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Good value domestic sakes?

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I've enjoyed the chilled sakes I've tried at my local jazz club/Japanese restaurant (Yoshi's in San Francisco) and would like to explore more sakes at home. However, I've had a hard time justifying dropping $20 or more on a smallish bottle right now, which is what most of the Japanese sakes in my local Asian markets seem to cost.

I've also noticed a handful of locally-produced sakes from Takara, Ozeki, and a couple of other companies that are more at the price point I'm comfortable with right now ($7-10 for 1.5L). Are any of these US-made sakes decent enough to drink chilled? Or am I going to be knocking back lighter fluid if I don't heat them up?

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  1. Actually, cheaper sakes are usually better chilled since the colder temps mask the flavor imperfections and roughness. When you heat up sake, particularly past 90 degrees F, you get that lighter fluid effect. If you are in SF, go to Trader Joe's and get the sake imported from Japan that sells for about $10. This is one of the best values I have found in SF.

    1. I'm a big fan of Momokawa sakes for value and usually buy the Diamond. I honestly haven't bought many others in the recent past due to cost (and concern over how long they've been on the shelf here in GA).

      I have been to True Sake in San Fran several years ago and they were very helpful at identifying some imported brands to try that were also a good value.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ted

        Actually, True Sake in SF has some rather good values from Japan, and are very helpful in giving advice.

      2. I think Takara is quite good (their nigori especially) and Ozeki is ok (avoid the extra dry). Drink these chilled.

        1. I don't personally think they're very good, not the cheaper stuff. You're not going to find much that's very good in that price range for 1.5L imo. The Japanese sakes are vastly superior. I don't think it's worth paying $7 for something that's not really enjoyable over paying $20 less often for something that is enjoyable. Momokawa is drinkable but not particularly interesting imo.

          3 Replies
          1. re: luniz

            FWIW, the Momokawa is $13 or so in my neck of the woods, and most of the 'real' imported sake (which may have been sitting there for 6 mo.s) is closer to $30+. I splurge when I eat out or make a trip to the left coast, but I think you're kidding yourself judging based on off-the-shelf except for a few places in the US. I get that there are important differences, but I think they're subtle enough and perishable enough that it may make you feel better to spend more but you likely aren't getting the flavor that comes out of the brewery. See Orval, e.g.

            1. re: ted

              I completely disagree. The differences aren't that subtle and I have no difference to "kid" myself. American sake is inferior from the get go. Even if sake has been sitting for 6 months it hasn't necessarily deteriorated all that much, most sake produced in Japan is intended to be consumed within a year, not a couple months. If you drink quality Japanese sake every day and then try to find something for under $10 a bottle you're going to be greatly disappointed. Japanese breweries use a higher quality rice, water, brewing methods, and have hundreds of years more experience and a much more discerning consumer. Most American sake is made for people who are probably going to be making sake bombs out of it.

              1. re: luniz

                The only one I've had that I really enjoyed at the under $10 point was Hakusan and they're out of business. I still like the Momokawa Diamond at 1/3 the price of imported. And I'd still go to True Sake if I was in San Fran and buy a good value that they recommended over Momokawa.

          2. One fundamental difference is that the sake from Japan is brewed with strains of rice which are ideal for sake (sakamai) while stuff brewed in the U.S. is invariably made from table rice. Sort of like getting wine made from Thompson Seedless grapes. Still, I think the sake from Japan sold at Trader Joe's is a very good value at around $10 for a 720 ml bottle.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Tripeler

              May I ask how you know that domestic sake is brewed from Uncle Bens' or Carolina or a non sakamai strain?

              1. re: penthouse pup

                Years ago I did a tasting for a homebrew club in Sacramento, California.
                I had some Gekkeikan (local) sake in addition to several sakes from Japan. When I contacted Gekkeikan, I found out that their Folsom-brewed sake was made from Japonica table rice. After contacting several other brewers I found that this was the norm in the U.S., though apparently some sake had once been brewed using real sake rice, but this was in Oregon. In any case, sake from Japan is far superior than anything made in the US, and this is one of the many reasons why.