It’s raining, it’s pouring… Days are getting darker and it feels cold and miserable. On the plus side, autumn food is rich and hearty thanks to the abundance of yummy ingredients just harvested by your local and not-so-local farmers. Look at the shelves at supermarkets: pumpkins, chestnuts and many other beautiful gifts of autumn. So nature always keeps some balance compensating the cold and damp weather with warm and filling ingredients. And to complement it, I have chosen 5 best autumn sake for this season.
Hatsumago Densho Kimoto Honjozo
Let’s start with something all-rounded and cool, Hatsumago Densho Kimoto from Yamagata Prefecture, a winner of a gold medal in 2018 International Wine Challenge in the honjozo category.
Hatsumago Densho is a very uplifting sake. The old kimoto brewing method gives the sake its complex character and slightly higher acidity. When you start drinking it, you feel straight away the smoothness and mouthfulness of the drink followed by a nice kick of the acidity and alcohol.
The sake is not particularly aromatic, being honjozo, but you will catch some dry fruit and herbal notes and even a bit of strawberry and plum in the aroma. The taste is medium sweet and a bit lemony with a lot of smooth undertones beneath.
The Hatsumago brewery starts its history more than 125 years ago in the port town of Sakata in Yamagata prefecture. It’s one of a relatively few breweries specialising on the ancient kimoto method, which takes a bit longer to brew sake and requires meticulous skills and years of experience.
Hatsumago Densho Kimoto Honjozo is a perfect autumn sake, especially when it’s grey outside. You can drink it at any temperature as it’s delicious both cold and warm. But my favourite temperature was slightly chilled, probably a couple of degrees below room temperature.
Due to its higher acidity and deeper flavours, Hatsumago Densho perfectly pairs with autumn dishes, root vegetables, stews and deep-fried comfort food. I tried with pumpkin croquettes and kabocha pork stir-fry and it was so delicious! It will also go well with steak or fish like baked salmon or red snapper.
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Fukukomachi “Evening Sky” Junmai Karakuchi
Karakuchi means super-dry and it’s very true about Fukukomachi “Evening Sky”. Mind it’s sake, so the dryness is different from wine. It’s more about being less sweet than more acidic. SMV, the notorious sake metre value, which shows how dry or sweet the sake is, shoots to +8, which is relatively dry.
Not as dry as Kanpai Fizu and Kumo, I’ve recently reviewed or Ichinokura Mukansa, all of which have SMV of +9. But compared to the majority of sake, which is in the range between -2 and +4, it’s really dry.
Fukukomachi “Evening Sky” is a very versatile sake and can be drunk any time of the year. So what makes it a great autumn sake? The dryness, which works particularly well with autumn food. Its aroma is very mild but fresh and clean with a bit of pumpkin and cucumber. The body is light and the texture is rather silky.
Fukukomachi “Evening Sky” is very crisp and punchy sake, probably the closest Japanese sake to wine I’ve ever had. It counterbalances the richness of the seasonal food creating an amazing combination. It’s not very complex but the more you drink it, it grows on you and you start noticing various notes that escaped you at the beginning: minerality, a bit of oat, vanilla etc.
Kimura Shuzo is located in Northern Japan in Akita Prefecture and was established in 1615 by the family of a high-ranking samurai. The long and cold winters allow the brewery to use the slow fermentation under colder temperature resulting in a mellow, rich and smooth style of sake.
In terms of food pairing, any rich autumn food will be perfect: roasted pumpkin, chestnut rice, beef stew, a burger, steak or the last BBQ of the season. You won’t be disappointed.
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Tamagawa ‘Heart of Oak’ Tokubetsu Junmai
For many people, Tamagawa sake from Kinoshita brewery doesn’t require any introduction. Brewed by Philip Harper, the first non-Japanese master brewer in the history of sake, Tamagawa sake combines the amazing craftsmanship with inventive use of traditional brewing techniques and constant trailblazing.
And Tamagawa Tokubetsu Junmai is not an exception. The sake has a slightly tinted light amber colour and a gentle not very prominent aroma with plum, cherry, almonds and woody notes. You can also notice some sweet scents like jam and toffee but it’s probably just my sweet tooth.
If you have ever wondered what sake to try warm, Tamagawa Tokubetsu Junmai is the answer. The brewery recommends to drink it hot and I followed the advice tasting it from slightly chilled to almost 65° and it was the best. So drink it piping hot and you won’t get disappointed.
Tamagawa Tokubetsu Junmai is a savoury sake with a deep taste silky texture and a rather heavy body, which is perfect for a cold season in combination with the recommended hot drinking temperature. It tastes a bit sweeter when chilled or room temperature but the sweetness dissolves as the sake gets hotter.
As I have already mentioned, Tamagawa Tokubetsu Junmai has a deep taste which reminded me of whiskey. So if you like Scotch, this sake is for you! It’s a great pairing for any rich autumn or winter dish from any cuisine. I drank it with Hungarian goulash, miso aubergines and chestnut rice and enjoyed it immensely. It’s a real treat to have it hon on a cold rainy day with any comfort food.
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Akashi-Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu
Now let’s try something fruity but punchy! Akashi-Tai is a small brewery from Hyogo prefecture with an instantly recognisable sea bream (“tai” in Japanese) on the label. According to the brewery, the snapper is a symbol of its spirit. Founded over 150 years ago on the shore of Osaka Bay, famous for the best sea bream in Japan.
Akashi-Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu is a great sake for a cold autumn/winter season. It has a perfect combination of fruitiness and gentle sweetness of daiginjo sake with punchiness and a kick of genshu, undiluted sake. While its ABV is not too high at 16%, it feels.
Akashi-Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu has a very prominent fruity nose with plum, banana, pear and melon in the aroma. The sake is smooth and relatively sweet with medium to full body, quick finish and very pleasant oily texture. It feels like it absorbed all the goodness of the hot summer, the brightness of the warm and dry days of the early autumn and the richness of the last year’s harvest.
It’s great with food like baked fish, roasted root veggies, simmered meatballs and fried aubergines. However, it’s also amazing on its own given it’s high polishing ratio (38%) and richness and sweetness of the taste.
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Kanpai TARU Barrel-Aged Junmai Sake
Aged sake usually called koshu, is still not a very common thing. Historically, people aged sake a long time ago. But then breweries stopped doing in the 19th century due to tax reasons. Now it’s coming back. But here we have a very our own London barrel-aged sake from Kanpai brewery! And it’s not just sake, but a gold medal winner in Sake Sommelier Association London Sake Challenge!
It’s a junmai sake slowly aged in red wine oak casks from Burgundy. And it gives the sake amazing luxurious feel and taste. Kanpai Taru has a very lavish dark amber colour of whiskey or cognac. Its aroma is very rich and complex dominated by a pleasant caramelly/burnt sugar and cherry pips smell. It also reminded me of a smell of kvass, an Eastern European fermented non-alcoholic drink made of rye bread. It also has interesting herbal and woody notes.
The taste is sweet and complex with a myriad of different flavours from dried fruit and prunes to the aforementioned whiskey and kvass and even candied lemon slices.
Kanpai Taru is a perfect after-dinner drink either on its own or with cheese or dessert. The brewery suggested pouring it over ice-cream, which also should be delicious though I haven’t tried it yet. It’s a great autumn sake as it will warm you up and lift your spirit. It’s aged so you can keep it opened for longer. Wait a bit and it will turn into a perfect winter sake!
Taru makes me think about a fusion of British and Japanese drink cultures. It’s sake but with a bouquet of flavours from sherry, dark ales and whiskey brewed in the heart of Peckham, now a district of South London, but originally a village, which appears in Domesday Book of 1086.
Where to buy
Autumn sake for all occasions
Sake can be enjoyed in any season. What I really like about sake is that you can easily pair it with your favourite food. Naturally rich in umami, it goes amazingly well with hearty, rich and tasty autumn dishes. Just pick your autumn sake, cook something nice and enjoy it together even if it’s dark, cold, rainy and windy outside!