We don’t know much about sake and haven’t tried that many bottles, but our favourite one so far has to be the Ichiya Shizuku Junmai (一夜雫 純米) from Takasago Shuzo (髙砂酒造) brewery in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. Apparently, it’s brewed using water from the Daisetsuyama mountain during the heart of winter inside a huge ice dome, which is a pretty cool way of making sake.
“For supposed sake newbies, how the heck did you manage to know about that bottle, let alone even try it?” you might ask. Well, it was actually a recommendation from our local tour guide when we were in Hokkaido during the winter of 2015.
We were on the tour bus, in between destinations, and she was kind enough to write down the specific name in kanji and even searched for a photo of the bottle so that we could take a screenshot from her mobile phone.
Her specific recommendation was for the Junmai Daiginjo (純米 大吟醸), but when we tried searching for it in the Daimaru in Sapporo Station, we were told that only the Junmai ( 純米) version was available. That was good enough, and we bought a bottle home and when we opened it, the taste was smooth and sweet.
We haven’t been back to Hokkaido since then, but we’ve been searching for it in Singapore and occasionally in Tokyo, during my many work trips there. It has remained elusive, but perhaps some day, we’ll be able to find it. Or better still, we’ll discover the more refined Junmai Daiginjo version, that has a higher level of rice polishing.
The wonderful sake that I’ve been lucky enough to find and enjoy during my past dinners in Tokyo has been the cult classic Juyondai (十四代) from Yamagata. It’s rare to find it in the menus of restaurants, izakayas or sake bars but it does occasionally pop up on their chalkboards as limited specials, and while stocks last.
It has made appearances at Torimikura (a small yakitori joint on the ground floor of the Edogrand building in Kyobashi), Hitsumabushi Bincho (an unagi-ya specialising in Nagoya-style hitsumabushi located on the 12th floor of the Marronnier Gate building in Ginza) and Ajisen (no, not the ramen chain, but a tiny seafood-focused izakaya in Tsukishima). Whenever I’m able to order a glass (or two), I know it’s going to be a good dinner.
Juyondai produces many different bottles at drastically different price points, and based on what’s written in the kanji on the chalkboards, I’ve only had their Nakadori Junmai (中取 純米) version at a reasonable price range of JPY 1,380 to 1,600 (or about S$17 to 20) per glass.
I’ve tried searching for it online and the prices I’ve seen have been jaw-dropping, to say the least. Here’s an example of a Juyondai Nakadori Junmai Muroka 1800ml for sale on Shopee. I’ll let you click on the link yourself to find out the retail price. But before you do, make sure you’re seated comfortably and don’t have a history of heart disease.
Given that we’re not going to be able to travel to Japan anytime soon, it’s time to start searching for some reasonably-priced alternatives in Singapore. And by reasonable, I mean less than S$100 for a 720ml bottle, preferably in the S$40-70 range.
It would have been ideal if there were shops that have the same tasting machines as those found in Niigata train stations, as featured in the video below. But sake is not as popular in Singapore, and the limited demand wouldn’t be able to justify the investment.
The next best thing would be restaurants or bars that carry a wide selection of sakes from different regions of Japan, and we were glad to have found Tanoke at Purvis Street. We went there for lunch recently and had a particularly tasty glass of Raifuku Junmai Ginjo Aiyama (来福 純米 吟醸 爱山).
We were planning on a return visit, this time with ample reinforcements so that we could sample more bottles from their fridge, but unfortunately dining restrictions kicked in and will only be relaxed by mid-July at the earliest.
Our preference seems to skewed towards smooth-tasting sakes with prominent fruity notes. But smooth isn’t quite an industry term, and sake brewers use the Sake Meter Value system plus an acidity value to differentiate their product.
If I had to map what we like onto this framework, my best guess is that it would be in the “Sweet-Rich” region (i.e. where the red logo sits), with an SMV of -5 to -10 and Acidity of 1.5 to 1.7. But, as always, we’ll only know if we like any particular bottle after we actually taste it.
Until the country starts re-opening in earnest again, we’ll stick to searching online and opting for home delivery. A few interesting bottles have caught our eye and we’re looking forward to trying them out over the next few weeks. It should be fun maintaining a decent blood alcohol level for the next few weeks.
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