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Why is good sake so hard to find?

I bought the perfect bullseye of a fresh tuna tenderloin today, and I thought this sashimi deserves a premium sake. I couldn't find a premium sake (central gulf Florida), and only one japanese brand, which I bought. (Fu-Ki). I found 4 California brands. I don't recall rice being a cash crop in the Napa Valley. Can someone enlighten me as to how to go about buying a magnum of premium japanese sake? And are these CA versions passable?

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  1. Some of the California sakes are pretty good. Check out the Sho Chiku Bai line of products. I'm no expert, but think their junmai ginjo is pretty good stuff that goes well with sashimi and sells at a price ($4-6 / 300ml) that won't break the bank.

    1 Reply
    1. re: alanbarnes

      Thank you Alan. I don't know if I can find the California brand in Florida. I will try, and I keep copious notes. (is there any orthr type of note?)

    2. Most premium sake in the U.S. is still targeted at ex-patriot Japanese living here. So areas with a high concentration of Japanese nationals and authentic Japanese restaurants will have better availability. There are only a few areas in the country where this is the case.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        SJ, Sam and applehome fiercely vouch for you, and I respect your posts. A dear friend and top-2 sushi restaurant owner in Denver, gave me the large bottles of super-premium sake, and as good friends are, I never knew the real cost, and of course I reciprocated in my own ways, but with a blindness.
        Why must it be such a closed, secret society? I am a dane and I think I meld well with jews and latinos and I have worked well with those cultures and have earned my stripes. I like japanese; please don't deal me out!

        1. re: Veggo

          Japanese sake makers are desperate to expand their business in the U.S. But like any business, scale is important and the demand is only slowly being created here to justify wider distribution. Premium sake is a nice gift, but the real cost shouldn't be astronomical. It's been said the sake is priced much more fairly and accessible than wine.

          1. re: Silverjay

            The product is so good, it should not require more than a kick-start.The challenge for a marketer - ignorance, national allegiance, inertia, Bud Lite. But the product has legs.
            I would love the job! I could sell sake by day and drink it at night and make a better world for us all.

            1. re: Veggo

              Y'know, I live in the SF /bay area in Calif, and sake, even the premium brands costing $50 and up per bottle, is all over the place and easy to find. I think your problem is living in an area w/o a prominent japanese population.
              Suggest you Google "premium sake", and you will get a bazillion websites that will ship to you; or, you could just move here and enjoy being in sake heaven ;-)

      2. I don't know sake, but understand these are supposed to be good ones: http://www.bunitedint.com/portfolios/...

        There is contact information somewhere on the site, so you could ask the importer where it's sold in your area.

        1. So far I haven't been too impressed with the US sakes. One exception is Ozeki's nigori grade sake. It's sweet, rich, and very creamy. It's one of the tastiest nigoris I've had, and is usually a big crowd-pleaser when I bring it to a party. It may be a little too much for your sashimi, though. I'd suggest something like Otokoyama's Tokubetsu Junmai. It's light, a bit on the dry side, and very clean. It's one of the more popular Japanese labels, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. A good contrasting sake would be something like Rihaku's Wandering Poet Junmai Ginjo. It has a strong flavor that's a bit on the sweet side. I think both of those would go pretty well with your tuna.

          If anyone is interested, I am trying to get a dedicated sake discussion forum started at www.sakeforum.com. So far it's mainly a bunch of crude write-ups that I've done. But there are also a few links and write-ups for online sake vendors that you may want to check out if you're having trouble finding stuff locally. And if anyone finds some good wholesale sites, please send them my way.

          1. My sake fascination has grown and waned over the years. It's currently on the down side of the cycle.

            The one thing I'd be wary of is that, even if you can find a magnum, it may have been sitting around for a while. Almost for that reason alone, I'd lean toward the CA brands. I like Momokawa's Diamond and Nigori a lot. And we used to get Hakusan (Premium in particular is good), but I believe they've pulled out of GA. OK, so they won't be as good as a fresh bottle of a great Japanese sake, but they have the chance to be fresher and are a great value.

            Of the Japanese brands, I've enjoyed the Otokoyama improvius mentions. And Tenranzan was one I had at a sushi restaurant a while back and really enjoyed.

            It's been almost 4 years, but I had a great time looking, talking and buying at True Sake in San Fran. If you make a pilgrimmage to ATL, there are lots of good places to buy it, also. A wide variety of soju is becoming available here, too. I've enjoyed it once and also gotten a wicked hangover from some that a buddy brought back from Korea.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ted

              I'd add Karatamba and Kubota to the list of awesome brewers. I've also cut&pasted a post from one of our well-respected LA Board posters, Servorg:

              You may enjoy taking a look at the website for Mutual Trading Co. (they have a local office here in Los Angeles) and their Japanese food and cooking products. Click on the link on the lower left hand side of the page on the icon labeled "Jizake" for a great sake / sochju selection.


              Permalink | Report | Reply
              Servorg Nov 11, 2008 05:58PM

            2. While I haven't found an excellent sake made from California rice, we do have quite a good crop of rice here. Apparently around "2500 growers and handlers" in the central valley.

              4 Replies
              1. re: luhkee

                For a number of years, California rice was highly favored in Japan. I don't know what its current status is, but given the "boutique" rices that are now available in Japan (as well as here in the Japanese stores), along with the modern milling technologies, I'm guessing that at least for a basic rice, California rice is still considered very respectable.

                I'm going out on a limb here, but I think that with the renaissance of sake popularity here, I think it's will be soon that some serious sake brewers will start showing up in California as well.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  California rice favored in Japan? I'm curious where you may have gathered this information? It's not true as far as I've every read and experienced. Foreign rice was more or less blocked from Japan until the early '90s with high protectionist tariffs until the U.S. negotiated to basically force Japan to import it. Infamously, it is stored in huge facilities on the outskirts of Tokyo and usually given away to North Korea or as aid to developing or natural disaster-stricken countries.

                  Sake rice and eating rice are different. I'm sure there are some great California varieties, but I've never heard of California rice used to make sake in Japan, nor for other culinary uses. I have read that cheap senbei and mochi is made from imported rice though. If it's used for sake, it's probably the cheaper hooch varieties.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    Back in the 70s and 80s, Japanese tourists used to give up their luggage space to bring back bags of California rice to Japan - no joke. Around the same period, our relatives in Hiroshima would ask us to bring Cal rice when we asked what they wanted us to bring from California. That is how much the Japanese adored the stuff. Fad? I don't know. Reality back then? Hard to deny when folks were willing to stick 50 pounds of rice in their luggage. As I mentioned above, I don't know what the current status is - you've clarified that (protectionist Japanese Govt has always coddled farmers at the expense of salarymen) - so I stand enlightened on this.

                    Reading over my post, I don't think I said Cal rice is used in brewing Japanese sake - I was responding to luhkee's mention in his post - "we do have quite a good crop of rice here. Apparently around "2500 growers and handlers" in the central valley." That's where I lead in with my comment about rice and food. No mention of sake. Milling techniques have not only changed the sake world, I am sure you are aware of the boutique rices where one can get brown rice with the bran intact, to graduating percentages of the bran still intact.

                    As you know, California's sake industry is for the most part producing jug-wine grade sake. But with so many microclimates here, I can easily see other varieties being grown for brewing purposes. Given the growing interest in more premium grades of sake locally, again, I think it's inevitable...

                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      Naturally, one would think the subject is sake rice given the title and conversation of the thread. But it's interesting to learn about the fad you described. My wife, who's from Tokyo, is not familiar with the practice but suggested maybe it was long-grained, since it was difficult to get in Japan. Her experience is basically the reverse- which is expat Japanese who carry rice from Japan to their new countries. Most Japanese stick their nose up at non-Japanese rice. Thankfully, California rice is very good these days and easy to get. So I've got plenty of room in our suitcase for trips back to Japan for more important stuff like, well, sake for instance.

              2. Check out this site:


                A sake store(billed as the first in the US) in San Francisco that also does mail order. The owner is very knowledgeable and has a monthly newsletter that I've found helpful as I learn about sake.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tranewreck

                  Unfortunately, they only ship within California. Rats!!