Spotlight on sake: a guide to drinking Japan’s iconic brew
Synonymous with good times, sake (Japanese rice wine) is a drink found all over the world, but there’s no better place to sip on sake than in Japan. Stocked in convenience stores, upscale hotel bars, family-run restaurants, boutique sake stores, supermarkets and even vending machines, it’s not hard to find sake when travelling in Japan.
Whether you’re new to sake or have been a connoisseur for years, getting involved in Japan’s sake scene is a top way to learn about Japan’s culture, support local producers and lighten the mood all at the same time! Here are some of the different ways to learn about, sample and buy sake in Japan.
Visit an old school sake brewery
As a traditional tipple, sake has been made in Japan for many centuries. While sake production has been through some tough times throughout history (World War Two created a rice shortage that impacted on production) sake is still produced by more than a thousand breweries all over Japan. Most breweries currently operating in Japan use modern methods of production, however there are some sake brewers that follow the timeworn traditions of sake production. In Nikko, sixth generation sake brewery Katayama Shuzo produces sake seasonally using traditional methods with little-to-no mechanisation used by modern breweries. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at this process on a guided brewery tour is an eye-opening look at the production methods and history behind this popular spirit. With the chance to try a range of sakes at the end of the tour, this family-owned and run enterprise offers a peek into sake production rarely seen by many.
Stop by a speciality store
Sure, sake can be bought everywhere from 7-Eleven stores to airports in Japan, but heading to a specialty store opens up a whole new world of options for discerning sake fans. Located in the heritage-filled area of Sendagi in Tokyo, Isego Honten is well worth a visit. Offering sake tastings and English-speaking staff, this store has been providing locals with top quality drops for more than 300 years. Stocking hundreds of varieties at a range of different price points, this store is a go-to for local sake devotees and travellers keen on hunting down the best rice wine their money can buy. From bottles of traditional-style sake to sweet kijoshu (dessert sake) and sleekly packaged bottles of sparkling sake favoured by the younger generation, it’s hard to go past this store when it comes to revelling in all things sake.
Savour some limited edition sake
When in Tokyo, the sophisticated Palace Hotel Tokyo is a landmark well worth visiting. While not everyone can afford to stay a night in this luxury hotel, a visit to one of the hotel’s restaurants or bars is a sneaky way to enjoy the luxurious vibe of the hotel without actually staying there. Home to many world-leading bars and restaurants, the Palace Hotel’s intimate tempura bar called Tatsumi offers a unique sake experience unable to be replicated elsewhere. The tiny space that caters to only six guests at a time serves up fresh seafood tempura sourced daily from Tsukiji Fish Market. Seasonal salt pairings up the ante, while matching each course to a signature blend of sake made exclusively for the restaurant by premium brewer Hakkaisan makes this experience one of Tokyo’s best for sake lovers.
Just eat it
If you like the taste of sake but want to have a break from drinking alcohol, then indulging in one of Japan’s many sake-infused food items is a good solution. Look to restaurant menus, café offerings and ranges in supermarkets and convenience stories and you’ll find sake lurking in many different foods. In Japan, there’s sake-flavoured Kit Kats, sake-infused cakes and baked goods, sake soft serve ice cream, scallops cooked in sake and more. A great way for people of all ages to enjoy the taste of sake (without the hangover), sake really can be found far beyond the bars and breweries of Japan.