With multiple grades and tastes of sake to try, you may not know where to begin. Luckily, we’re here to help. This handy sake for beginners guide explores some must-try varieties so you can find your perfect sake match. Let’s dive in!
What Type of Sake Should I Get?
When searching for your ideal variety, remember there are several types of sake, each with a unique flavor profile, sweetness and fermentation level. For instance, you might prefer a drier sake to a sweet one, or you may like something with more acidity instead of a milder flavor. Whatever your preferences, consider these six varieties to see if they sound like a good match.
If you’re wondering which sake to try first, a classic bottle of Junmai is a great place to start. “Junmai” is a Japanese word that translates to “pure rice,” which is precisely the flavor you’ll experience with this variety. Grab a bottle of Junmai if you’re looking to try sake in its purest form.
Junmai is typically brewed at medium-to-high temperatures with around 70% of the full rice kernel. This brewing process brings out its concentrated koji and grain flavors. If you’re looking for a beverage with high acidity, a savory flavor and little to no residual sweetness, Junmai sake is for you. We recommend drinking it at room temperature or slightly warmed to bring out the umami and almost bread-like flavor.
Considering its savory and acidic taste, try pairing Junmai sake with ribeye steak, pork or other fatty meats. This drink also complements cooked veggies like asparagus, mushrooms and artichokes.
2. Junmai Ginjo
Compared to other Junmai sakes, Junmai Ginjo sake is often fruitier, fragrant and more delicate. It’s best known for its exquisite floral aroma. Junmai Ginjo typically uses a 60% or less rice polishing, select yeast varieties and low-temperature fermentation known as the Gin-jikomi production method. Together, these form a smooth, aromatic and light-bodied sake.
If this fruity flavor profile sounds appealing, consider trying a crisp and refreshing bottle of Junmai Ginjo. We suggest drinking it chilled or at room temperature, as heat tends to compromise its distinctive flavor.
If you decide to try Junmai Ginjo, this variety pairs well with a diverse range of foods, from sushi and salad to cheese and fruit.
3. Junmai Daiginjo
Junmai Daiginjo’s production process is similar to Junmai Ginjo’s, but the Daiginjo method polishes away the most rice. This polishing results in kernels that are 50% or less of their initial weight, exposing the kernel’s starchy core so the brewmaster can convert this pure rice starch into sugar for fermentation.
With a process resulting in a complex and delicate flavor composition, Junmai Daiginjo is the highest grade of sake. An exquisite blend of lush floral notes, sweet fruit flavors and a light umami finish, Junmai Daiginjo satisfies multiple flavor profiles at a time. Its lingering velvety finish will likely have you reaching for this type again and again. If you enjoy intense fruit flavors, you can’t go wrong with this grade.
When it comes to food pairings, try Junmai Daiginjo with shellfish, sushi, chicken breast or cheese. It can also complement popular dishes like spicy Thai curry, tacos and pizza. However, avoid pairing it with bold umami flavors like miso and heavy soy sauce.
4. Tokubetsu Junmai
A name that means “special” in Japanese, Tokubetsu Junmai is a fitting name for this grade. The special touch added to this sake refers to a few different factors.
In addition to its 60% or less rice polishing ratio, Tokubetsu Junmai uses sake-specific rice to give it complexity and balance — typically large-grain rice cultivated over the years to increase water solubility. “Special” also refers to notable production methods and brewing practices used to make this sake.
Tokubetsu Junmai has a crisp and light fruity finish. Many are semi-dry and can be enjoyed at various temperatures, whether chilled, warm or room temperature. However, the colder the drink, the more prominent fruit flavors will be.
If you enjoy fruity notes but want something slightly less defined than Junmai Daiginjo, opt for a refreshing Tokubetsu Junmai sake instead. We recommend pairing this type with lightly fried or oily foods like chicken, fish or Asian noodle dishes.
The Japanese word “nama” translates to raw or fresh. In this case, it refers to unpasteurized sake. Rather than traditional heat-based pasteurization methods, Nama sake passes through a series of micro-filters to achieve sterilization. This unique micro-filtering process results in a bright, fresh and fruity flavor, accompanied by a sweet and delicate aroma.
If you decide to purchase Nama sake, remember that unpasteurized sake can quickly diminish in flavor and aroma when kept at room temperature. To maintain optimal taste and quality, store your Nama sake in the fridge. Additionally, unpasteurized sake is typically best when consumed young, so try to drink it within a week of opening it.
Consider pairing your Nama sake with oysters, cheese, shrimp, fish roe or sauteed scallops. Most tomato-based pasta dishes and chicken dishes also enhance the flavor of Nama sake.
Typically the sweetest sake variety, Nigori sake has a bold and fruity flavor. Nigori translates to “cloudy,” which describes its milky appearance. While most sakes undergo a pressing step to remove rice particles, Nigori sake passes through a coarse filter to allow undissolved rice kernels into the final product. Small rice particles in the sake result in a natural sweetness and creamy texture.
If sweet alcohol is your go-to, consider picking up a bottle of Nigori sake. Its distinctive flavor and texture make it an excellent dessert wine and complement for spicy foods. Try pairing it with Mexican cuisine, spicy Thai noodles, Indian curry or a light dessert like vanilla ice cream.
What Brand of Sake Should I Try?
We may have helped you determine what type of sake to try and what flavor of sake to try. However, this begs another important question — which brand should you buy from? If you’re looking for fresh, quality sake tailored to your preferred taste, look no further than Takara Sake USA, Inc.
Purchase Your Perfect Sake Match Today!
Whatever flavor you’re craving to delight your tastebuds — sweet, dry, acidic, savory or fruity — you’re sure to find a favorite from our sake selection. Whether you’re looking for the perfect drink to pair with your meal, need something unique to serve for a special occasion or simply want to try a trendy, flavorful beverage, Takara Sake USA has you covered. Browse our quality selection and order your perfect sake match today!