Summer is already here and we can finally enjoy the sunshine and a gentle summer breeze. It’s a perfect time for trying something new. So I have selected 4 great sake (and one yuzusake :)) for you to take a look at.
1,000 opportunities to drink sake in summer
There are plenty of opportunities to drink sake in summer. You can chill out with a glass of sparkling sake in a shade on a hot summer day or have it as an aperitif at a summer party. Or you can enjoy crisp and dry honjozo, junmai or ginjo with a light seafood lunch.
If you are having a BBQ party, don’t just think “beer or wine”. Full of umami junmai sake will go perfectly with chicken or grilled sausages. If you are organising a dinner party for your friends, it could be a great opportunity to have a sophisticated junmai daiginjo, which will go perfectly with grilled fish, baked chicken or any vegetarian dish. Or you can drink it just on its own.
There are other occasions perfect for sake: after meal drinks, pre-dinner drinks, Sunday lunch at a sushi restaurant etc. So you need just to find the right place and time to enjoy a glass or two of sake.
Yuzusake is technically not a sake. But it is often made with sake and fresh yuzu juice. It’s a great drink to sip on a hot day with plenty of ice or have as an aperitif before lunch or dinner. It’s light and refreshingly sweet.
Pearl: a sparkling sake on a hot summer day
Sparkling sake is a new trend in sake brewing. It emerged only a few years ago and still remains gimmick for many seasoned sake drinkers. However, I fell with love with it straight away.
What I like about sparkling sake is that it’s not too sweet like prosecco and not too acidic as champagne. Sparkling sake usually quite balanced and light. While on the per unit of alcohol basis it might cost more than other alternatives (the sad reality of the sake world outside Japan), it still makes a very good aperitif or a welcome drink at a party. It’s also great to drink on its own sitting in your garden or outside a nice restaurant on a hot summer day.
Being a novelty, it’s not greatly available even in Japan. When I was choosing a sparkling sake for this post I wanted to feature something very good but still not breaking the bank. So I have settled on Yauemon Shuawa “Pearl” from Tengu Sake.
Pearl is sparkling junmai daiginjo nigori, a premium cloudy sake made by a traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. It’s delicately fizzy and has ABV close to champagne, 13%.
The sake is fruity and light-bodied with crisp honey, melon date and grapefruit flavours. It’s gently bittersweet and refreshing with balanced acidity and grapefruit, black sugar and melon notes in the taste.
Yauemon Shuawa “Pearl” is an ideal aperitif before a relaxing lunch on a weekend or a classy dinner you would like to serve to your friends due to its lower alcohol content and delicate fizziness and mild acidity.
Where to buy
Tosatsuru Washi no Junmai: light and crisp Tosa style sake
If you thinking about sake which will go perfectly with seafood dishes, check out great sake from Koichi Prefecture. Situated on the south coast of Shikoku island, Koichi is famous for its light and crisp style of sake. The prefecture used to be called Tosa, so people still refer to the sake from there as Tosa-style.
There are plenty of amazing breweries in the region (see my post about Tosa sake fair a few months ago) and Tosatsuru is one of them. It’s an old brewery established during the Edo period in 1773. The current owner is the 11th generation scion of the founding Hiromatsu family.
Despite its age and traditions, Tosatsuru is a quite innovative company. For example, their azure junmai daiginjo sake boasts not only a super modern design of its bottle but also uses deep ocean water, which is pretty cool in my opinion.
The brewery makes a very distinctive style of sake, crisp, fresh and dry. It goes very well with seafood as it does not overpower its delicate taste but complements it offsetting the natural oiliness of sea fish.
Tosatsuru Washi no Junmai is a light and dry sake with a gentle slightly mineral aroma with green peppery and stone fruit notes. As you smell it first you can also catch a whiff of vanilla, herbs and a bit of raisin.
As you start drinking Tosatsuru Washi no Junmai, you will notice its slightly grainy but soft texture, pepper and dairy in the taste and a relatively short finish. It’s not an intense sake and it pairs perfectly with light seafood dishes, salads and other summery food.
Where to buy:
Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo
You can’t go wrong with Urakasumi sake. Quoting from the excellent The Book of Sake by Philip Harper “…the Zen label… has a proud record of more than four decades of sales… and is distinguished by a smooth texture that never cloys”.
Urakasumi Zen was the first junmai ginjo sake I properly drank. I tasted a lot of sake before and drank a daiginjo one, but it was the first whole bottle of junmai ginjo my friend brought to my house and we enjoyed it with home cooked yakitori and leisure conversation in September 2017.
Again, quoting from Philip Harper’s book, Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjo “…excellent for relaxed drinking during dinner…” Founded in 1724, Urakasumi Brewery was one of the pioneers in the ginjo style.
Urakasumi Zen has everything you need for a sophisticated dinner drink. It’s complex and well-balanced sake, which was first produced a few decades ago to introduce Europe to Japanese sake. While many sake are closer to white wine by their intensity, Urakasumi Zen is more in line with fine red wines due to its full body, smooth texture and rich aroma.
You can smell butter and steamed rice with hints of melon and mint. While it’s ginjo sake, it still has a quite savoury profile with velvety texture and notes of milk chocolate, nuts and vanilla pudding.
The long finish makes Urakasumi Zen even more enjoyable to drink. You can easily pair it with seafood, Italian dishes like pasta, French beef bourguignon or English stew. It’s really that versatile and perfect for dinner parties.
Where to buy:
Shirakabegura Kimoto Junmai
Shirakabegura is a premium brand of Takara Shuzo, which started brewing sake in 1842 in Kyoto at its Shochikubai Brewery. Their new Shirakabergura brewery is located in Hyogo prefecture in Kobe, famous for its amazing water.
There are two main reasons why I picked their sake for this review. First of all, it’s a junmai sake, which means it’s less fruity and more savoury, which is perfect for BBQ so ubiquitous during summer. Secondly, it’s not just junmai but kimoto junmai.
KImoto is an old method of making sake used for centuries in Japan. It takes longer to brew Kimoto resulting in a deep and complex flavour. Kimoto sake is usually drier and more robust with some hints of roughness. It makes it a perfect sake to drink with roast meat and poultry and other full-flavoured food naturally rich in umami.
Shikabegura Kimoto Junmai is a fine example of such sake. It’s robust but not rough, medium bodied and elegant. Its aroma is dominated by melon and yoghurt with a hint of brown sugar and some mint. Shirakabegura KImoto Junmai has a creamy texture and refreshing acidity, It has a smooth delivery and sharp finish with the taste full of umami and dairy overtones.
I drank Shirakabegura Kimoto Junmai with grilled salmon marinated in miso. It was a very good match, as the natural umami of the fish and the sake complemented each other. The acidity of Shirakabegura Kimoto Junmai was perfect to counterbalance the oiliness of salmon.
Where to buy:
As a bonus, I am introducing here Keigetsu Yuzusake. It’s not a proper nihonshu, but in contrast to many other Japanese yuzu liqueurs, it’s made with junmai sake by Tosa Brewing Company from the same Kochi prefecture as the second sake on the list.
Keigetsu is an amazing brand of sake and I have already written about them for example here and here. I hope to visit the Tosa region sometime in the future to see how this great sake is actually made.
Keigetsu Yuzusake is a perfect drink for the summer. It’s low alcoholic, only 8%, refreshing and sweet. But not super sweet. It’s made from freshly squeezed local yuzu and Keigetsu junmai sake. You can drink it chilled or on ice. It’s a great afternoon drink or aperitif.
The cool thing about Keigetsu Yuzusake is that it also can be enjoyed warm in winter. It will warm you up and remind about summer. So it’s really versatile and if you like it you can drink it in any season. Still, it’s summer and Keigetsu Yuzusake is a perfect drink for this time of the year!
Where to buy
Summer is a very good time to try various sake. Not only there are plenty of occasions to do it, but it is also that there are many sake tastings and events you can go to and enjoy sake. So next time you are planning a BBQ party, lunch with the family or a dinner with friends, think about buying a bottle of sake to surprise and treat your guests.
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Just to clarify, that I am not associated with any of the sake producers, importers or retailers. The prices are correct on the time of writing this post and could change.