With over 1300 breweries and more than 80 different sake rice varietals, navigating the vast world of sake can be challenging. Whether you want to spend less than $10 or more than $50, it is important to know what your options are and which sake is best for you. These five sakes are all the best of what is available at their price ranges, moving 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 sake brand that while it will never be the best sake you have ever had, is often the best sake available. This sake is very affordable although the price does vary quite a bit by region from $7 to $30 a bottle and is available in most markets. Gekkeikan is also one of the most popular sakes in the US, making up over 25% of the market. As freshness is key to sake tasting good, the fact that there is a Gekkeikan brewery in California means that this sake is an excellent choice. Tasting herbaceous with notes of grapefruit and light earthiness, this is a great sake for any occasion.
This brand of sake is particularly well known for being incredibly smooth and deliciously fruity. This sake comes in numerous flavors, although the most popular is by far the Tozai Snow Maiden which is a Nigori (cloudy sake). This opaque sake has a thicker and chewier texture while still being uniquely dry. Readily available for under $30 in the US, this is a great sake if you want to try something a little different.
While it is another cloudy sake, the fantastic Ozeki Nigori couldn’t be more different than Tozai Snow Maiden. This amazing brand, which is also known as Champion Nigori, is known for its rich and almost enveloping sweetness. Ozeki also has a brewery in California, leading to an economical price of between $7 and $20 a bottle and a wonderfully fresh sake. As it is unfiltered, this sake is a bit higher in alcohol than most but the sweetness makes it a great introduction to anyone interested in getting into sake.
Isojiman is a Jinmai Ginjo sake, which means that the grains of rice used to make the sake have been polished down at least 70% and that it is entirely made from rice. This means that all of the hard hull has been removed and no additional natural spirits have been added to reach the desired abv. The resulting flavors are light and fruity while still maintaining a wonderful complexity and smoothness that less refined sakes could never hope to reach. This classic sake can be found for $40 to $50 in the USA and is readily available in most metropolitan areas.
Although there may be some better sakes available for a similar price, Tentaka Shuzo is the unapparelled in their ability to make the absolute best organic sake on the planet. While most of this crystal-clear sake is consumed locally (a staggering 80% in fact) it can also be found abroad. With a number of different labels available, the super-premium Silent Stream can be found for about $120 in the US.
Dassai 23 gets its name by taking the concept of Jinmai Ginjo even further, milling away 77% of each rice grain until only 23% (the heart of the kernel) is left. This super-premium bottle has a full bodied floral aroma and refreshing smooth taste. Crisp and slightly dry, this wonderful sake can be found in some of the finest Michelin starred restaurants around the world. An excellent gift, a bottle was also presented by Prime Minister to former US President Barak Obama. The rich complexity of Dassai 23 comes at a price however, and this bottle often costs well over $100 in the US.
(Bonus) Rare Sake
This sake is excellent, though has reached near cult status due in large part because its very limited availability. This super premium option is a must buy if you are ever lucky enough to find a bottle. The brewery has been around since the 17th century and Juyondai is sought after by every serious sake drinker. What makes this brand so special is that while the brewery follows hundreds of year old traditional brewing practices, they aren’t afraid to experiment with modern techniques, producing the best sake imaginable. If you can’t find a bottle, this rare sake can occasionally be found in expensive restaurants. How-ever and whenever you get to taste Juyondai, expect it to be fragrant, delicate, fruity, and infinitely drinkable