HOME > Chowhound > Ontario (inc. Toronto) >


A Good Sake is hard to find...

I was at the LCBO on Sunday looking for some GOOD premium sake and found a very disappointing selection. I bought a couple to try out (the better ones seem to come in small bottles only) that looked interesting to take to dinner to a friend's house tonight but would love to find a place in Toronto to purchase the really good stuff that we can find at places like Ki - for instance G Premium Sake which is made in the USA.... Does anyone have any info on this?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. There have been several threads on this.
    The LCBO does a disastrous job with sake. Either you have to watch every vintages release or buy in case quantities from a registered importer (or agent). If you're prepared to order a case, by far the best source is Ozawa.

    Ozawa Canada
    135 E Beaver Creek Rd, Richmond Hill, ON L4B, CA

    1 Reply
    1. re: estufarian

      I made a similar post after tasting some delicious Oregon sake at Blowfish.

      Seems there is little to be found. A few Vintages stores carried that winery's pear sake (Monokawa) and I grabbed a bottle in Markham. The rest of their stuff is 100% unavailable here, as far as I can tell.
      Aside from that it's slim pickings and I try to grab whatever unfiltered stuff I see.

      Sometimes I really like the way our LCBO operates and sometimes its outright infuriating. (ie when you try something at a local resto and can't get it at the LCBO)

    2. go to michael pataran's web site..he has a whole list of great sake..or go to "city bites" magazine on line and he has a great article on it...he is the sake king...

      6 Replies
      1. re: chiuchiu

        I think part of the ;problem is with the sake makers themselves. First, you always read that good sake has to be made from Japanese rice (and Japanese water as well it appears). Then they start producing it in the United States, which is what we, in many cases get.

        I can't believe they always import their rice from Japan, perhaps it is just leftover Uncle Ben's.

        1. re: chiuchiu

          I agree. Michael is probably the best source of info. Except I DID check his site before I responded and there was nothing new on it (about Canadian availability anyway)!

          1. re: estufarian

            I've had several chance talks with Board people visiting Vintages stores and all say more is coming, albeit slowly.They've belatedly realized the market is worth "developing" since several Canadian sake and shochu micros are already running in BC with more to come.They thought Xmas would see more selection around the GTA Vintages.

            1. re: Kagemusha

              Check out Metropolitan Wines. they supply all the Sake to Izakaya Restaurant. They have a great selection

              1. re: clarendon hills

                Thanks - that's also an interesting selection.
                But I'm not sure what it says about Izakaya if they only use one supplier!

                1. re: estufarian

                  They have others from what I know, but in my personal dealings metroploitan has by far had the best selection

        2. In case anyone cared...
          I bought a bottle of Yokaichi barley shochu today at the Fairview Mall LCBO.
          It's not the best shochu by all means (i am personally a fan of imojochu or potato/taro shochu, not so much mugi), and the label did say "Imported by Ozawa Canada Inc", but at least I didn't have to buy a whole case.
          It was around $25

          19 Replies
          1. re: lilith

            I've tried several different shochu's and just don't get it! On the other hand I don't really get vodka either - for the most part I just get the alcohol hit, with the flavour of the 'mix'.
            Are there ant shochus available that have a persistent (and palatable) flavour of their own?

            1. re: estufarian

              If you don't get shochu and vodka, chances are they are not for you; as you know they are practically the same things (the only difference is in the filtering process). Me, I like both shochu and vodka...

              Different shochu (rice, barley, potato/taro, buckwheat, etc.) have different and often quite palatable flavours. Generally the OTSU category (otsu-rui) shochu have stronger and more distinct flavours, whereas the KO category (kou-rui) shochu are suitable for cocktails such as chu-hi or for making plum wine, because they lack that "distinctiveness" of OTSU category shochu and go well with mixing fruit flavours or whatnot.

              Unfortunately, as everyone here is writing, it is difficult to get a variety of different shochu in Toronot (or maybe in Canada in general?)

              If you want something very distinctive you can try the black sugar (sugar cane) shochu, that is, if you can find it here!(*sigh*)

              1. re: lilith

                Thanks for the info. Indeed I am more familiar with chu-hi (as you perceived). And I'll also keep alert on my travels to find the black sugar shochu.
                Now, if only our liquor store monopoly (i.e. government) would move to a more consumer-focussed model, then we could also get a selection of decent sake too - which I sorely miss - I'm down to my last bottle of unpasteurized sake.

              2. re: estufarian

                If you're looking for a Shochu with a Palatable flavour you should try one called Tan Taka Tan. It's a grain shochu that's shiso leaf infused. A lot of Izakaya in Vancouver stock it and you can get it at more upscale convenient stores in Japan. It's expensive here but in Japan it's about $11 Canadian. It will definitely provide a little of the depth you feel to be lacking in Shochu.

                If you want to spend a little more and you're in Japan, it's hard to get but if you can find it I definitely recommend trying a Pure Barley Shochu called Hyakunen No Kodoko, it's the Emperor's favorite Shochu and definitely has a unique taste. It's mellower and tastier than most Shochu, slightly sweet. It's like a very, very, smooth Whiskey actually.

                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                  Thanks for the suggestion.
                  I certainly haven't tried this one. Unfortunately my Japan trip was last year! And I didn't find a shochu there that turned me on either. Unlike Sake - where I was able to try unpasteurized versions that were sensational.

                  1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                    i like the shiso stuff but absolutely adore the yuzu shochu.... has anyone seen that on the usual japanese liquor importers lists? it's far too easy to drink. i may just have to bite the bullet and just mix up some expensive juice with shochu.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      Cool. I've had Sudachi Infused Shochu before. I'd imagine it would be similar to the Yuzu infused one. Haven't seen it on the importer's lists though. Speaking of Sake, they have a nice one at the LCBO right now (for a change) called Satono Homare. Really unique flavor. Really, really fruity. It's definitely my favorite of the Canadian Imports. It's in the Vintages section at the Summerhill branch.

                      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                        Sato No Homare is probably my favourite of all sakes.
                        I had the unpasteurized version as well when I was in Japan last year - it's even better!

                        1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                          Agreed; this is probably the best sake I've had from the LCBO. I find sake prices a bit outrageous though, so I usually stuff my bags on the way home from Japan and hope that it lasts until my next visit (shochu as well). I won't really buy it unless I need to cheaper stuff for cooking.

                          I'm surprised no Canadian companies have picked up happoshu for bottom-barrel cooler-esque drinks. It seems like the perfect recession beverage (though completely awful; hasn't stopped people from drinking other coolers).

                          1. re: tjr

                            That's what my uncle drinks when he needs to lose weight.

                            1. re: tjr

                              SUDO HONKE SATO NO HOMARE JUNMAI GINJO 2008
                              VINTAGES 740142 | 720 mL bottle

                              Price: $ 41.95
                              Wine, Sake,
                              14.7% Alcohol/Vol.

                              Sugar Content : D

                              Made in: Japan, Japan
                              By: Sudo Honke Inc

                              Release Date: Dec 6, 2008

                              That? I trust your opinions, will be picking up a bottle.

                              I too am looking for potato/taro shochu. I would be down for a group buy.

                              1. re: aser

                                Not to influence you further - but Susur used to have it on his list, and both Per Se and Jean-Georges in New York also feature it. Obviously at MUCH higher prices.

                                1. re: estufarian

                                  How long does Sake keep after being opened?

                                  1. re: Apprentice

                                    That's a real problem.
                                    Ideally less than 6 months after BOTTLING - even if unopened. It seems to hold after opening - but keep in the fridge.
                                    That info comes from Ozawa - but we actually tested the theory at a dinner where we served the current (around 6 months old) and a 2 year-old version of the same sake. And about 1/3 prefered the new; 1/3 the old; and 1/3 didn't care!
                                    However, certainly don't lay down like a 'fine wine'.

                                    1. re: estufarian

                                      Ok thanks, interesting comments from your tasting.

                                      I will check out Ozawa's website as well.

                        2. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                          oh the tan taka tan.

                          gotta love me some shiso.

                        3. re: estufarian

                          Another thing you may want to try if you haven't already would be Kijo-Shu. It's almost like japanese port, amber in color, and very nice. I like a brand called Hanahato, they do an 8 year and a 16 year. I haven't seen it here, however I think you can get one at Kaiseki Sakura. Not sure of what the brand is though.

                          1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                            Yeah; kijoshu is fairly sweet, even though the nose would lead you to believe the opposite.

                            We did a tasting of a couple varieties a year or so ago, paired with chocolates and pastries from Pierre Hermé. I think Hanahato has wide availability in North America, though not in Canada. I've tried their 8 year, and it wasn't as good as some of the others I'd had (whose names escape me), though the 16 year was pretty interesting.

                            I imagine kijoshu would go pretty well with richer wafuu sweets as well, to keep it a bit more Japanese.

                            1. re: tjr

                              Yeah it has an interesting nose, very smoky but then it has the flavors of maple syrup, and dried fruits.

                              Also, if you like Sake in the vein of Satono Homare I would check out Kaiun Junmai Ginjo, and Gin Ginjo as well. Very nice. I think you can get Kaiun in the US at times but haven't seen it in Canada. Gin I have never seen outside of Japan. Both very nice, very fruity and complex and a little bit milder and silkier than Satono Homare.

                      2. The really good stuff is agency sold. I will try and find the name of the agent for you.

                        4 Replies
                          1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                            I've previously ordered from Ozawa - but he hasn't responded to my more recent emails.
                            Sakagura doesn't show prices - hardly customer friendly. Suggests that these items aren't in stock but can be 'ordered'. I'd have to do some research first.

                            But thanks for the link.

                            1. re: estufarian

                              if there was interest in a group buy i'd be in for a bottle!
                              unfortunately looks like they only sell by the case. I've been meaning to pop by as i work in the area but haven't yet. Will try and get over there sometime!

                              I'm guessing the pricing will be in line with what the lcbo lists per bottle so i'm guessing $30-$50 for a decent 750ml sized bottle.

                              1. re: CoffeeAddict416

                                Of course, I'd have to check that you are of legal drinking age!!!!!!!!

                        1. I've never tried much sake before

                          Does it give you a killer hangover or is it pretty good in that regard

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: duckdown

                            Hmmm, well for me personally being Japanese I find that Sake is easiest on my system. That said, I don't drink a lot of junk sake so, it's for the most part, very pure. When I go to Japan and my family pressures me to drink lots of Sake I can usually take down about 10-12 glasses. Maybe it has something to do with it being a rice derived alchohol. It takes little beer to get me timewarp drunk and it takes one glass of red wine to give me a headache. Maybe I'm allergic, maybe it's a matter of building up a tolerance. I also have friends who don't normally drink sake getting wasted off of three glasses and taking the long road to bummertown so who knows...

                          2. Also does anyone know where to get Takara plum wine?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Teep

                              Kaiseki Sakura has it and I'm pretty sure Omi does too. You can get a case from Ozawa Canada if you can get their website to load or someone to reply to your emails.

                              1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                Ozawa has a storefront in Richmond Hill. Maybe it would be easier to deal with them in person.

                            2. Has anyone brought their own sake to a restaurant?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Apprentice

                                I know Aoyama has a corking fee. $10 or $15 per bottle. Haven't seen it anywhere else. Best to call and check.

                              2. Hey folks, apart from non-rice based Japanese food, what pairs well with Sake? I'm thinking I can treat it like a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer and pair it with Indian, Thai or other spicy cuisines. Any thoughts?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Apprentice

                                  Also depends on the sake.
                                  Your list is fine (I'd also add Pinot Gris).
                                  I often used to order Sake at the departed Susur - went well with his food.
                                  Also, the TENZAN JUNMAI GENSHU JIZAKE SAKÉ is a little heavier - I use it as a substitute for pinot noir.

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    Thanks, great to know especially thinking about using the Tenzan in replacement of a Pinot. I purchased the Homare and am looking forward to tasting it; at home or byob.

                                    1. re: Apprentice

                                      The Homare goes great with Susur's food - and he's featuring the Shang menu at Madeleine this week - and corkage is $1 Mon/Tue/Wed. Hint! That's what I'm taking tonight.

                                      1. re: estufarian

                                        The menu at Lee is a better match for the sake - they have two different 'Shang' menus. Although the beef dish on the Madeleine menu is superb - just doesn't match the sake.

                                        1. re: estufarian

                                          Wow, I was just about to ask to please report back then got distracted and voila you posted!

                                          1. re: Apprentice

                                            Took the hint! At first I was disappointed but then I realized my first glass was far too chilled and the flavours were muted. It opened up a lot as the bottled warmed up. Thanks for the recommendation.

                                2. Not sure if this is a good place to ask but I had been given a bottle of MAECHUI which the label states is a Korean Plum Liqueur. Haven't opened it yet - any comments? best served with?

                                  1. Have you guys tried this one...it's a sweet potato shochu. Going by a rough translation, the brand is Suki, and the name is something akin to "Needy" sweet potato. My friend brought back a selection from Japan -- shiso, barley, and sweet potato among them, and the latter was by far the favourite.

                                    1. it's really hard to get sake from LCBO. only cheap ones (not really for drinking.)

                                      base on details in this post, Ozawa, Metropolitan Wines, and sakagura canada seems to be ones that provide some selections to the public.
                                      BUT you don't see any of the stuff they have ever shown in LCBO website.
                                      how do you know there are some sake out there to buy?!

                                      is there any other company? or if any of them provide mix and match in a box? (don't really think so, but wonder if any one had experience.)

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: canchi

                                        You have to order in bulk from Ozawa, Sakagura, etc. Sake doesn't sell here, so the LCBO rarely gets it in. Maybe a couple bottles here and there in the vintages section but that's pretty much it.

                                        I am pretty sure that they don't do the mix and match thing but you can ask.

                                        1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                          Mix 'n match is 'illegal' - LCBO regulations prohibit selling less than full cases (although I've never seen this published, which is theoretically required under Ontario law - it's a 'regulation').
                                          And as to availability it's a chicken and egg thing 'Sake doesn't sell' could be because there's none available, rather than no market.

                                          1. re: estufarian

                                            Interesting about the mixing and matching...

                                            When I say Sake doesn't sell I should have mentioned that that's what I've been told by countless LCBO employees. Who knows though, they could be blowing smoke up my ass and there really is an availability issue for them.

                                            1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                              The good stuff disappears almost immediately (in my experience).
                                              The crap doesn't sell - Sake buyers are probably more knowledgeable (as a group) than the average LCBO purchaser - certainly more knowledgeable than the staff.
                                              And the time taken for premium stuff to wend its way through the warehouse means that there's no point in importing (for example) the unpasteurized sakes, which would be past their 'best before' date when they hit the shelves.

                                              1. re: estufarian

                                                Yeah, me too. I always seem to get the last two bottles at Summerhill whenever they get something good in.

                                                I would definitely stay away from Namazake in Canada.

                                                I was told that the LCBO has "one of the foremost authorities on Sake in Canada" working at one of their stores (Wilson maybe?) whose name is Richard Feldkamp. Maybe he has an amazing hidden selection at his branch that nobody's caught onto yet.

                                                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                  I saw a bottle of TENZAN GENSHU "Heavens Mountain" Sake at Bayview Village store once. thinking of getting it later in the week for the weekend party. and it was gone in a couple day.
                                                  (well, should have picked it up when I saw it.)

                                                  checking LCBO website wouldn't help, as you won't see anything updated for single bottle vintage (as least for sake)

                                                  Summerhill is about 45 minute drive from my place, I can't go there everyday to check stock. which means I wouldn't be able to pick up anything new or good.

                                                  too bad they can't do mix and match, it will probably take me 10+ years to try all the brands they carry? (2 - 3 months to drink a whole case)

                                                  YES, sake doesn't sell, because the stuff they have now sucks, people don't even want to use it for cooking.
                                                  LCBO only stock tons of Korean cheap Soju, which you don't see any of it 3 years ago.

                                                  If you don't stock it, it won't sell, as there isn't anything to sell.

                                                  1. re: canchi

                                                    I think the sake they have most of in their system is Yuki Hotaru. I have a bottle but it's not really my type of Sake. A bit dry for my liking. Certainly better than any of the usual fare they stock however.


                                                    Follow the link for a location nearest you.

                                                  2. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                    Richard is a good guy (and his wife is of Japanese origin). But he has little (no?) say in what comes in. That's the 'head office people'. They have managers for most 'styles' - but the current philosophy is to bring in 'Brands' (for the most part).
                                                    I'll see if I can drop in a suggestion to do a 'special offer' on sake. That is a relatively new initiative whare the LCBO offers wines which can be 'reserved' with a 50% deposit (and you can order as little as 1 bottle). The wine is then ordered to 'meet the demand' and will turn up in a few months.
                                                    At least that would establish what sort of market exists for 'retail sales' (private imports have to be by the case lot).

                                                      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                        I've bought a handful of sakes from the LCBO over the years. They're all cheap and pretty nasty to drink. I invariably wind up cooking with them. A dinner at Hashimoto turned me onto good sake. I've also noticed that Katsura has a number of high end bottles available. Perhaps they could offer some suggestions for anyone wanting access to better brands.

                                                        900 York Mills Rd, Toronto, ON M3B3H2, CA

                                                        1. re: 1sweetpea

                                                          I dunno about Katsura's selection. Their stuff is pretty pedestrian I find. Mostly just sort of mid range Sake and nothing really special unless they've gotten something new in that I don't know about. Haven't been in awhile. (Cause their food is wack)

                                                          I would say that Kaiseki Sakura has the best selection in the city. They keep Satono Homare on their menu at all times which is a good look. Also worth mentioning is that Guu has Setsugekka on their special menu right now. Worth a try for sure.

                                                          1. re: 1sweetpea

                                                            When I was at Hashimoto he only had two sakes. One was cheap (and nasty); the other was waaay above my price point - especially as I didn't know the brand and nobody there spoke enough English to describe it.

                                                            And I also support Kaiseki Sakura - indeed they do have Sato No Homare - but then, so do I - although I'm down to my last bottle.

                                                            Haven't been to Guu - I'm allergic to lining up - especialy as I'd then have to share a table as well. But the selection of sakes at Guu in Vancouver didn't knock me out.

                                                            1. re: estufarian

                                                              Shame about Hashimoto. Unless I knew what the bottle was I would bring my own. (If they allowed it)

                                                              I never line up at Guu. Mostly because I go at either 10pm or 5pm on weekdays. Their Sake list is okay. For an Izakaya it would be shameful to not have Kubota and Hakkaisan on the menu and they have both. Their special sake list usually has the typical mid range sake that most restaurants would pass off as high end sake in this city (like Onikoroshi) but they will occasionally get something a little nicer in.

                                                              398 Church Street, Toronto, ON M5B 2A2, CA

                                          2. Just a heads up that the Jizake Tenzan Junmai Genshu Sake is back at the LCBO. The most expensive one there at $30.95 LCBO 741637, but one of those mentioned positively further up this (old) thread. For me this is one of the few that go well with main courses (i.e. meat), and is probably in my top 10 ever (and top 3 I've found at the LCBO).

                                            9 Replies
                                            1. re: estufarian

                                              I'm not a sake expert at ALL, but I recently bought three different ones to try with a Chinese hot pot dinner. Two were really good:

                                              HAKKAISAN EIGHT PEAKS TOKUBETSU JUNMAI SAKE
                                              VINTAGES 211151 | 300 mL | $ 14.45

                                              This went really well with the dinner itself. The slightly floral tones cut through the spicy sauce nicely and complemented the meats.

                                              MURAI FAMILY DAIGINJO SAKÉ
                                              VINTAGES 209726 | 300 mL | $ 24.95

                                              This pricey sake was far too subtle for dinner, but is a really, really nice sipper on its own.

                                              1. re: estufarian

                                                I found the jizake very lacking in flavour, just very dull and flat.

                                                Enjoyed the murai though, it had a nice floral note.

                                                1. re: estufarian

                                                  Finally cracked open a bottle of Tenzan - it was very good, though for my tastes buds I don't know if it matters if I drink it with meat/heavier dishes. I don't drink sake very often, the only other bottle I've purchased was the Homare (again from your reco) - which I found tasted better. If I recall it's at a similar price point?

                                                  1. re: Apprentice

                                                    Sato No Homare would be priced a little bit higher than the Tenzan. The Tenzan has a deceptively fruity nose compared to it's very acidic full bodied, creamy taste. Pairing it with meat/heavier dishes would be fine. Tenzan is not personally a Sake I favor and I too prefer a fruitier Sake like Sato No Homare.

                                                    If you where a fan of SNH I would say the closest thing to it at the LCBO right now is the Murai Family Daiginjo. Unfortunately it only comes in 300ml bottles so you may have to pick a couple up.

                                                    1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                      I too prefer the Sato No Homare by itself (especially the unpasteurized version).
                                                      But I find the Tenzan seems more harmonious with food.
                                                      I haven't tried the Murai (more expensive than both!).

                                                      1. re: estufarian

                                                        Yeah Sato No Homare is good with Sashimi and some grilled items but doesn't stand up to a lot of things. It's a bit of a delicate Sake in a way, and I find you have to be careful with what you pair it with.

                                                        I forgot to tell you a long while back that I eventually did try the Sato No Homare spring release Nama awhile back in Tokyo and it was everything I would expect from a SNH Nama. Fresh, clean, crisp, fruity, etc. Sudo Honke is really a great brewery.

                                                        The Murai is very expensive. At that price point there are other Sake that I would put my money towards.

                                                        In Toronto right now if you're at a restaurant (excluding the LCBO) for people who like a fruitier sweeter Sake as opposed to a drier Sake, you can find places like Raa and Kaiseki Sakura with Nanbu Bijin on the menu which is very fruity on the nose but actually dry on the palate with hints of citrus. Koyoi has Ama Noto Junmai Daiginjo 45 and Hakuun Yu Yu. And a bunch of places will have Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo which is the sweetest of them all. It's sweeter than Sato No Homare but not as delicate, but with more body and a stronger finish.

                                                        I should also mention that the LCBO is stocking Tama No Hikari at certain locations which is not my type of Sake personally, but a brilliant, legendary brewery nonetheless. I think everyone who loves Sake should in the very least taste their Sake once out of respect.

                                                        1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                          Thanks for the hints. I have some shopping to do - and it' been a while since I was at Kaiseki Sakura - too long!

                                                      2. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                                                        NPIG you stated it perfectly for me. I was expecting "fruitier/sweeter" flavours on the tongue after I 'nosed' it - though Estufarian did note above it was "heavier".

                                                        Thanks for the Murai recommendation. Yes $24.95 is steep for a 300ml bottle, but I'll note it for a special occasion. For the most part, I keep my wine purchases below $20, for my palate, it seems to work.

                                                        1. re: Apprentice

                                                          Yeah, for a bit more than $24.95 you could get a great 720ml bottle. Kuro Kabuto Junmai Daiginjo at $32 for example.

                                                  2. If anyone is interested Guu Sakabar in the Annex has Mantensei Junmai Ginjo on their special Sake list. It's a dry Sake with a very subtle sweetness and a faint touch of honey on the nose. Mantensei translates to "star filled sky" and is brewed by Suwa Shuzo in Chugoku, Tottori Prefecture. SMV +3/ Yeast #9/ Yamada Nishiki and Tamakasae Rice Blend/ Acidity 1.4/ Polished to 50%.

                                                    1. The LCBO is holding a sake tasting event on May 16th. Tickets are $125 and there is more info at vintages.com