Have you ever felt this frustration standing in front of a sake section in the store and trying to pick up a bottle for the evening or an event? Which one and how to choose? Pretty tough, ugh? Good news is that Japan’s food and drinks are ruled by seasons more than in the West. There are sake for various seasonal occasions, which makes the choice a tiny bit easier. So if it’s autumn, this post will help you to choose the right sake for the occasion.
Autumn and sake
Autumn is a special time for sake. The brewing season usually finishes in June but the newly brewed sake still needs a bit of ageing to release all great flavours and balance the acidity and sweetness.
The new batch of sake is ready by mid-September. So many breweries release their special autumn sake, which is called aki-agari or hiyaoroshi. Nowadays, it generally means the same thing. Read a bit more about it in my recent Tsukimi post which features the ultimate Misume Hiyaoroshi from famous Miyazaki Brewery.
Autumn is also the time of harvest. It has a lot of seasonal food, full of energy from the just-ended summer. And autumn food requires special sake, which can match the depth of taste, a bit melancholic mood and bright yellow and red colour against the blue sky.
Last time I did an overview of seasonal sake, 5 great sake to try this summer, I picked the sake myself. This time I decided to ask the breweries and the importers for advice. The good this s that autumn is full of sake tastings and other events. So here you are, the top picks of autumn sake from the source!
How to choose sake for the autumn season
However, these are a few tips on how to choose a perfect autumn sake:
- Autumn food is generally more intense and heartier than spring or summer meals, but still made of fresh ingredients: so pick a sake with deeper taste and aroma.
- Look out for genshu, junmai, honjozo, kimoto and yamahai words in the names of sake, which indicate deeper taste, slightly higher acidity and less aromatic profiles.
- If you are in Japan, look out for hiyaoroshi or akiagari, special autumn types of sake.
- If you have any particular food in mind, ask for recommendations at the shop, what sake goes well with it!
Masumi Hiyaoroshi Junmai Ginjo
Before the rundown of the best autumn sake, a small note on Masumi Hiyaoroshi. This sake is released on September 9th and has only one shipment. It’s a rare chance to try a special autumn sake in autumn. Unfortunately, they are not usually available in the UK.
So if you want to taste it, hurry up! When the stock is gone, you will have to wait till next year.
Masumi Hiyaoroshi is a light but relatively complex sake with a full pallet of aromas from classic ginjo fruit aromas like melon, grapefruit and apricot to deep and sweet caramel and raisins and even hints of savoury mushroom. It has a creamy texture, balanced sweetness and hints of orange peel and chocolate in the taste.
It’s a perfect sake for many autumn dishes. What about roasted vegetables with grilled chicken at your last BBQ party of the season?
Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai: ultimate autumn sake
I’ve written about Kamoizumi before in one of my early posts titled Friends and sake and had more opportunities to try their excellent sake including the vintage 1997 Sachi koshu. Someone mentioned to me that Kamoizumi brewery is eccentric. I sort of understand, what she meant after reading the brewery’s advice to warm up their junmai ginjo sake.
Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai is an ultimate autumn food sake. It’s earthy, potent and deep and goes perfect with umami-rich food like mushrooms, root vegetables and stews. It has a very autumn aroma as well: shitake mushrooms, damp autumn leaves, and wood but with some hints of grapefruit.
Kamoizumi Shusen is a savoury sake. I would definitely prefer to drink it warm as the temperature let all the hidden aromas come out and it makes the sake smoother and more rounded. You should try to warm it up to 35-40 C and see how you like it with food. If not, just go back to room temperature or even slightly chilled.
Kamoizumi Shusent Junmai is sold in the UK by Worlld Sake Imports. I had a very nice tasting session with Masayo at their office when was writing this post. She suggested a few other sake, which are great with autumn dishes: Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto Junmai or Tedorigawa Yamahai Junmai.
Where to buy
Chotoku Genshu Honjozo (Heavenly Brew)
Michisakari Sake Brewery from Gifu Prefecture is famous for its dry sake. The brewery has been around for almost 250 years and in the last 50 years was focused on making its beautiful dry sake.
The Michisakari brewery has its own water supply from the Toki River via its own 40m deep well. The river’s source is the soft melt and precipitation waters of the Yudachi Mountain, which is one of the reasons of Michisakari’s clean and clear taste.
Oliver from Tengu Sake, one of the key sake importers in the UK, actually suggested two autumn sake: the honjozo in the title and Gozenshu Josen “Ancient Mountain” Futsushu, which is also a good sake for autumn. It’s a table sake and its slightly rougher and more intense taste and texture goes very well with hearty autumn dishes.
Heavenly Brew is a dry and crisp sake true to the brewery’s style. The brewer’s notes mention faint lychee and melon aromas, though they are hardly noticeable. The sake feels very smooth and light in the mouth. The flavours in the taste are deeper than your nose would suggest with dried fruit and cinnamon notes.
Try Chotoku Genshu Honjozo with grilled fish and vegetables, if you prefer your last BBQ of the season light and crispy. But the sake will also go well with heartier salmon bake or mushroom risotto.
If you warm it up a bit, Heavenly Brew will release more of its delicate aroma, the taste will become slightly more rounded and you will discover deeper flavours.
Where to buy
Where to try
If you don’t want to buy a bottle but just to enjoy a glass or graft of the Chotoku Genshu Honjozo or Gozenshu Josen Futsushu, then head for one of My Neighbours the Dumplings restaurants. They have an amazing choice of sake.
Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu
This sake is a double blessing for autumn. Not only it’s genshu, undiluted sake, it’s also namazake, unpasteurised sake. The combination provides deeper, stronger and umami richer taste, which will perfectly complement any hearty autumn dish. The fact that it’s a ginjo style sake gives it a bit more refined taste and slightly flowery aroma.
Unpasteurised sake generally does not have a very long shelf life and usually, you should drink as quickly as possible. That’s why Honke Matsuura Brewery, which has been around since 1804, came up with the innovative idea of a sealed aluminium can, which protects the freshness of Narutotai sake for much longer.
Narutotai Ginjo Nama Genshu is a bold but at the same time elegant sake. Behind its higher acidity and rich taste, you can detect plenty of nuances usually associated with ginjo style sake. Narutotai has a delicate sweet aroma with a lot of earthy notes and a tiny bit of fizziness of a freshly made sake, which some people describe as a milky texture.
Try it with bitter and heavier dishes like maki sushi with some rich sauce, grilled fish, miso aubergines, an autumn beef and vegetable stew, or even some mature and strong cheese. You won’t be disappointed!
Where to buy
Kikusui Setsugoro Shuppinshu Daiginjo Genshu Sake
This is the sake I tried at the JFC Sake Expo this month and it is so good. Its intense but elegant aroma and deep flavour together with the creamy texture and full body make Shuppinshu a great autumn sake.
It’s a genshu (undiluted) sake, which contributes to its intensity. Shuppinshu’s aroma profile is more complex than your classic daiginjo sake. While it’s still dominated by fruit flavours like green apple, it has sweet caramel and raisins notes and a hint of mature soy sauce in the nose. Shuppinshu Setsugoro is a full-body sake with medium sweetness and creamy texture. It must be perfect with hearty autumn dishes like stews and hot pots or cured meat and mature cheese.
Kikusui Sake brewery from Nagano is a
Where to buy
Kamoizumi Red Maple 2-year Namazume
I usually conclude my reviews with some non-sake beverage like umeshu or yuzushu. However, this time I decided to end it up it with sake, but a quite unusual one. It’s again an offering from the Kamoizumi brewery, a 2-year Namagenshu “Red Maple”.
It’s quite an unusual sake. Undiluted ginjo sake with a polishing ratio of 58% and 18% ABV unpasteurised and matured for 2 years under 5C°. The result? A very rich and satisfying flavour with dried fruit, cinnamon, dairy, citrus and a bit of syrup.
The taste is just amazing. If you like cherry or port, you will love it. Kamoizumi Red Maple is a relatively sweet and mellow sake with flavours like camembert, vanilla and chocolate. This sake will go perfectly with chocolate desserts or a cheeseboard. Or you can have it as a digestive on ice or neat with something like nuts, dry fruits or chocolates.
Kamoizumi Red Maple could be a terrific food sake. Try it with glazed pork or veal or lamb chops! So yummy! Experiment with the temperature: try it room temperature of even hot and decide, which one is better for you.
Where to buy
If you can’t find the sake from the post, but want to enjoy hearty autumn food with a glass or two of sake, don’t worry! Just follow the recommendations above:
- Look for genshu, junmai, honjozo, kimoto and yamahai on the label.
- Ask for recommendations at the shop or even here in the comments.
- Try several sake and decide which one appeals to you!
If you followed any of the recommendations above or bought any of the sake in the post, tell me about your experience in the comments below. Remember, autumn is a special time for sake!