The world is in the lockdown. Probably not the whole world but a chunky part of it. Here in the UK, we are discouraged to venture outside unless it’s an essential trip. So even with WFH (the amazing abbreviation everyone is using now), we have more time on our hands.
There were a few announcements from the government, major alcohol companies and sake breweries warning people about the dangers of overindulging with alcohol. But I think some moderate consumption should be OK. And if you are a bit tired of beer and wine, it’s a good time to try sake.
So I have compiled a quick list of sake I would recommend buying. It’s based on the online availability (some stocks look like being dried out), possible occasions, offers and my preferences. Also, I decided to feature some of the smaller specialised sake online shops to support them during this difficult time.
Kanpai Fizu (London Sake)
Kanpai is the first sake brewery in the UK launched by Tom and Lucy in Peckham in 2017. In 3 years it went from a geeky project by a couple of two millennials to a really cool craft sake brewery with several respectful awards under their belts.
Kanpai Fizu is a sparkling junmai sake, dry and crisp as most of Kanpai sake due to the local water and the chosen style. The aroma is simple and pleasant with some grapefruit and caramel notes and feels drier than the sake actually is. When you make the first sip, it feels a bit like beer but very quickly you realise that the taste is closer to champagne.
I think that the taste is much closer to the Western palate than much Japanese sake: dry and fresh with slightly higher acidity and some bitterness and pleasant caramel notes. Fizu has a silky texture and a light body and is very easy to drink. Compared to champagne, it’s still less acidic and less fizzy.
Kanpai Fizu is a great sake to celebrate something while in isolation. Especially if you cannot invite your friends or relatives. It comes in a small 375ml bottle, so if you don’t feel like drinking a whole bottle of champagne, it’s just perfect. Also, it’s something different, so Kanpai Fizu will add more fun to your routine. And finally, it’s a great entry point into sake, as it combines both Japanese and Western drinking traditions.
I have linked a Kanpai London Signature Sake Set of 3 small bottles, sparkling, junmai and nigori sake in case you feel adventures. Single bottles are also available there. It’s a great way to support London’s local sake brewery. It also features an excellent London Sake online store, where you can find a lot of cool stuff!
Where to buy
£42.99 for 3 x 375ml sake set
Dewazakura OKA “Cherry bouquet” (Sorakami)
Brewed in Yamagata prefecture, Dewazakura Oka Ginjo is a superb premium sake. It was one of the first ginjo sake released for general drinkers in 1980. Back then ginjo was still more like a trophy type of sake made for competitions.
Dewazakura Oka is very a floral and fresh sake with peach, pear and melon notes. On the first sip, it tastes dry and crispy, but as you drink it, Oka starts showing its sweeter side with tastes like honey, dry fruit and even a bit of honey melon. It has a lush creamy texture and a very rounded character.
Again, Dewazakura Oka Ginjo is available in 300 ml bottles (as well as standard 720 ml and big 1800 ml ones), which makes it very good for drinking alone. It’s even more important as its delicate floral aroma and nuanced taste don’t stay long even in a fridge.
Oka is amazing with seafood, like scallops, sashimi, light tempura or steamed vegetables. Drink it chilled between 5° and 15°C. If you have never tried sake before, Dewazakura Oka Ginjo will convert you to the sake cause!
You can buy Dewazakura Oka Ginjo and other Dewazakura sake in a number of online wine shops. However, I would like to draw your attention to Sorakami Sake, which is pioneering the excellent sake subscription service.
And again, I am linking The Sorakami Saké Tasting Pack there here in case you would like to try and compare sake from three excellent sake breweries: Miyasaka (Masumi), Tedorigawa and Dewazakura.
Where to buy
Raifuku Junmai (MOTO LONDON)
I wanted to feature Moto London, a new cool sake bar opened in London Covent Garden only a few months ago. They were hit hard by the pandemic as many new ventures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to go there before the lockdown and looking at there sake range I realised that I haven’t tried any of their sake as they are sourced independently from Japan.
So I reached out to Erika from Moto London and whom I know very well and asked for recommendations. Erika is a cool sake sommelier and I trust her opinion completely. I still going to order the sake she recommended from Moto London Sake Shop and try it later.
So Erika has suggested Raifuku Junmai. This sake is cool to experiment with. The brewery’s notes suggest that it’s great both hot and chilled. So it’s a bonus as you can try various temperatures and decide which one is your favourite.
When chilled, you get fruity notes of strawberry, pineapple, green apple, peach, and floral notes of blossom. As it warms up, the fruits evolve to something sourer, like nectarines, and the creaminess and umami of the rice are elevated. It’s a very approachable sake for all!
Food pairing suggestions include prosciutto and melon, Lemon Rosemary Garlic Chicken, Red Lentil Dahl, Aromatic Roasted Root Vegetables.
Raifuku Brewery from Ibaraki prefecture has more than 300 years history of sake brewing. Currently, the brewery is most renown for the use of natural flower yeasts in the sake brewing process, a technique only utilised by a handful of breweries across Japan.
Where to buy
Kubota Junmai Daiginjo (VSF Wine)
Kubota sake is a legend among sake lovers. Together with Dassai it is probably one of the most recognisable names of sake outside Japan. Brewed in Niigata prefecture, which is famous for its distinctive sake style: dry, clean and crisp, Kubota sake is a synonym of elegance and craftsmanship.
However, the new addition of the Kubota sake family called simple Kubota Junmai Daiginjo, is more like a classic junmai daiginjo sake. It has a noticeable floral aroma featuring pear and melon notes and a very good balance between sweetness and acidity.
It’s still crisp and clear sake. So it will appeal not only to ginjo style aficionados but also to first-time sake drinkers, who are coming from the white wine territory. They will appreciate the delicate balance of sweetness and sourness spread across your tongue each time you take a sip.
Kubota Junmai Daiginjo will be great with fish, shellfish and cheese. It’s a great way to treat yourself on a sunny day, sitting if you are a lucky one, in your garden, or on the balcony or even in front of the opened window and sipping the elegant Kubota sake with a nice selection of cheeses.
You can buy Kubota sake in many online outlets, but I would like to feature VSF Wine Education‘s sake shop. VSF have a very good selection of sake and they are running amazing sake courses, even now (online of course).
Where to buy
Gozenshu 1859 Prototype (Tengu Sake)
Gozenshu 1859 Prototype is a limited edition sake from Tsuji Honten brewery made using an ancient bodaimoto brewing method and the amazing Omachi rice. It looks like the brewery made Gozenshu 1859 Prototype to illustrate almost every trick in from the sake brewing textbook. You can read more details in the tasting notes.
Gozenshu 1859 Prototype is a bold and complex sake with a deep and dramatic taste. While it’s not an overly aromatic sake, you will still notice melon and apricot scents at the beginning. The aroma will unfold slowly as the sake is warming up adding rice, cheese and event a bit or stone and wood notes. Gozenshu 1859 Prototype’s taste is rich and full of wild notes and overtones. It has higher acidity which offset the sweetness of the sake.
Gozenshu 1859 Prototype is a quite potent sake rich in umami. So it will be a perfect companion for rich and spicy food like chilli con carne, tacos, Thai curry or rich and creamy food like risotto.
As Gozenshu 1859 Prototype is a limited edition sake, it’s a great time to snap this real find and enjoy it while reading a sake textbook about each technique the brewery used to make it!
You can buy Gozenshu 1859 Prototype at Tengu Sake, one of a few specialised online sake shops in the UK. By the way, Oliver from Tengu runs very good online sake tutored tastings where he talks about various sake he sells, brewing techniques and other cool stuff.
Where to buy
As a bonus, if you fancy something sweet, Tatenokawa Kodakara Yuzushu is a great option. Not too sweet and very refreshing, it’s a perfect summer drink. Made from yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus, something between lemon, orange and grapefruit.
The fruit comes from Kochi prefecture in the south of Japan and famous for tasty yuzu. It gives Kodakara Yuzushu its nice zesty style, making the drink very satisfying in the hot weather. You can serve it ice-cold, on the rocks or mixed with soda.
Kodakara Yuzushu has the shochu base, which makes the liqueur very stable so you can keep it opened in the fridge for a few weeks. Though I personally doubt if you could resist the temptation for that long. Again sold by amazing Tengu Sake. Enjoy!
Where to buy
So even in the lockdown, you can enjoy sake. Pick any sake from the above or go to the websites of the amazing featured online sake shops and choose something you like. Write a comment on how your sake journey is navigating through the quarantine and enjoy a sip or two of sake! Stay home and keep safe!