SAKE on a Budget
A quick aside: As I discussed previously when you read articles recommending Sake, the selection often goes unexplained. These choices are my personal selections with zero promptings, loyalty to any distributor, or incentive, so you can actually trust them.
If you live near an Asian market or even a Whole Foods, you might start to see a growing selection of Sake. Here are my "TOP 5" (plus 1) recommendations for an affordable Sake that does not sacrifice on quality. If you can't find any of them on the shelf, talk to the manager in charge of buying, and then ask them why
they are afraid of Sake.
I'M KIDDING! But seriously: tell them to email me.
My "honorable recommendation" is not that cheap, but deserves to be included for tasting like a much more expensive Sake:
Bunraku - Nihonjin no Wasuremono
All of the Sake produced under the Bunraku brand are excellent, but none are quite as easy to find or at such a low price point (Around $20).
Brewed in Saitama with regional Gohyakumangoku rice, this Yamahai Junmai is best served chilled and has the body and full-flavor to pair with roasted or grilled fish or white meat, as well as the refined rice-forward flavor to pair with any Japanese dish or enjoyed on its own.
5. Hot Sake (Click to check out my FAQs blog on "How To Hot Sake"):
This comes from one of the largest mass-producers of Sake in Japan, and if you have tried 10 Sake before, chances are at least 2 were made by them (2 or 3 more by Ozeki), but this is the most cost-effective, delicious Sake that only improves with heat. The bottle is beautiful too, so you can feel good about presenting it as a gift. Just remember not to overheat/microwave it!
Sho Ginjo Nigori
This is the only selection here not brewed in Japan. Sho is short for the (perhaps) familiar name Sho Chiku Bai. Imported since the 1950s and brewed in California since 1983. The Ginjo Nigori comes in a beautiful purple bottle, and has a light and silky texture. Because of the Ginjo polish, it does not pair as well with rich, spicy dishes as some Genshu (cask-strength) Nigori, but you can't beat this Sake's sweet taste on its own or with fruit and dessert.
3. Sake for all Seasons:
I mention this delicious Honjozo (pronounced "Hone Joe's Oh") Sake often, precisely because of how affordable it is for the quality. Brewed in Okayama with 60% polished Akebono Sake rice, this is true Craft Sake. The taste is clean and neutral (possibly semi-dry or semi-sweet, depending on your individual palate) and an absolute crowd-pleaser. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have served this to Sake first-timers, celebrities, and alcohol experts, and I have never heard a negative review. The Isshobin (60-ounce bottle) may look intimidating - or exciting - but the Sake inside is so highly-drinkable, that it can be easily finished in two sittings by a couple, or in one go by three or more.
2. Super Dry Sake:
Like Ohkagura, Michinoku is a 60% polished craft Honjozo with a light-body that pairs with a wide variety of food. But for some Sake drinkers, the drier their Sake, the better. If that applies to you, then this will be your new go-to Sake. While plenty of cheap, extra-dry Sake exist, being on a budget does not mean you must give up all hope for balance and quality.
Onikoroshi, like Otokoyama, is a term used by many brands to describe dry Sake. Be careful not to confuse it with another brand. Michinoku is made by Uchigasaki Brewing Co. in Miyagi prefecture. Another, far better known Onikoroshi, is "Wakatake", and while excellent, is a very different, Ginjo Sake, which also costs more.
1. Fancy Sake
Kikumasamune Kimoto Daiginjo
This might be the most undervalued Daiginjo available in the U.S. It is complex, round, smooth, floral, fruity, refined, and has that great full-body that comes from being brewed Kimoto-style - the traditional, slow method which allows the lactic acid to develop naturally. This also helps it pair with more than the light dishes one would typically want to enjoy with a Daiginjo. The attractive blue and gold bottle makes it great gift option for a Sake-lover or gift exchange.
Have you tried any of these? Have a different opinion? Want to add something to the list? Feel free to comment below, or continue the conversation on the SAKE SECRET Facebook Page.