Here are a few famous brands of Japanese sake. If you read these and find one or a few that sound good, definitely try them while you're in Japan. Depending on the temperature (room temperature, cold, hot), the flavor goes through various changes. All of them delicious!
This is a famous brand that has many fans both in and outside Japan. The brewery, Asahi Shuzo, only makes junmai daiginjou sake, which is sake made only with water, rice-malt, and rice that is more than 50% polished. Traditional sake brewing techniques mean that the more polished the rice, the less bitter it is. This brewery tries to exceed the traditional rice-polish percentage, leading to a mellow and fruity fragrance with depth to the flavor.
Dassai has various kinds based on how polished the rice is. Among them is the popular Migaki Niwari Sanbu, which uses 23% polished rice. It has a floral fragrance and the honey-like sweetness, and just the perfect amount of sharpness in the aftertaste. If you want to bring some as a souvenir, the 720ml size is recommended because it's easy to carry!
Kubota is the representative brand of a different Asahi Shuzo, opened in 1830. It's said they changed the image of ""sake is sweet,"" so Kubota's characteristic is an elegant dryness. It's light but rich and has a soft texture. It's very easy to drink, so it's recommended for people who have never had sake before.
There are various kinds, and 5 of them are sold regularly. You can enjoy them, from the basic Hyakuju, to the gently aromatic Senju, as well as the highest-grade Manju. They also have seasonally-limited versions, so make sure to check them out!
This is a representative brand from the brewery Nishida Shuzoten in the northernmost area of the island of Honshu, Aomori. Since production numbers are limited, it's hard to find in small shops even in the area and is only in select restaurants, so it's a sake that only people that really know about sake are aware of.
The name Denshu comes from the characters for ""rice field"" and ""liquor."" This name comes from the fact that they do not add distilled liquor at all, using only rice for a junmai production. The rice they use is cultivated by special farmers that they work with, and the production is done in a completely traditional way, by hand. It has a clean, stylish flavor, and it goes perfectly with Japanese food. If you manage to find it in a restaurant, definitely try it!
Hakkaisan is a brand that's well-known both domestically and internationally. The name comes from the water that wells up at the foot of the sacred mountain, Mt. Hakkai, leading to a mild taste. It will make you think of the snowy winters of Niigata, and it's known for its refreshing, dry, cool mouthfeel.
Outside of the standard types normally available, they also offer a large variety of limited and seasonally-limited types of sake, something great that makes it a brewery that doesn't bore their fans. Relatively speaking, many shops and restaurants carry this popular brand, so it's quite likely that you'll find it during your stay.
Koshi no Kanbai (Niigata)
Koshi no Kanbai is the representative brand of Niigata's Ishimoto sake brewery. This sake is famous for being the one that kicked off a recent wave of popularity for jizake in Japan. Because it's so popular, some stores sold it for a premium price and the market flourished. However, the brewery didn't want it to be a sake that's sold in large quantities but rather the best-quality sake they could make for the area around them. That's why it continues to be a high-quality product today.
The name of the sake comes from the lovely image of plum flowers blooming in early spring through the remaining snow. Just like the name, it's light and faintly floral, and has a flavor that expands in your mouth. Just a small mouthful brings out the flavors of food, so it's great as a drink with a meal.
These brands can be found not just at eating establishments like izakaya, but also bars, department stores, airports, and other retail shops. There are still many more kinds of Japanese liquors, so please drink and compare!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.