shinkame Saitama Dry, tart, earthy, solid
Kudoki Jozu Yamagata Full, feminine
Kokko Shizuoka Light and fresh
Tama no Tsuyu Nara Fresh and lively
Tamanoi Kochi Dry and embracing
Kame Izumi Kochi Lively and absorbing
Tokaizakari Chiba Compex and rich
Shishi no Sato Ishikawa Gentle and unobtrusive
Asahikikusui Hiroshima Soft and settled
Toyonoaki Shimane Elegant and mature
Tedorigawa Ishikawa Crisp and balanced
Nanbu Bijin Iwate Clean and lively
Jokigen Ishikawa Full and absorbing
Asahi Tenyu Shimane Calming and rich
Benkei Ishikawa Solid and elegant
Kotsutsumi Hyogo Intuitive and dry
Tenzan Saga Rich and funky
Fukucho Hiroshima Soft and layered
Biwa no Choju Shiga Deliberate, layered
Kinsen Hiroshima Elegant and complex
Ugo no Tsuki Hiroshima Soft and balanced
Sharaku Fukushima Lively and grainy
Kokuyru Fukui Settled and deep
Umenoyado Nara Complex, slightly rich
Seikyo “Maboroshi” Hiroshima Full and elegant
Takaisami Tottori Crisp and delicate
Iwanoi Chiba Rich and layered
Ayakiku Kagawa Funky but balanced
Tentaka Tochigi Dry yet complex
Hanagaki Fukui Soft, slightly rich
Suwa Izumi “Otori” Tottori Elegant and rich
Kokushi Muso Hokkaido Dry and clean
Sato no Homare Ibaraki Fragrant and fruity
Chiyo no Sono Kumamoto Elegant and formal
Gokyo Yamaguchi Structured and tasty
Koubai Yamagata Unique, slightly rich
Kahoritsuru Yamaguchi Solid, well constructed

Note: These Lists are Subject to Updates!

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