Tokyo Table Trip

Logo discover 8a060a5a25d78a2d81322b0a16884eb1c05869ebadb772a16350e198984e5cfb

Some of you may already be familiar with certain sake brands that are exported overseas, such as Dassai, Kubota, Hakkaisan, Daishichi, Born etc.

Today we will go over a list of high quality sake, some of which are not exported outside Japan and may have a cult following, but they are quite famous for various reasons. Some of these are very difficult to procure, or are top quality small producers, and some cannot be bought from shops in Tokyo, so you may want to taste them at different restaurants if you ever have the chance. You will be amazed at their quality, characteristics, and their interaction with food.

This list is not in any particular order, but is an excellent starter for those wanting to explore sake.

1. Juyondai 十四代 - Yamagata Prefecture

Every sake lover in Japan (and outside) likely has heard of this mythical brewery. They are the equivalent of a DRC or First Growth Bordeaux in status. Production is extremely limited, and demand is at an all time high. They produce a wide variety of bottles and styles and is not easy to keep track. If a reputable restaurant offers by the glass even at 3000 yen per, it is worth exploring just so you can understand why this is so sought after. It is best to taste Juyondai in Japan, as there are no proper distributions channels for export (with one exception in Hong Kong under the “N” label), so the quality of your bottle or glass is better handled. In terms of procuring, any shop that manages to secure a small shipment, will only sell to certain restaurants, and anything remaining in retail will be by lottery only for purchase. Most of their sake is either unpasteurized, or single pasteurized. Improper storage and handling will lead to severe degradation in quality, so please only try and buy to drink from reputable places that handle them properly.

2. Banshu Ikkon 播州一献 - Hyogo Prefecture

Banshu Ikkon 播州一献 is produced by Sanyouhai Shuzo 山陽盃酒造 in the suburban town of Shiso, about an hour north by bus from Himeiji Station in Hyogo Prefecture. That area is said to be historically the birthplace of sake, and Banshu Ikkon has much historical significance to that. Their sake has a lot of great flavor, elegance, minerality, and softness with complex cascading finish. The brewery had a fire in November 2018 where the ancestral home got burnt to the ground, but brewing operations continued fortunately. Most recently L’Effervescence in Tokyo started carrying their sake and will incorporate into their beverage pairing program. Very few shops and not too many restaurants carry their sake in Tokyo, and seasonal releases tend to sell out very quickly. But if you ever have the opportunity, please try Banshu Ikkon.

3. Aramasa 新政 - Akita Prefecture

Aramasa can be easily found at many high end Tokyo restaurants, and seems to work particularly well with Japanese French or equivalent styles. They brew their sake to be light, flavorful, low alcohol percentage, and have effervescence for texture and feel. Perfect as apertif, digestif, and sometimes just as a small pour of a welcome sake drink. Food pairing range is a bit specific and limited, but perfectly enjoyable on its own, although some restaurants will offer it as part of a beverage pairing course at any given time. They also have a lineup of ~ 2 aged sake (kijoshu) that can have interesting food pairing results. A lot of their sake are unpasteurized, and due to its lighter structure, more perishable (so consume quickly). Production is limited, and they are already well known within Asia. Do not miss the chance to taste this cult sake that is light, aromatic, yet has good character and depth.

4. Kamonishiki 加茂錦 - Niigata Prefecture

Similar in some ways to Aramasa but a bit different in style that is not as easy to articulate. Effervescent and quite a lot of body. Their sake are mostly unpasteurized, so please try a glass whenever available. If these are available retail they are typically under 2000 yen for a 720 mL bottle.

5. Akabu 赤武 - Iwate Prefecture

Medium bodied to light (depending on type) and easy to drink. Their higher end offerings are fruitier and perhaps more approachable for beginner drinkers. Their Junmai sake however, are especially delicious and offer a wider range of food pairing.

6. Isojiman 磯自慢 - Shizuoka Prefecture

Isojiman is arguably the most famous of all sake from Shizuoka. Their higher end sake are expensive, very limited, and almost celebrity like status. If you ever encounter some of their more expensive Daiginjo or Junmai Daiginjo, consider trying a glass just to experience. For example Nobilmente 28 Daiginjo may appear in random high end Tokyo sushi restaurants, and is very dry but impactful yet elegant.

7. Kaze No Mori 風の森 - Nara Prefecture

This sake offering from Nara prefecture is making waves in the sake industry and is putting Nara sake back on the map. It does not taste like a traditional sake, but is modern yet retains the old flavor in a very positive way. There is no better way to describe this other than to try it for yourself. You cannot go wrong having one of their sake, even their lower end Junmai, even if to experience the different rice types they use to brew.

8. Denshu 田酒 - Aomori Prefecture

A highly coveted offering that does not appear in many restaurants, but when you do, do not miss the opportunity to try. Medium bodied with grassy light aromatic tones, and very good structure and plentiful umami. Their Junmai Daiginjo higher end sake are excellent with kaiseki cuisine, and their Junmai or Junmai Ginjo are versatile to handle heat to be served hot, cold, and room temperature. Take note of the rice varietal used in a specific brew, as the taste and profile can change. All of their sake are good with sushi as well.

9. Hiroki 飛露喜 - Fukushima Prefecture

Another very difficult to procure sake from Fukushima Prefecture. Hiroki is either pasteurized or single pasteurized typically so must be kept under refrigeration. Personally ChuToroZuke prefers Hiroki over Juyondai, but you cannot go wrong ordering a glass of Hiroki to try (provided it is from a fresh bottle). It may cost you more if it is the Junmai Daiginjo, but a great alternative to have if Juyondai is not on the menu.

10. Miyaizumi / Sharaku 宮泉/写楽 - Fukushima Prefecture

Miyaizumi is the main label of the brewery, and Sharaku is a sub label by the same parent company. Both are quite excellent, light, full of flavor, effervescent, yet balanced and well structured. Please try it if you ever see it on a beverage menu. It may be easier to find their sake at a good izakaya than at a fancy restaurant.

11. Tatsuriki 龍力 - Hyogo Prefecture

I chose to include Tatsuriki despite their lack of general availability in restaurants, because they are one of the few breweries that focus their sake rice based on (sake rice) terroir philosophy (similar to DRC of wine). Not only that but they have done extensive studies with them, and to figure out how to maximize the best out of the king of sake rice, Yamadanishiki of which they have access to some of the best quality rice from the best fields in Hyogo Prefecture. You will find their sake in Tokyo at high end department stores, and certain varieties at random shops. You won’t find many restaurants that carry this label for various reasons, but if you are really into wine, you will understand what they do and why it tastes so good. If you ever encounter a restaurant or sake bar that carries their sake, or if they have a tasting booth at a department store, please try it, even if only for educational purposes. With the right food match, the pairings can be absolutely incredible. This is a sake for more advanced drinkers, when you understand their approach, you will be amazed.

12. Hitakami 日高見 - Miyagi PrefectureMiyagi Prefecture

Hitakami is very famous amongst the sake world and fans, as the president of Hitakami is a sushi fiend who has directed the brewery to create some very interesting sake just to pair with specific cuisine. The most well known is Yasuke Houjun Karakuchi Junmai Ginjo 弥助 芳醇辛口 純米吟醸 , that is so well structured, balanced, and it almost drinks like a great complex wine. On top of that, it was built specifically to pair with sushi after the president dined at Komatsu Yasuke in Kanazawa Prefecture. When you find the right sushi restaurant that offers their food to match the sake’s profile, it cannot be beat. Their other sake are quite good as well, but Yasuke is probably the best of the lineup. Fewer sushi restaurants carry this these days as it is not as interesting and exciting, but if you have not tried it before with sushi, you should if the chance comes!

13. Jikon 而今 - Mie Prefecture

This cult status brew from Mie Prefecture is in extremely high demand and limited quantity and virtually impossible to find in retail shops. There are however, restaurants that carry Jikon. If at all possible, please try the unpasteurized unfiltered versions (there are also single pasteurized ones) when in season. Higher acidity, effervescence, and beautiful minerality. Their Junmai Daiginjo when paired with certain seafood (shellfish) is as good as a White Burgundy (Chablis Premiere Cru or better). The brewery also has another label called Takasago that should also be very good, but Jikon seems to be more sought after.

14. Nabeshima 鍋島 - Saga Prefecture

Nabeshima also has a strong cult following within Asia. Light, good flavored, and pretty easy to drink. In some ways they are also like a celebrity. Their lower polished Junmai sake are also very refreshing and enjoyable to drink, and worth tasting even if as a starter.

15. Toyobijin 東洋美人 - Yamaguchi Prefecture

I’ve had this sake once at Goyrukubo and it amazed me so much. If you ever get the chance, try their Junmai Daiginjo Ichibanmatoi 純米大吟醸 一番纏. The label may have changed, but this sake has excellent minerality and is super impressionable for taste. It is a great performer for the price on top of that, with plenty of elegance. It is a sake that beginners and advanced drinkers will appreciate, and sets a great tone to start off a nice meal. Some wine drinkers liken this to a fine White Burgundy Premiere Cru or better.

16. Harukasumi 春霞 - Akita Prefecture

This sake from Akita prefecture is very versatile and was recently incorporated into the beverage pairing program at L’Effervescence. The new batch (shinhu) unpasteurized releases have higher acidity and structure, but no one component of the sake overwhelms the other and does very well with various food and styles. If you ever get the chance to try some of their low temperature aged offerings at a restaurant, please do not miss the chance. They are also part of a collaborative effort called Next 5, or five regional breweries doing random rare projects to come up with unique next generation style sake and pushing boundaries.

Writer: ChuToroZuke

ChuToroZuke is an avid enthusiast of Japanese cuisine and culture and remembers his first ever sukiyaki experience at the tender age of 6, particularly the magical combination
of dipping sukiyaki beef into raw egg and then chowing it down with a bowl of Japanese rice. However years later in adulthood, a passion ignited with a great explosion one evening 4 years ago, as a result of experiencing a bottle of sake with perfect otsumami and sushi at a favorite restaurant, that was so impactful and memorable. This lead him down a geeky journey of discovering sake as well as rediscovering food with sake. Suddently traveling to Tokyo and dining at various establishments (high end and low end) last few years became a whole lot more exciting, allowing this geek to deep dive and meet other fellow lovers of the beverage (and food of course).
It is with great pleasure and honor that he was invited to contribute to TokyoTableTrip, as a means of giving back to the community and help spread the word and love of sake, and to help promote sake in Japan from overseas.

Add a comment

  • Add photos

Comments Icon comments 20b52f1dd59ace07b92433da2a385e6f7392eb2937032eebc2a0bd0b67c69516 8


ChuToroZuke

One sake that is not mentioned on this list, that is already very well known in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, will be launching in the USA sometime this year. This is all I know and can share right now.

Kamoshibito Kuheiji. You can read more about them here

https://kuheiji.co.jp/en/kamoshibito/

You can find their sake in Takashimaya basement level and Hasegawa Saketen in Tokyo.

10 days ago

Icon thumbup c50a5e69a172939d8f181c07defd87a40f8b5ea08aa95e4f5248647e539d2f91 Like!
Icon rply g 931a7da4f2fb72f6c47b91ce1a6ff6f0d639792b78b042247406a09dbc121382 Reply 3
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

guest

I saw several bars/liquor stores carrying it last year in Canada.

10 days ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

Canada has a different distribution system and what they are able to import. Not too familiar with what's available in Canada but not in the USA. Glad to hear Kamoshibito Kuheiji is available in Canada, possibly it is one or two bottles from their portfolio. The upcoming US launch should be interesting, I will share when I find out more hopefully in a couple weeks. I should consider a follow up to this article on what else everyone should try next.

8 days ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

guest

Yes, those stores just carry several bottles of Kamoshibito Kuheiji for the brewery year 2016-2018 and one of the owners told me they got it because it tasted better after being aged for a couple of years. Canadian importers do not normally get fresh new sake.

7 days ago

Shi

Akabu has begun exporting to the US from my understanding for those that are interested in seeking it out!

3 months ago

Icon thumbup c50a5e69a172939d8f181c07defd87a40f8b5ea08aa95e4f5248647e539d2f91 Like!
Icon rply g 931a7da4f2fb72f6c47b91ce1a6ff6f0d639792b78b042247406a09dbc121382 Reply 3
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

guest

Yes that is correct, New York and perhaps San Francisco will be receiving them this month or next, and will start will the Junmai and Junmai Ginjo. I am excited to see how they will turn out! Also, Kaze No Mori Alpha 3 is also available (although a bit harder to acquire), and is a bit of a substitute for Aramasa (which is not exported) and Alpha 3 pairs quite brilliantly with seko gani too!

2 months ago
Picture?width=100&height=100

Shi

Thanks for the info about Alpha 3 I'll keep my eye out and hope I can find a way to get a hold of some!

2 months ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

Shipments of bottles of Akabu Junmai and Junmai Ginjo have finally arrived in New York and California. Only a matter of time before restaurants decide to carry them and some retail shops. True Sake in San Francisco is going to be tasting them before offering them for sale. It appears both Akabu are single pastuerized. Kid Junmai Ginjo Shiboritate Nama (freshly pressed without pasteurization and maturation) that completed bottling in November has also arrived.

about 2 months ago

Menchikatsu

Just a quick note. I bought a bottle of Sharaku 写楽 (#10 on this list), at my local wine store. I picked the junmaishu (gold characters on the label). I'd say it's about 3 months old, they just received the shipment last week. They also had junmai ginjo (bronze characters, oddly no back label with date), and a pricey black label junmai daiginjo in a box.

I thought I'd start with this sort of entry level bottle, before taking a leap with the pricier options. (Not that I have any place to corkage it anyway... sigh)

Any thoughts @ChuToroZuke? Any more information about the company, its history and reputation? I think this brand gets overshadowed by some of the other names on this list, but I'm quite happy I came across it! I believe I've had Miyaizumi 宮泉 before, but this is my first time trying Sharaku.

11 months ago

Icon thumbup c50a5e69a172939d8f181c07defd87a40f8b5ea08aa95e4f5248647e539d2f91 Like!
Icon rply g 931a7da4f2fb72f6c47b91ce1a6ff6f0d639792b78b042247406a09dbc121382 Reply 0

Menchikatsu

A bit of a sidetrack from the big news going on lately, but I thought it might be refreshing to take a break from all that.

I'm watching this episode of Nhk's Inside Lens. The title is 'My Disappearing Village'. It features a behind the scenes look at something Aramasa is working on (#3 on your list @ChuToroZuke). I am not clear if this is only a portion of the documentary, but the film has its own website too: http://disappearingvillagefilm.com/
I think you can watch the repeat using their on demand website link. These documentaries get me much more excited about trying different things like sake. It's really interesting to see how much goes on, before the sake ever reaches the bottle.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/lens/20200316/2056078/

Here's the show description from the website:
"A small rice farming village in Japan is facing extinction. It all changed by a visit of famous sake brewery. It persuaded locals to grow organic rice for making a new sake. Can sake save the village?

Uyashinai, once a thriving rice-farming village, is on the brink of extinction. The young have fled to cities with no sight of return and the village elders are left to protect their ancestral land. But this could all be able to change because Uyashinai has caught the attention of Japan's most popular sake maker, Yusuke.
Yusuke wants to grow his own sake rice in Uyashinai. This is an unexpected opportunity for the villagers to revive their fields and pass on their ancestral land. But, not all are on board Yusuke's radical plans. Yusuke doesn't want to grow just ordinary sake rice; it must be organic. Yusuke deploys his Master Brewer, Koseki, to grow the village's first harvest of organic rice in 70 years. However, Koseki is a sake brewer and has no experience of farming. He hasn't even ever planted a flower. Will Koseki be able to successfully grow organic rice, and most importantly change the hearts and minds of the village? This story follows how this forgotten village and Japan's finest sake brewery as they come together to achieve the first steps of their dreams; to make the most authentic cup of sake and save their ancestral land from disappearing forever."

12 months ago

Icon thumbup c50a5e69a172939d8f181c07defd87a40f8b5ea08aa95e4f5248647e539d2f91 Like!
Icon rply g 931a7da4f2fb72f6c47b91ce1a6ff6f0d639792b78b042247406a09dbc121382 Reply 3
Picture?width=100&height=100

Shi

Thanks for that @Menchikatsu I quite enjoyed the watch! I wonder when we'll get a chance to try the new organic sake!

12 months ago
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

Thank you for the links. These days I'm trying to stay healthy, safe, and alive while finding ways to support restaurants friends whose businesses are adversely affected as lockdowns to prevent the spread of Coronovirus occur in my geographic location. Take care everyone. .

12 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Stay safe! @ChuToroZuke
I've doubled up on my hand washing and being cleanliness minded. More than the actual virus, I'm a bit more concerned about the nervous people around me. Hopefully things don't get more crazy out there, as I think the shoppers clearing out supermarket shelves is already a bit extreme.

With this 2 week lockdown of restaurants in California, New York, and other states, I'm sure business owners are feeling it. Even with the takeout option, there's just so much they're losing without precious liquor sales, particularly restaurants which do upscale dine-in menus only. I too will try and support the businesses closest to me, starting with more frequent takeout orders from my favorite places.

@Shi Glad you liked the show. More and more these days, I'm hearing sake enthusiasts talk more about Aramasa in desirability on par with Jikon. I caught this on Nhk tv, and it's a bit nice they're playing something other than Coronavirus news (which seems 50% of what they play, and a little sumo). I think it's really interesting how they give you a glimpse of what goes on inside the sake brewing facility.

12 months ago

Menchikatsu

Just a small note from your list. Today, I got my hands on a couple bottles of Kaze no Mori. 'Wind of the Woods' and the black label version, 'Tsuyuhakaze' junmai. Both are a junmai muroka nama genshu. Lucked out on the shipping with this cold weather, and both were in pretty good condition. The black bottle was quite effervescent, and stronger. I could go with either, but leaned towards the white label. Chef preferred the black one. Would be interested in trying their higher level stuff. This makes two Nara based sake brands I now recognize easily. I actually visited Hakushika once, several years ago.

Had my bottle of Hiroki daiginjo a day before. Extremely balanced sake, and could probably pair with anything. Not overly sweet.

One of the staff working at the restaurant, mentioned that she's from Mie. And getting a bottle of Jikon is not easy, even if you live there. She's also is a big fan of Aramasa.

Planning to open my bottle of Denshu and Isojiman in a week or so. Hope to come across the higher levels of all of the above, when I visit Japan in the spring. Thanks for all your hard work on sake education, ChuToroZuke.

about 1 year ago

Icon thumbup c50a5e69a172939d8f181c07defd87a40f8b5ea08aa95e4f5248647e539d2f91 Like!
Icon rply g 931a7da4f2fb72f6c47b91ce1a6ff6f0d639792b78b042247406a09dbc121382 Reply 2
User default d6f8776075bbcbf91b3886fd7b0aeb86c94956e290bd9b9223466618a8cd47a2

ChuToroZuke

Thanks for the follow up! Glad you enjoyed the Kaze No Mori and articles like thesei. Sounds like you got your hands on the ones available in the USA which are exactly those two (White - Akitsuho rice, Black - Tsuyu Hakaze). Alpha 3, which is the single pastuerized and lower alcohol content lineup of Kaze No Mori, is also available in the US, although not sure which rice that one is. I personally prefer the black a bit more. I believe Harushika is what you meant (spring deer) which is Nara prefecture. Hakushika (white deer) is in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

Enjoy the Denshu and Isojiman. If your Isojiman is not direct from Japan, the exported versions of the Junmai Daiginjo, Junmai Ginjo, and maybe even the Junmai are not as good as they should be from what I've heard, so you may want to try them in Japan next time.

about 1 year ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Yes, thanks for writing such articles. I think the appeal for me, is in trying things that are up there, but just under that point of being overly heralded as 'the best'. 2nd place things don't get enough notice, especially by people just struggling to learn as newbies. Juyondai is having its moment, but I would like to know what else would be as coveted to try, and taste on that level of amazing.

You know... the chef I visited said the same thing. That the black bottle was a bit better. It was definitely stronger, and to me had a much more fruity taste at first.

I think you're right, Harushika. I am always getting those two mixed up.

I am actually visiting Shizuoka in the early summer, so I intend to find some of the higher level Isojiman when I get there. Drink a cup, with a view of Mt. Fuji.

about 1 year ago

Read more