SAKE on a Budget
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SAKE SECRET is here to be a resource for everyone. Today I want to talk about exploring Sake already available at Asian markets and specialty shops, without breaking the bank. As I discussed previously, when you read articles recommending Sake, the don't explain how they selected these labels in the first place.
My choices today are my personal selections. These are based on affordability and value for the quality your receiving with zero promptings, loyalty to any distributor, or incentive, so you can actually trust them.
Before I give you my "Top 5" Sake on a budget, I'm throwing in one more that's not cheap based on quantity, but deserves inclusion for tasting like a much more expensive Sake:
Bunraku - Nihonjin no Wasuremono
All of the Bunraku brand Sake are excellent, but none are quite as easy to spot on the store shelf 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. Best Hot Sake on a Budget
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This comes from one of the largest mass-producers of Sake in Japan, Hakutsuru. Like New Belgium or Samuel Adams, Hakutsuru is so large that calling their premium Sake "Craft" is a stretch, but they are typically cost-effective, decent Sake that are widely available.
This specific Sake, Toji-Kan is exceptionally good, and it 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 or microwave it!
4. Best Nigori on a Budget
Sho Ginjo Nigori
This premium Sake is not actually 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. Best All-Around Sake on a Budget
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 palate) and an absolute crowd-pleaser.
It is no exaggeration 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 oz. bottle, pronounced "E-Show Bean") may look intimidating - or exciting! Served cold, the Sake inside can accompany every course of a meal. Any two people can easily finish a bottle in two sittings, while three or more people can handle it in a night (like drinking 3-4 glasses of wine with a big meal).
2. Best Super Dry Sake on a Budget
Like Ohkagura, Michinoku is 60% polished craft Honjozo with a light-body that pairs with a wide variety of food. But for some Sake drinkers, the drier the Sake, the better. If that sounds like 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 is a common term used to describe dry Sake. Be careful not to confuse one brand with another. Michinoku is made by Uchigasaki Brewing in Miyagi Prefecture. Another well-known Onikoroshi is the excellent, but more expensive "Wakatake Onikoroshi" Ginjo Sake.
1. Best Fancy Sake on a Budget
Kiku-Masamune Kimoto Daiginjo
This might be the most undervalued Daiginjo available in America. Complex, round, smooth, floral, fruity, and refined, this Sake also has a great full-body that comes from being brewed Kimoto-style - the slower, more traditional method which allows the Sake's lactic acid to develop naturally. The additional body helps it pair with more than just light dishes one would typically want to enjoy with a Daiginjo. The attractive blue and gold bottle makes it a great gift option for Sake-lovers or a gift exchange.
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