Is a trip to Japan really complete without traditional sake? We would say, definitely not.
So what is sake? In English, it’s sometimes called “rice wine”, however when we look at the brewing process, it’s more similar to beer than it is wine. Made by fermenting rice, this traditional Japanese drink has been pleasing the masses since the 8th century! But as time goes on, Japan continually innovates this drink, both in the variety of flavours available as well as its type – including sparkling, cloudy and half-frozen.
This boozy little drink has about a 20% higher alcohol content than wine and is typically enjoyed when paired with Japanese food that complements each other. Our favourite way to fully experience sake in all its glory is through a tasting, which can be done at various bars and breweries across the city. There are also bars that let you have full access to over 100 flavours!
We’ve narrowed down the choices for you and picked our personal favourite places in Tokyo to enjoy this traditional drink.
KURAND SAKE MARKET
For the ultimate boozy tasting experience, we recommend Kurand Sake Market. Offering a unique drinking experience unlike any other sake bar, Kurand allows people to head over to the fridge, choose a sake, pour yourself a cup and then continue to come back and drink as much as you like. That’s right, it’s all you can drink sake with no time limit. With over 100 varieties of sake on offer, you’ll be well acquainted with the drink by the time you finish. If you find you need a little break from the sake, no worries – beer is included in the price too! And if you didn’t think it could get any better, Kurand allows guests to bring their own food onto the premises to enjoy whilst they drink. Their flexible re-entry policy means you can also duck out to stock up on food and return at any time you like.
It’s all about giving you the opportunity to taste and enjoy as much sake as you like, without the stress of the clock. Experience Kurand in locations such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shimbashi, Ikebukuro, Ueno and various other areas.
NIHONSHU STAND MOTO
Well-known among sake lovers, Nihonshu Stand Moto is a tachinomi (stand-and-drink) bar located near Hanazono Shrine in the busy hub of Shinjuku. Despite being quite small (fitting only 15 people at a time), this pocket-sized chic bar attracts true sake enthusiasts offering up an authentic range of sake and an impressive selection of rare brands. A hot tip – if you arrive before 6pm during happy hour, you can order three-sake tasting sets to get a feel for which drink you like best.
SAKE HALL HIBIYA BAR
Head over to Tokyo’s trendy neighbourhood, Ginza, and stumble upon the world’s first bar devoted to sake cocktails. Sake Hall Hibiya Bar helped revolutionise the traditional sake drink and boost it back into popularity through its fresh fruit and foam topped original sake cocktails. Although the menu boasts over 100 different options, some of our favourites include the fruity Oriental Sunrise and refreshing Sake Espuma.
Their sake is sourced from seven premium breweries from across the country and allows guests to be transported to these regions through their specialty kura, or rooms. In each of these 7 rooms (representing one region each), guests will be treated to a specialised drinks menu dedicated to that sake-brewing region along with delicious food that compliments each of the drink flavours.
OZAWA SAKE BREWERY/SAWANOI OUME
Escape the city and head towards the mountainous Okutama region for some of the finest sake, straight from the brewery. Ozawa Shuzo, under the brand name Sawanoi, is a sake brewery in Ome City in western Tokyo – a destination filled with nature, hot springs and of course, mountain brewery tours. Situated along the Tama River, this brewery is the oldest sake brewery in Tokyo and dates back an impressive 300 years.
Along with a tasting of some of their best sake, guests can also enjoy a free tour of the brewery which talks about the different types of sake, how they are made and their different qualities, as well as a pitstop of the spring water pouring through 140-metre-deep holes dug into the Chichibu rock formation. Tours are available in English but guests must make a reservation ahead of time.
Along with the brewery, the city of Ome offers restaurants, shops, art museums, hiking and traditional temples, making it perfect for a day-trip away from the city.
If you are looking for a more unique fine-dining experience to accompany your sake tasting, look no further than the hidden gem, La Bombance. Located in Nishi Azabu, this stylish Michelin-starred modern Japanese restaurant features a fantastic selection of some of the greatest brands of sake. There is only one multi-course menu on offer that changes seasonally, however, the creative flavoursome dishes do not disappoint. The approximate 8-course meal features a fusion of Japanese and European cuisine, beautifully blended to create an unforgettable night of fine food and drink.
Akaoni 39 is a premium traditional style sake pub in the funky town of Sangenjaya and has been said to be one of the best izakaya (Japanese bar) in Japan. Serving up over 100 varieties of sake from across the country, Akaoni even has its own exclusive sake, Akaoni Private Brand, brewed specifically for the bar. Specialising in unrefined and unpasteurised sake, we recommend hitting up the daily specials menu to enjoy many hard-to-find labels from small craft breweries.
If you’re heading to Japan for the Rugby World Cup and need more travel tips, get in contact with us today!