Brand-new to Japan's national drink or already developed a taste? Finding recommendations for the best sake always expands the experience!
Much like beer or wine, there are several different types of sake to enjoy. Each variety appeals to different tastes & preferences. There's no simple answer for 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. We'll cover all the main varieties of sake from affordable junmai to premium daijingo.
Top sake recommendations
Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai
Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai is one of the most popular sakes in the world. It's an excellent choice for beginner & experienced sake drinkers alike.
The full-bodied and dry taste is rimmed with notes of pear, plum & cherry. With its slight rice finish, this dry sake is ripe for food pairings.
Your dinner guests will love sipping Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai. It's a great companion alongside dishes like homemade sushi or mirin-poached beef.
This junmai from Hokkaido is often served as a warm sake. Drinking it cold or at room temperature, however, brings out its super smooth texture & unique sweetness.
Sake brewing as art form approaches its apex with Dassai 23. This higher-end sake sits among the best junmai daiginjo sake. It's brewed in Yamaguchi Prefecture, west of Hiroshima.
Dassai 23 is famous for polishing 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 reminisce of a fresh Japanese spring morning. They're shadowed by pear & subtle melon flavours.
This top-rated daiginjo is ideally enjoyed chilled. It's a great choice to pair 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. Its high praise comes 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. They're perfectly matched to 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. You easily pick up the sakura influence 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. It's a fantastic bottle of sake 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
Hakkaisan Tokbetsu Junmai is brewed in the shadows of Mount Hakkai in Niigata. This quality sake 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. Because of this, Hakkaisan Tokbetsu Junmai offers a softer, creamier texture. It's also got a drier body than other junmais brewed with "harder" more mineral-laden water.
The flavor profile is unique as well. There's a a slight fruity character here. You'll find 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
Tentaka Organic Junmai is one of the only organic sakes available outside of Japan. It's 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. You'll enjoy 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 States, European Union, and Japan.
Nanbu Bijin AWA Sparkling
Instead of popping a cork with your favorite champagne, 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 is among the best flavored sake on the market. It 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 for beginners: A quick buyer's guide
With over 2,500 years of history behind it, it's no surprise that buying the perfect Japanese sake is anything but easy.
Although sake is often called "Japanese rice wine," it's not quite on point. 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 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 or versatility completely.
In general, however, junmai offers a full-body smoothness 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 and smoother than junmai. The added alcohol also reduces rice grain flavours and makes honjozo a less fragrant sake.
Much like regular junmai style sake, honjozo is richer and more tolerant to warming. It's a good candidate to serve as hot sake.
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 process.
Like honjozo, ginjo is easy-to-drink and light-bodied. It tends to be more complex and more aromatic. Ginjo-shu features fruitier, sweet taste 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. The result is often a more fragrant premium sake.
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 super-premium daiginjo sake takes the special hand of a master toji. It's the most difficult and involved of all the different styles of sake. They also often use premium rice varieties like Yamada Nishiki.
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 cheap sakes that don't qualify as junmai. They feature rice that's polished to just 70 to 90 percent. The rice used is also not much different that regular table rice.
If you need a sake for cooking, futsushu should be your target. Of all the sake styles, it's least likely to feel "wasteful" when used as a cooking sake.
Other terms to look out for
- Namazake refers to an unpasteurized sake. Namezake can be a junmai, ginjo, daiginjo or honjozo.
- Nigori-zake is a cloudy sake that's unfiltered. You may even find some koji rice floating around in it. They often have a sweeter taste than filtered sake and are great options for dessert!
- Jizake is a craft sake produced by a smaller local brewery.
- Koshu is the term given to Japanese sake that's been aged for more than one year up to about 5 years. Koshu is stronger tasting, earthier, and more umami than other sake varieties.
- Genshu refers an undiluted sake that doesn't have water added to it. Genshu has a higher alcohol content than other categories, climbing as high as 18 to 20%. It's a good idea to pair genshu with food for obvious reasons.