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A guide to the 12 best types of Japanese sake to shop for in India

Japan’s beloved beverage captures the magic of fermented rice in a bottle. Known to have a sweet, fruity flavour that’s just as delicious served chilled or warm, this elixir has hundreds of varieties to choose from. We round up a list of the most flavourful sakes available across stores in India.

Although often mistaken for wine, sake loosely translates to “liquor” in Japanese. Locally known as nihonshu, this alcoholic beverage is the East Asian nation’s poison of choice, featuring on the menus of several establishments across its landscape. It’s also an indispensable part of formal religious ceremonies and informal drinking games and is believed to have been around since the third century BC.

Today, over 70 varieties of rice go into producing bottles of sake, and the resulting flavour is sweet, nutty, and subtle. There are dizzyingly large varieties of this spirit, determined by the polishing and fermentation process, amongst other things. Each type pairs well with a different set of culinary dishes and adds a little something unique to cocktails.

In India, several large stores such as Tonique in Bengaluru, Liquor Bank in Hyderabad, and Mansionz by Living Liquidz in Mumbai offer sake. If you’ve yet to sample its flavour, we’ve rounded up a list of the best types to shop for.

The best types of Japanese sake in India to sip on

Aizu Homare Nigori Sake

Image: Courtesy brand

This fruity number is a nigori sake, which is believed to be unfiltered, with rice solids that have not been fermented. This is a creamier, cloudy sake that’s sweeter than its clear counterparts and works well in cocktails. It’s low in alcohol, and the fruity aroma balances the sourness of the sake.

It’s best to mix the sake well to shake up the sediment before you have it. This particular brand is reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake with notes of melon, passionfruit and guava and comes in a pretty pink bottle. It works well with sushi, sashimi, and fruit salads.

ABV: 7.8 percent

Price: Rs 2,500 for a 300 ml bottle

Kubota Manju Sake

Image: Courtesy brand

This award-winning sake is one of the finest from Japan. It falls under the junmai daiginjo category of sakes, which are said to represent the most prized process of sake bottling, reflective of the peak of a brewmaster’s ability.

Nearly 50 percent of the outer layer of the finest grade of rice needs to be polished for the sake to qualify as high grade. This particular brand has several layers of flavour with umami, apple, and pear notes and is best enjoyed chilled. Its profile is light and dry and pairs well with sushi and sashimi.

ABV: 15 percent

Price: Rs 12,500 for a 750 ml bottle

Gekkeikan Traditional

Image: Courtesy brand

This is one of the most popular sake brands in Japan and around the world. This particular variety falls under the junmai style of sake which is pure rice sake that’s milled to 70 percent. The flavour is clean, earthy, and subtle, with notes of grapefruit.

It tastes good whether served warmed, chilled, or at room temperature and pairs well with shellfish or oily fish like salmon and trout.

ABV: 15.6 percent

Price: Rs 7,900 for a 1800 ml bottle

Sawanotsuru Deluxe Sake

Image: Courtesy brand

This is the perfect entry-level sake that won’t break the bank and has a herbaceous, refreshing flavour. Sawanotsuru is a well-known brewery in Japan that has been around for three centuries. This sake is made using Miyamizu, a famous water source in Kobe, and features different rice polishing ratios.

Every sip offers notes of clove, candied fruit, apple, and butterscotch. Warm it up to bring out its pungent, nutty sweetness or serve it chilled for a subtle flavour. It pairs well with cod, broccoli, salmon, and chicken teriyaki.

ABV: 14.5 percent

Price: Rs 3,125 for a 720 ml bottle

Hana Kizakura

Image: Courtesy brand

This sake bottles up spring in Japan. It’s made with original yeast derived from yellow cherry blossoms in Kizakura and has a sweet, fruity aroma. It falls under the junmai ginjo category and, as such, is a high-grade sake.

This one’s low in alcohol, and its clean, crisp flavour comes with notes of apple. It pairs well with all kinds of seafood and is great on its own when served chilled.

ABV: 12 percent

Price: Rs 1,851 for a 300 ml bottle

Hakushika Junmai Taru Sake

Image: Courtesy brand

This is a barrel-aged sake that’s named after the famous Yoshino forest in Japan’s Nara prefecture. For over 500 years, fine Japanese cedar has been produced here, which makes for a fragrant luxurious barrel for sake (called taru).

The resulting beverage is semi-dry and full-bodied. This high-grade sake includes rice that has been 70 percent polished and has earthy notes. It is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature and pairs well with stir-fried vegetables, tofu, Asian salads, and fish.

ABV: 13.5 percent

Price: Rs 1,590 for a 300 ml bottle

Gekkeikan Daiginjo Sake

Image: Courtesy brand

This complex, strong, and popular sake is made from highly-polished, high-quality Gohyakumangoku rice. It’s got a fresh and floral aroma and is reminiscent of white tulips and lime blossom. Flavour notes include lychee and green apple, and there’s a distinct acidity and lingering aftertaste to this sake.

Serve this sake chilled and keep it refrigerated once opened. Its rounded flavour pairs well with most Japanese foods, including ramen and sushi.

ABV: 16 percent

Price: Rs 5,100 for a 720 ml bottle

Kagatobi Yamahai Junmai Cho-Karakuchi Sake

Image: Courtesy brand

This is another dry, full-bodied sake with a pleasant, unique yoghurt aroma. It’s been brewed through a time-honoured process called Yamahai (hence the name), which involves allowing the lactic acid to grow on its own. Yamahai sakes are known for their umami, rich flavour profile and are quite sought after across the globe.

Besides having a certain acidity to it, this sake has a sharp finish with tasting notes of mineral and sweet rice. It’s best served chilled and pairs well with all kinds of meat and seafood.

ABV: 16 percent

Price: Rs 3,286 for a 300 ml bottle

Aizu Homare Yuzu Sake

sake India
Image: Courtesy brand

This is a high-quality junmai sake that offers up the perfect marriage of creamy fermented rice and refreshing yuzu juice. Rich and sour, the brand promises a bottle devoid of artificial flavours, preservatives, and acidulants. Yuzu is a popular Japanese citrus fruit and this sake is perfect for summer in India.

Low in alcohol, sweet, and mellow with tart, citrus notes, this sake is best served chilled or on the ice and is an excellent aperitif. It also makes for a delicious addition to cocktails.

ABV: 11 percent

Price: Rs 2,500 for a 300 ml bottle

Gekkeikan Nigori Sake

sake India
Image: Courtesy brand

This cloudy, creamy sake has a rough-filtering process which makes it suitable for cocktails. It’s got a sweet flavour and is medium-bodied. The rice polishing ratio for this sake is at 78 percent, putting it right up there with other high-quality sakes in India.

A sip of this nigori sake offers notes of honey and tropical fruit. Best served chilled or at room temperature, this one pairs well with fresh fruit salads, lightly-sweetened desserts, red meat, and spicy food.

ABV: 10 percent

Price: Rs 2,460 for a 300 ml bottle

Hakushika Yamadanishiki Honjozo Sake

sake India
Image: Courtesy brand

This sake is made with Yamada Nishiki rice, considered the “king” of premium sake rice from the Hyogo prefecture. The brewing process follows a special technique passed down through generations and the resulting beverage is elegant and fresh.

The slightly dry flavour of the sake is best enjoyed chilled, at room temperature, or slightly warmed. It pairs well with Japanese barbecued chicken and asparagus, tempura, and noodles.

ABV: 15 percent

Price: Rs 3,400 for a 700 ml bottle

Hakutsuru Junmai Sake

sake India
Image: Courtesy brand

Brewed using a 250-year-old technique, this sake has a good reputation around the globe. It’s known to be well matured, with a full-bodied flavour and is one of the most popular sakes in India.

The flavour of this one is robust and toasty, with notes of sweet rice and bread. Its rich and dry character lends itself well to being paired with creamy pastas and grilled meat.

ABV: 15 percent

Price: Rs 2,590 for a 750 ml bottle


Feature image: Courtesy Gekkeikan Japan; Hero image: Courtesy iStock 

A guide to the 12 best types of Japanese sake to shop for in India

Eshita Srinivas

Eshita is a food, alcohol, travel, and entertainment writer who spends her days thinking of the next big trend to write about. She’s a communication graduate with bylines in Conde Nast Traveller India, GQ India, Deccan Herald, and Girls Buzz. When not at work, you’re likely to find her hunting for a good read or charting out the perfect itinerary for a solo trip across Asia.


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