Japan’s beloved drink captures the magic of fermented rice in a bottle. Known for having a sweet, fruity flavor that is equally delicious served cold or hot, this elixir has hundreds of varieties to choose from. We are rounding up a list of the tastiest sake available in stores in India.
Although often confused with wine, sake loosely translates to “liquor” in Japanese. Known locally as nihonshuthis alcoholic drink is the East Asian nation’s poison of choice, appearing on the menus of several establishments across its landscape. It is also an indispensable part of formal religious ceremonies and informal drinking games and is thought to have existed since the third century BC.
Today, more than 70 varieties of rice go into the production of sake bottles, and the resulting flavor is sweet, nutty and subtle. There are dizzying varieties of this spirit, determined by the polishing and fermentation process, among other things. Each type pairs well with a different set of culinary dishes and adds a little something unique to cocktails.
In India, several department stores such as Tonique in Bengaluru, Liquor Bank in Hyderabad, and Mansionz by Living Liquidz in Mumbai offer sake. If you haven’t tasted its flavor yet, we’ve put together a list of the best types to buy.
The Best Types of Japanese Sake in India to Sip
Aizu Homare Nigori Sake
This fruity number is a nigori sake, which is supposed to be unfiltered, with rice solids that have not been fermented. It is a creamier, cloudier sake that is sweeter than its clear counterparts and works well in cocktails. It is low in alcohol and the fruity aroma balances the acidity of the sake.
It is best to stir the sake well to shake off the sediment before having it. This particular brand is reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake with hints of melon, passion fruit and guava and comes in a pretty pink bottle. It works well with sushi, sashimi and fruit salads.
Price: Rs 2,500 for a 300ml bottle
Kubota Manju Sake
This award-winning sake is one of the best in Japan. It belongs to the category of junmai daiginjo sake, which is said to represent the most prized process of bottling sake, reflecting the pinnacle of a master brewer’s ability.
Nearly 50 percent of the best quality rice’s outer layer must be polished to qualify as premium. This particular brand has multiple layers of flavor with hints of umami, apple and pear and is best enjoyed fresh. Its profile is light and dry and goes well with sushi and sashimi.
Price: Rs 12,500 for a 750ml bottle
It is one of the most popular sake brands in Japan and around the world. This particular variety falls under the junmai style of sake, which is 70% pure ground rice sake. The flavor is clean, earthy and subtle, with hints of grapefruit.
It tastes great whether served hot, cold or at room temperature and pairs well with shellfish or fatty fish like salmon and trout.
Price: Rs 7,900 for a 1800ml bottle
Sawanotsuru Deluxe Sake
This is the perfect entry-level sake that won’t break the bank and has a herbal, refreshing flavor. Sawanotsuru is a well-known brewery in Japan that has been around for three centuries. This sake is made from Miyamizu, a famous water source in Kobe, and has different rice polishing rates.
Each sip offers notes of clove, candied fruit, apple and butterscotch. Reheat it to bring out its tangy, nutty sweetness or serve it chilled for a subtle flavor. It pairs well with cod, broccoli, salmon, and teriyaki chicken.
Price: Rs 3,125 for a 720ml bottle
This sake bottles spring in Japan. It is made with original yeast derived from yellow cherry blossoms in Kizakura and has a sweet, fruity aroma. It falls under the junmai ginjo category and as such is a high quality sake.
This one is low in alcohol and has a clean, crisp flavor with hints of apple. It pairs well with all kinds of seafood and is excellent on its own when served chilled.
Price: Rs 1,851 for a 300ml bottle
Sake Hakushika Junmai Taru
This is a barrel-aged sake named after the famous Yoshino Forest in Nara Prefecture in Japan. For over 500 years, fine Japanese cedar has been produced here, making it a luxurious and fragrant cask for sake (called taru).
The drink obtained is semi-dry and full-bodied. This high quality sake features rice that has been 70% polished and has earthy notes. It is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature and goes well with sautéed vegetables, tofu, Asian salads and fish.
Price: Rs 1,590 for a 300ml bottle
Sake Gekkeikan Daiginjo
This complex, strong and popular sake is made from highly polished, high quality Gohyakumangoku rice. It has a fresh, floral aroma and is reminiscent of white tulips and linden. Flavor notes include lychee and green apple, and there is a distinct acidity and lingering aftertaste to this sake.
Serve this sake chilled and store it in the refrigerator once opened. Its rounded flavor pairs well with most Japanese dishes, including ramen and sushi.
Price: Rs 5,100 for a 720ml bottle
Sake Kagatobi Yamahai Junmai Cho-Karakuchi
This is another dry, full-bodied sake with a pleasant and unique yogurt aroma. It was brewed using an age-old process called Yamahai (hence the name), which involves letting lactic acid develop on its own. Yamahai sakes are known for their rich umami flavor profile and are highly sought after around the world.
In addition to having some acidity, this sake has a sharp finish with taste notes of mineral and sweet rice. It is best served chilled and pairs well with all kinds of meats and seafood.
Price: Rs 3,286 for a 300ml bottle
Aizu Homare Yuzu Sake
This is a high quality junmai sake that offers the perfect marriage of creamy fermented rice and refreshing yuzu juice. Rich and tangy, the brand promises a bottle free of artificial flavors, preservatives and acidifiers. Yuzu is a popular Japanese citrus fruit and this sake is perfect for summer in India.
Low in alcohol, sweet and mellow with tart and citrus notes, this sake is best served chilled or over ice and makes a great aperitif. It is also a delicious addition to cocktails.
Price: Rs 2,500 for a 300ml bottle
Gekkeikan Nigori Sake
This cloudy, creamy sake has a coarse filtering process that makes it ideal for cocktails. It has a mild flavor and is medium bodied. The rice polishing rate for this sake is 78%, which places it among other high quality sakes in India.
A sip of this nigori sake offers notes of honey and tropical fruits. Best served chilled or at room temperature, this one goes well with fresh fruit salads, lightly sweet desserts, red meat and spicy dishes.
Price: Rs 2,460 for a 300ml bottle
Sake Hakushika Yamadanishiki Honjozo
This sake is made with Yamada Nishiki rice, considered the “king” of premium sake rice in Hyogo Prefecture. The brewing process follows a special technique passed down from generation to generation and the resulting drink is elegant and fresh.
The slightly dry taste of sake is best enjoyed chilled, at room temperature or slightly warmed. It goes well with Japanese grilled chicken and asparagus, tempura and noodles.
Price: Rs 3,400 for a 700ml bottle
Sake Hakutsuru Junmai
Brewed using a 250-year-old technique, this sake enjoys a good reputation around the world. It is known to be well-matured, with a full-bodied flavor and is one of the most popular sakes in India.
The flavor of this one is robust and toasty, with hints of sweet rice and bread. Its rich, dry character lends itself well to creamy pastas and grilled meats.
Price: Rs 2,590 for a 750ml bottle
Feature image: Courtesy of Gekkeikan Japan; Hero image: Courtesy of iStock