What is summer sake
Summer requires summer sake. Everything is seasonal in Japan, and sake, the drink that counts 1000 years of history, is not an exception. There are autumn sake like hiyaoroshi, winter sake like shiboritate, spring sake like namazake. However, summer sake is a relatively new concept. According to the Sake Times article, the term natsuzake (夏酒, summer sake) only appeared in 2007. It was coined by the Sake Service Institute (SSI) as a response to low demand for sake during the hot summer months in Japan.
Since then the term became a marketing tool to promote sake during the year together with the aforementioned hiyaoroshi, shiboritate and namazake. So let’s look at what SSI’s criteria for summer sake are. While the SSI mention that there’s no definition of summer sake, which creates infinite possibilities, the institute still gives us four types of sake, which they believe are great for summer:
- White wine type sake with refreshing acidity
- Namazake (unpasteurised sake) with a fresh taste
- Genshu (undiluted sake) on the rocks
- Nigori (coudy) sake full of nutritions from rice particles left after pressing
So I decided to look at what is available here in the UK and came up with a list of 5 sake to drink in summer 2021.
Kanpai London Kaze Junmai Ginjo
I have already featured a few sake from Kanpai London, the first sake brewery in the UK, both here on this blog and on my podcast. So this is another entry from Lucy and Tom, this time junmai ginjo, premium sake made from four ingredients: water, rice, koji and yeast.
Kanpai Kaze is a special edition sake brewed especially for summer. And it’s the “white wine” type of summer sake with the higher than usual acidity and fresh and refreshing aroma and flavour. Kaze means wind in Japanese and gosh, this sake is so light! Made from Yamada Nishiki rice polished to 60%, is perfect summer sake. It’s light, alcohol content is not too high, 15%, it has a very fresh and bright fruity aroma with prominent cantaloupe notes. It’s medium-dry with higher acidity compared to sake imported from Japan.
In a way, it’s quite close to white wine as SSI recommended, which probably appeal to Western drinkers. But Kaze has its own unique character. The sake is very versatile. I had it with fish and duck and in both cases it was superb. But it’s very enjoyable to sip on its own. It’s terrific chilled, but if you try it warmer, just slightly below room temperature, it becomes more mellow and less acidic and opens up a bit.
And it also holds very well in a fridge. I left it there for a week and it was still great. The character mellowed a bit but was still very enjoyable. So if you like acidity and zest, Kanpai Kaze is for you. You can get it directly from the brewery’s website.
Where to buy
GBP 36.00 (720ml)
Nishinoseki Cube Honjozo Genshu
Nishinoseki Cube was developed especially for having on the rocks in hot Japanese summer. But now it’s here and English summer is getting hotter and hotter every year. There are a few characteristics that make it the perfect sake to have on the rocks. First tt’s genshu, undiluted sake with 17% ABV. Secondly, it’s rich and slightly on a sweet side. Thirdly, it’s relatively acidic.
So the higher alcohol helps Nishinoseki Cube hold the dilution very well. Same for the rich and sweeter taste, which gets through the ice and water very well. The higher acidity keeps the taste fresh and refreshing. While the sake is technically ginjo with a 60% polishing ratio, the brewery classifies it as honjozo, probably to reflect its non-fruity style.
However, Nishinoseki Cube’s taste profile changes when you have it on the rocks. The taste becomes more mellow and fresh. While the acidity and sweetness play very well together making it so nice to sip it on a hot summer evening with some nibbles. So if you like fresh and cold drinks, Nishinoseki Cube is a great sake to try. It was also recommended last year by Satomi Dosseur in my first interview on Sugidama Podcast. You can either listen to it here or read the interview here.
Nishinoseki Cube has a simple and not intense savoury aroma with soy sauce and alcohol notes and a hint of seaweed and some yeasty overtones. It’s slightly sweet with a bit of acidity. The sake has a savoury flavour and you can taste alcohol if you try it straight.
Where to buy
GBP 16.99 (300ml)
Kamoizumi Summer Snow Nigori Ginjo
I guess the reason why SSI suggested nigori sake for summer is that the sweltering heat in Japan just sucks all the nutrition from your body during the day. Nigori with a lot of rice particles left in the drink could be considered a very nourishing drink. So you can have it for dinner to replenish the lost nutrition. While I am a bit doubtful about how scientific this advice is, I still think that nigori is a great summer sake.
I first tried Kamoizumi Summer Snow in Roka restaurant a few years ago and I thought that time that it’s too sweet. But this time I found the sweetness just perfect. Kamoizumi Summer Snow Nigori Ginjo is one of the most popular nigori sake available in the UK. Interestingly, it was specially developed for the international markets and wasn’t available in Japan until quite recently.
Kamoizumi Summer Snow is very rich and creamy sake, with rice, dairy products like yoghurt, and green apple in the aroma. It’s tangy-sweet with notes of vanilla tart and port and a pleasantly bitter finish. I tried it with Korean BBQ, fried duck breast and Indian curry and the latter was the best pairing.
BBQ and duck were also very good. I can’t complain. So it’s perfect sake for a summer day. You can enjoy it either on its own with ice, with BBQ in the evening or try it with a dessert. It might not be as sweet as a dessert wine, but you can pour a bit of Summer Snow over ice cream if you fancy.
Where to buy
GBP 25.90 (500ml)
Konishi Silver Ginjo Hiyashibori
Hyogo’s Konishi Silver is another example of dry and fresh sake, which makes a very cool summer drink. I have recently featured another sake from the brewery, Shirayuki Akafuji Junmai Ginjo, sold in a cute 180 ml paper cup with Hokusai’s Red Fuji on it. The Konishi Brewery counts more than 470 years of sake brewing, which makes it one of the oldest sake breweries in Japan.
I have picked up Konishi Silver for this review because it’s light and refreshing sake, perfect for summer. It’s got ABV of white wine, 13.5% which makes it very easy to drink especially if it’s hot. Konishi Silver has a fresh and clean aroma with lime and bitter orange, herbs, and a bit of vanilla. The taste is smooth and dry with a silky texture and a very light body. Again, it fits perfectly the white wine type category.
It was super tasty with a lightly grilled fish and salad. But any light and simple foods like meaty shellfish, oysters, crab, scallops or tofu salad will pair nicely with the sake. Another great thing about Kinishi Silver is its price. You can get it from Tengu Sake for just 20 quid, which is a bargain for premium ginjo sake of superb quality.
Where to buy
GBP 20.00 (720ml)
Beppin Junmai Ginjo Usu Nigori
The last sake on my list is Beppin Junmai Ginjo Usu Nigori. Usu nigori means that the rice particles that make nigori sake cloudy, are very fine. They contribute to the texture and umami of the sake but you hardly notice them when you drink.
Beppin, which means a beautiful woman in Japanese, is another dry and acidic sake perfect for summer. I love its bottle featuring a very stylish image of a beautiful woman. And it’s nigori so according to SSI, it might help with replenishing lost nutrients. It’s brewed by Koikawa Sake Brewery located in the windy town of Shonai in Yamagata Prefecture. The sake uses local “organically raised” Tsuyahime rice polished to 50%. While Tsuyahime is table rice, it makes great sake.
Technically, it’s junmai daiginjo sake but the Koikawa brewery markets it as junmai ginjo. It is probably because it’s not very aromatic, which you expect from a typical daiginjo sake. Also as it’s nigori, the sake is not as refined as most of daiginjo.
Beppin has SMV of +5 and acidity of 1.5, which indicates dry and acidic sake. It’s slightly high in alcohol with ABV of 16-17% (the one I had was 16.3%). So you can even try it with ice if it’s too hot. The sake is very refreshing and crisp, with fine rice particles left after pressing adding a nice texture and a bit of umami.
The brewery recommends drinking it cold which is a perfect temperature for Beppin. However, I took it for a picnic with my friends and it warmed up a bit after a few drinks. And the nigori bit made it still very enjoyable at room temperature.
Where to buy
GBP 28.00 (720ml)
A few tips for drinking sake in summer
We have already discussed sake on the rocks. Choose genshu (undiluted sake) or sake with a higher ABV. I would say that 17-18% ABV is perfect. Also, select a more savoury and sweeter sake like honjozo or junmai. Ginjo style will lose a bit of its famous fruity aroma if diluted. Pour sake and add one or two clear ice cubes. And enjoy the drink on a hot summer evening or Sunday afternoon.
You can also make a highball with sake if you like long drinks. Put the sake and the glass in the fridge to chill them and use strongly carbonated soda water as it makes the drink more refreshing and delicious. In terms of ratio, use 1:1 or 1:1.5 or sake and big chunks of ice. You can add fruit cordial or citrus peels to enhance the drink flavour.
I heard on one podcast about slushy sake, frozen in a freezer but haven’t tried it personally. Finally, you can pour sake on your favourite ice cream, especially if it’s thick nigori. But junmai sake will do as well. Experiment and enjoy sake in this hot weather! Let me know your favourite way of drinking sake in summer!