Whether you’re brand-new to Japan’s national drink or have already developed a taste, searching out recommendations for the best sake will always expand your experience.
Much like beer or wine, sake comes a wide array of varieties appealing to various tastes & preferences.
As such, there’s no simple answer when it comes to choosing the perfect sake for every occasion or for everyone’s tastebuds.
In the guide below, we’ll take a look at some of the top-rated sake brands covering all of the main varieties of sake from affordable junmai to premium daijingo.
Top sake recommendations
Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai
One of the most popular sakes in the world, Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai is an excellent choice for beginner & experienced sake drinkers alike.
The full-bodied and dry taste, rimmed with notes of pear, plum & cherry and a slight rice finish, is ripe for food pairings.
Your dinner guests will absolutely love sipping Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai at home alongside dishes like homemade sushi or mirin-poached beef.
Although it’s often served warm, drinking this junmai from Hokkaido cold or at room temperate will bring out its super smooth texture and unique sweetness.
Sake brewing as art form approaches its apex with Dassai 23.
Sitting among the best junmai daiginjo sake, this higher-end offering from Yamaguchi Prefecture, west of Hiroshima, polishes its rice to a painstaking 23% of its original grain size.
The result is one of the easiest-drinking sakes you’ll ever enjoy.
The intensely floral aromatics of Dassai 23, reminiscent of a fresh Japanese spring morning, are shadowed by pear & subtle melon flavours.
This top-rated daiginjo is most ideally enjoyed chilled and paired with fish & seafood, particularly octopus and squid.
Tozai Snow Maiden
If you need an introduction to the best nigori sake, look no further than a bottle of Tozai Snow Maiden.
This delightful nigori-zake is favorite among critics and everyday sippers alike thanks to its “snowy” mouthfeel, full-body, and fruit-forward finish.
The first sip of Tozai Snow Maiden always charms with its creamy texture. The body opens up to blissful aromas of fruit and rice that match its nutty, pear- and melon-infused flavor profile and finish.
Ideally enjoyed cold, this sweet & surprisingly dry nigori pairs well with both savory & spicy meats and seafood.
Among the best junmai ginjo sake among our recommendations, Kizakura Hana is one of the most unique drinks you’ll find anywhere.
It’s brewed using a strain of yeast extracted from cherry blossoms, a fact that you’ll easily pick up when its strong floral aroma opens up in the nose.
The flavor profile contains floral hints, as well, along with a slight tinge of apple in the finish.
Thanks to its light acidity and body, Kizakura Hana is easy to sip and a fantastic choice for those new to Japan’s national drink.
Serve chilled and paired with some tasty sashimi or shellfish for the full effect.
Hakkaisan Tokubetsu Junmai
Brewed in the shadows of Mount Hakkai in Niigata, Hakkaisan Tokbetsu Junmai reflects its alpine heritage in its brewing process.
This junmai is uniquely brewed using the cool & pure water flowing from the mountain during the spring melt-off.
This results in Hakkaisan Tokbetsu Junmai offering softer, creamier texture and drier body than other junmais that use “harder” more mineral-laden water in their brews.
The flavor profile is unique as well. There’s a a slight fruity character here with apple and pear notes topped with a slight acidity and hints of almond and vanilla.
This versatile junmai can be served warm, cold or at room temperature.
Tentaka Organic Junmai
One of the only organic sakes available outside of Japan, Tentaka Organic Junmai has carved itself a powerful niche among the top sake brands.
Lovers of this top organic sake prize it for its clean natural flavors. With your first sip, you might find yourself savoring rice-like aromas with hints of mint & melon and a mildly smoky finish.
The higher acidity makes it perfect to pair with shellfish like shrimp or scallops.
Tentaka Organic is the only sake available abroad with organic certifications from the United State, European Union, and Japan.
Nanbu Bijin AWA Sparkling
Instead of popping a cork with your favorite champagne, why not pour a glass of bubbly Nanbu Bijin AWA Sparkling.
Unlike sparkling wine, the best sparkling sakes have no added sugar, leaving all the wonderful flavors intact.
This full-bodied sparkling ginjo features a natural mild sweetness. The slight acidity and bubbles help hints of apple and pear surface on the palate.
Nanbu Bijin AWA Sparkling is a fantastic choice to serve with sushi and cheese, and as an aperitif.
If you’re looking for a little more sweetness, give Tsukasabotan Yuzu a whirl.
This light & refreshing drink, among the best flavored sake on the market, delivers a punch of yuzu, a tart Asian citrus fruit that tastes like a blend of lime, lemon, and grapefruit.
You won’t get many of the usual sake flavors from this drink; expect, instead, a unique blend of sweetness & sourness.
Tsukasabotan Yuzu is at its finest when enjoyed cold or on ice as an aperitif.
How to choose the perfect sake: A quick buyer’s guide
With over 2,500 years of history behind it, it’s no surprise that buying the perfect sake is anything but easy!
Unlike beer or wine, which are categorized by the type of ingredients used (grains or grapes), sake is mostly differentiated by two things:
- the degree of rice polishing;
- whether or not brewer’s alcohol is added;
In general, higher-quality (and more expensive) sakes are brewed with a rice that’s more highly polished. Some of the best sakes polish more than 75% of the original grain!
Here are some of the most popular sake types to start your search…
The broad classification of junmai denotes a sake that:
- does not contain any added brewer’s alcohol;
- is produced from rice polished to at least 70% of its original grain size.
With the large variety of sakes that fit under the junmai label, it’s impossible to put your finger on its flavor profile completely.
In general, however, junmai offers a full-body with savory rice-infused flavors and minor acidity.
Like junmai, honjozo sake uses rice that’s polished to at least 70%. Unlike junmai, however, honjozo adds a small amount of brewer’s alcohol to the brew.
Honjozo is generally lighter-bodied than junmai.
Ginjo & Junmai Ginjo
The lower-end of the premium market is covered by the ginjo classification. To qualify as a ginjo, a sake must be brewed with rice polished to 60% of its original size. It also uses a special yeast and fermentation prcoess.
Like honjozo, ginjo is easy-to-drink and light-bodied. It tends to be a little more complex and more aromatic, featuring fruitier and more floral flavors and aromas.
To be considered a junmai ginjo, the master sake brewer (toji) must not add any extra alcohol to the brew.
Daiginjo & Junmai Daiginjo
Matchless & unparalleled, daiginjo is what sake dreams are made of. These high-end premium sakes are brewed with rice that’s polished to 50% or less of its original size.
(Dassai 23, one of our top picks for the best sake above, gets the rice down to an epic and painstaking 23% of the original grain!)
Brewing a daiginjo takes the special hand of a master toji. It’s the most difficult and involved of all the different varieties.
To qualify as a junmai daiginjo, no extra brewer’s alcohol can be added.
Not all sake is worthy of a special buy. Futsushu refers to run-of-the-mill sake, also known as table sake. It’s not a variety you’ll likely want to go out of your way to find or to try.
Futsushu is the catch-all for all the sakes that don’t qualify as junmai. They use rice that’s polished to just 70 to 90 percent. The rice used is also not much different that regular table rice.
Other terms to look out for
- Namazake: Refers to an unpasteurized sake. Namezake can be a junmai, ginjo, daiginjo or honjozo.
- Nigori-zake: A sake that’s unfiltered. Nigori is cloudy. You may even find some koji rice floating around in it. They’re often sweeter than filtered sake and are great options for dessert!
- Jizake: A craft sake produced by a smaller local brewery.
- Koshu: The term given to sake that’s been aged for more than one year up to about 5 years. Koshu is stronger tasting and earthier than most other varieties.
- Genshu: Refers an undiluted sake that doesn’t have water added to it. Genshu has a higher alcohol content (up to 18 to 19 percent) that other categories. It’s a good idea to pair genshu with food for obvious reasons.