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10 Best Sake for Beginners: Japanese Rice Wine Guide

Best Sake For Beginners

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Sake, or Rice Wine, is initially brewed like a beer using rice to release starches. However, the rice polishing ratio creates different types of sake, like Ginjo, Daiginjo, and Junmai.

With thousands of sake brands and varieties available, beginners will find it overwhelming to choose the best sake for themselves.

So, drawing from years of exploring the world of sakes, I have listed the best sake for beginners that you can start with today.

Top 10 Sake Bottles For Beginners

1. Asahi Shuzo, Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo

Bottle of Asahi Shuzo, Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo on a Wooden Box

Average Price: around $90-95

Alcohol Content: 16% ABV

Nose: Citrus fruit aroma and delicate fragrance

Palate: Full-bodied texture and smooth sweet flavors

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Why We Like It: As a Junmai Daiginjo, Dassai 23 has a 23% rice polished rate, with no distilled alcohol added. 

Like most sake, Dassai 23 has a clean, crisp, and smooth taste. However, for a better drinking experience, I recommend using a wine glass and savoring the supple and sweet smell of the sake before taking a sip. 

2. Kinoshita Shuzo, Tamagawa Kinsho ‘Heart of Gold’ Daiginjo

Kinoshita Shuzo, Tamagawa Kinsho 'Heart of Gold' Daiginjo

Average Price: around $55-60

Alcohol Content: 16.5% ABV

Nose: Strawberry, peach, melon, and sweet rice powder

Palate: Round and soft, with lively fruity notes and grassy hints

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Why We Like It: The Tamagawa Kinsho ‘Heart of Gold’ Daiginjo is my favorite sake when I want something bright and lively. 

Its crispness and fruity notes make it suitable for people who love wine, and you can pair it with dishes like chicken and sushi.

3. Shichiken, Kinunoaji Junmai Daiginjo Sake

Shichiken, Kinunoaji Junmai Daiginjo Sake with Glass on a Wooden Table

Average Price: around $40-45

Alcohol Content: 16% ABV

Nose: Cucumber, strawberry, and faint banana aroma

Palate: Creamy texture with mellow and floral flavors

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Why We Like It: This Shichiken offering is one of the first products that come to my mind when introducing someone to sake. 

“Some sake is best served warm/hot, others are best served chilled, and many can be enjoyed at different temperatures.” – Cho Shintaro, Manager at Sake Bar Decibel 

The smooth, well-balanced flavors and creamy palate will impress and provide a delightful experience for newcomers. 

Read: Soju vs Sake

4. Four Fox Sake, Junmai Daiginjo

Two Bottles of Four Fox Sake, Junmai Daiginjo with Shot Glasses on a Table

Average Price: around $50-60

Alcohol Content: 16% ABV

Nose: Slightly intense fruity aroma with a hint of fresh rice sweetness

Palate: Melon and pear, with a slightly bitter aftertaste 

Star Rating: ★★★★★

Why We Like It: Four Fox Sake can be a little too harsh for some beginners, but the unique and attractive bottle design makes it an excellent gift choice.

Four Fox Sake has a gentle taste, making it a versatile sake for cocktails, and it tastes delightful whenever I mix it with lemon soda and muskmelon juice.

5. Otokoyama “Tokubetsu Junmai”

Bottle of Otokoyama Tokubetsu Junmai

Average Price: around $35-40

Alcohol Content: 15.5% ABV

Nose: Aroma of grain with floral and fruity notes 

Palate: Light and full-bodied taste, with vivid acidity and ripe fruit flavors

Star Rating: ★★★★

Why We Like It: Otokoyama “Tokubetsu Junmai” is an excellent choice for a dry yet fuller-bodied alcoholic drink. There are notes of black cherry, dark plum, and a slight vanilla aftertaste. 

It was better served cold than warm to savor its sharp taste and rich flavors. It is best paired with sushi and sashimi.

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6. Sakura Muromachi “Bizen Maboroshi” Junmai Ginjo

Bottle of Sakura Muromachi Bizen Maboroshi Junmai Ginjo

Average Price: around $35-40

Alcohol Content: 15.5% ABV

Nose: Light and sweet with fruity and floral scents

Palate: Crisp, fruity and flavorful body

Star Rating: ★★★★

Why We Like It: One thing that makes Sakura Muromachi’s “Bizen Maboroshi” one of the best sake for beginners is the use of Bizen Omachi rice.  

Using this exceptional rice with a 60% rice polishing ratio led to this Junmai Ginjo sake developing a flavorful and food-friendly profile. 

I find it enjoyable to pair with roasted chicken or any Japanese food. It also must be served cold instead of at room temperature.

7. Nanbu Bijin “Plum Sake”

Man Holding Bottle of Nanbu Bijin Plum Sake

Average Price: around $40-45

Alcohol Content: 9% ABV

Nose: Plum, chestnuts, cherry and a kick of bitterness 

Palate: Light, peach, and a natural sweetness

Star Rating: ★★★★

Why We Like It: Nanbu Bijin is one of the best sake for beginners that I usually recommend to my friends during the cold months. 

The plum-infused sweetness of this sake makes it suitable to add to various cocktails or pair with numerous foods. 

8. Hakkaisan “Yukimuro” 3 years Snow Aged

Bottle of Hakkaisan Yukimuro 3 years Snow Aged on a Table

Average Price: around $75-80

Alcohol Content: 17% ABV

Nose: Intense aroma with notes of sweet white fruit

Palate: Clean, creamy, medium-bodied with floral flavors 

Star Rating: ★★★★

Why We Like It: This sake is made and brewed in a cold, snow-covered storage facility. Its sweet, clean, and smooth flavor makes it perfect for those who don’t usually drink sake

“Sake appreciation is about exploration, so don’t hesitate to explore different styles and brands and share the delightful experience with your friends and colleagues.” – Liquor Laboratory 

However, it has enough complex taste to appeal to people who already love drinking sake.

9. Hatsumago, Densho Kimoto Honjozo Sake

Man Drinking Hatsumago, Densho Kimoto Honjozo Sake

Average Price: around $25-30

Alcohol Content: 15% ABV

Nose: Lightly-spiced aroma, with apple and miso paste hints

Palate: Melon, almond, and sweet flavors 

Star Rating: ★★★★

Why We Like It: Regarding food pairing, I enjoy this sake most with grilled salmon and barbeque ribs. It’s also a good choice for marinades, along with garlic and soy sauce.

As Honjozo, this one has incorporated a very small amount of added alcohol during the fermentation process [1]. The added brewer’s alcohol lends depth to this sake, making it suitable for anyone looking for more complexity as their introductory sake.

This sake is ideally served warm.

10. Akashi-Tai, Junmai Sparkling Sake

Two Bottles of Akashi-Tai, Junmai Sparkling Sake on a Table

Average Price: around $20-30

Alcohol Content: 7% ABV

Nose: Floral hints and citrusy smell

Palate: Light-bodied and refreshing with a touch of sweetness

Star Rating: ★★★★

Why We Like It: This sparkling sake undergoes a second fermentation process, giving it a lighter and sweeter flavor than other products.

It combines a champagne-making style and a traditional sake-brewing process, leaving us with complex and delicate subtle flavors.

*Note: The star rating is based on a combination of popularity among beginners, overall accessibility, and a balance of flavor profiles likely to appeal to those new to sake. Individual preferences may vary, and exploration of different styles is encouraged to find a personal favorite

7 Sakes You Should Know

Junmai

Junmai refers to Sake made only from rice, water, yeast, and koji mold. It doesn’t contain any added alcohol. Junmai Sake tends to have a fuller, richer flavor profile and is often considered more traditional.

Honjozo

Honjozo Sake is made similarly to Junmai but has a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added during the final stages of production. This addition can contribute to a lighter and smoother taste, making it an approachable choice for those new to Sake.

Ginjo

Ginjo Sake is crafted with rice that has been polished to at least 60%, resulting in a higher quality and more refined taste. The brewing process involves fermenting the Sake at lower temperatures, bringing out complex aromas and fruity flavors.

Daiginjo

Daiginjo represents the premium end of Sake, with rice polished to at least 50%. This meticulous polishing process produces an exceptionally smooth and delicate Sake with nuanced flavors. Daiginjo is often considered the pinnacle of Sake craftsmanship.

Namazake

Namazake is unpasteurized Sake, meaning it hasn’t undergone the final heating process. This results in a fresher, livelier taste with more pronounced fruity and floral notes. Namazake is typically consumed young and should be refrigerated to preserve its freshness.

Nigori

Nigori Sake is unfiltered, leaving rice sediment in the liquid, giving it a cloudy appearance. This style is known for its sweet and creamy texture, with a more robust rice flavor due to the rice particles remaining in the drink.

Tokubetsu

Tokubetsu means “special” in Japanese, and Tokubetsu Sake refers to a special or premium version of a particular style. It may involve additional steps or higher-quality ingredients, resulting in a Sake that stands out from standard varieties.

FAQs Related to Best Sake for Beginners

What is sake?

Sake is a traditional Japanese rice wine made from fermented rice, water, yeast, and koji mold. It is an integral part of Japanese culture and is enjoyed for its unique flavors and aromas.

What are some considerations when choosing sake for beginners?

When choosing sake for beginners, it’s essential to consider factors such as flavor profile, sweetness, acidity, and serving temperature. Look for sakes with balanced flavors and easy-drinking characteristics.

What are some popular types of sake for beginners?

Popular types of sake for beginners include Junmai, Honjozo, and Nigori. These varieties tend to have approachable flavors, ranging from dry and crisp to slightly sweet and creamy.

What is Junmai sake?

Junmai sake is made purely from rice, water, yeast, and koji mold, with no added alcohol. It typically has a rich and full-bodied flavor profile, making it a great choice for beginners seeking depth and complexity.

What is Honjozo sake?

Honjozo sake is made similarly to Junmai sake but with a small amount of distilled alcohol added during the brewing process. This addition enhances the aroma and lightens the texture, resulting in a smooth and easy-drinking sake.

What is Nigori sake?

Nigori sake is an unfiltered sake that retains some of the rice sediment, giving it a cloudy appearance. It’s often slightly sweet and creamy, making it appealing to beginners who enjoy softer, more textured beverages.

What’s The Best Sake for Beginners?

Sake is made of fermented rice, and Japan considers it its national drink, covering nearly three-quarters of its total rice cropping area. According to Monica Samuels, a Sake Samurai at Vine Connections, buying canned sake on the way to train platforms in Japan has become a part of their culture.

This Japanese alcohol is said to have some health benefits, like improving your skin and sleep quality, although further studies are still needed to prove these claims [4].

Despite being called rice wine, the process of making sake is more similar to that of beer. You can explore among its varieties, like Honjozo, Daiginjo, and Ginjo, which suits your preference more.

References:

  1. https://www.seriouseats.com/sake-what-is-honjozo-difference-between-honjozo-and-junmai
  2. https://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/packages/food-network-essentials/what-is-sake
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/sake
  4. https://www.webmd.com/diet/sake-health-benefits
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