September 2008

Sake Story - The Value of Sake

Posted by admin in 2008, Newsletter, Sake Story, September

sake story sept 2008It's the economy stoopid! Yes, times are pretty tight and tough at the moment, and I thought that it would be wise to write a little about the state of the sake economy. Specifically how it hits you in your wallet. I say this speaking as a guy who does not stock his store with the cheapest brews available to you. But hear me out!

We deal in imported sake only! Why? Well it has been a 5-year policy based upon the fact that if we carried one or two locally made sakes then we would have to carry other brews from other non-Japan breweries and before you know it our shelf space is taken up with local brands that can be found at grocery stores and large liquor marts. I have always wanted consumers' first sips of sake to be those that were produced in Japan. It is a simple fact - they make better sake in Japan. (I say this knowing a lot of personal friends in the local industry - to which I tell them - you are getting closer - much closer.)

So due in large part to the fact that we deal in imported sake only - our brews are pricier! Add to that the fact that we typically only sell "Ginjo" class sake and higher then this results in an extra layer of pricing. Basically not a lot of "futsu-shu" or common everyday "table sake" is available for importing to the US. Why? Some say quality and others will say they want the higher margins of premium sake. My goal is for the exporting public to really take a shot at exporting more affordable drinking brews. I tell my importers daily to have their brewers make a better bottom line sake. Don't get me wrong their premium sakes are brilliant and well worth the extra moolah, but an option is always nice. One cannot drink premium every night! Or can they?

Speaking to various brewers I have come to a number! It is vague and not really reliable in the court of law, but a number nevertheless. I asked seven different sake makers to break down the price of making one 720ml bottle of Junmai Ginjo sake. Yes - this is random as hell, but their answers all came back to a common number for production's sake. Some where higher and several were lower - some were in yen and others were in dollars, but I feel comfortable saying that the number to make a bottle of Junmai Ginjo is +/- $9 - and that is with all the fixens - the cap, label, stickers and the sauce inside! This did not include the box or shipping/transportation - and nobody ever advertises so that number is out!

Now - again - some said a higher number and others said just a little lower, but $9 sounded about right to them when I asked them - "are you comfortable with that?" I also said an "average " bottle of Junmai Ginjo, not the house special! The number for me is shocking to say the least! When I think of all of the raw materials - the rice, the koji, the kobo, the water - then the actual fermenting and storage costs (energy) - I feel a tingle in my gut! You cannot even get a large pizza for $9 bucks, when that costs about $1 to make.

So it is pretty darn expensive to make premium Ginjo sake. Then you add exporting/importing/distributing/tax/transportation and sake gets pretty pricey! I will be the first to tell you that these small "Jizake" or local micro-brewers are not getting rich on making sake! They do volume if they are lucky and they get by. Then they have to succumb to poor rice harvests, which requires paying higher prices for premium rice, bumps in electrical costs, and shifting taxation scales. Good years are when they move all of their inventory at the price that they select. Bad years are when they have to dump brew at a lesser than production price to make ends meet.

So I know that sake is expensive when one looks at the store prices. That is the nature of premium sake. We are not nor will not get to the "$5-Buck-Chuck" land that you can find in a wine store. I would like to see the quality rise to make "table sake" drink all that much better, and we are getting closer. Several importers are now brining in more "futsu-shu" or "regular" sake and I salute them!

Now with all of the gloom and doom behind us! There are still serious bargains to be had at per quality of brew to price-points. We know the drinking bargains. These are unlike the $150 Dai Ginjo, which is soon to go up to $250 when we will have to ax it from our portfolio. I see value at so many price points. Yes - a sake can be a value at $45 - knowing what is in that bottle from a raw material and production perspective. Most see value at the $20 level! And yes, where 3 years ago people would come in to the store and say that "$50" was their price point for gift giving, that number has now dropped to "not over $35!"

So who knows the best values in the store - the sake world? The ladies at True Sake of course! So without further adieu I give you Miwa and Lynette's best bargains at True Sake from a price to quality ratio:


Takenotsuyu Yukihonoka "Pure Snow" 
Although the labels says "Junmai", this sake is Junmai Ginjo indeed: brewed with Miyamanishiki rice milled to 55%. Even the brewery admits this is a steal. Junmai. $8/300ml 

Yuu-ga "Deep Elegance" 
While many Ginjo-style sakes drink fruity, this sake is quite rice- like. It is plump, smooth and food friendly. Try it slight chilled or room temperature to get the full impact. Junmai Ginjo. $18/720ml 

Suigei "Drunken Whale" 
Sushi sake? Go with this one. Lean, fragrant and dry yet flavorful. This refined Tokubetsu Junmai is brewed with Kochi Akitsuho rice milled to 55%. The brewery proudly recommends having the sake with "katsuno" bonito fish. Tokubetsu Junmai. $20/720ml


An excellent sake! Clean, smooth and light with slight mineral tones. It pairs well with tempura, sushi, and other light foods. Also it is equally great on its own. I could drink this every day. 720ml $20 Junmai Ginjo 

Kirin Koshi no Takumi 
This one is almost a store secret. Those who know this sake love it for its smoothness and rich subtleties. It is very balanced and calming to drink. Unfortunately, since it is also one of MY favorites, it only comes in a 300ml size. But for $9 it's a steal. 300ml $9 Tokubetsu Junmai 

Hakutsuru Sayuri 
Aesthetically, this frosty pink bottle sells itself. But, in our blind nigori tasting last April, our readers tasted 7 different nigoris and this sake was by far the most popular. As it turns out, it also happens to be the most affordable. 720ml $16, 300ml $9 Junmai Nigori

I agree with all of these choices - and yes the price is really right! Herewith are several other brews worth trying at a great price point for the troubles and pleasures that rest within:

  • Akitabare "Shunsetsu" Honjozo $22/720ml
    (Nama-cho goodness for under $25!)
  • Taihaisan Kimoto Junmai $21/720ml
    (A solid kimoto for $21? Forget it!)
  • Dassai Junmai Ginjo $27/720ml
    (Until last month was $23 - but still a $27 Dai Ginjo)
  • Yaegaki Mu Junmai Dai Ginjo $26/720ml
    (Popular for a reason!)
  • Kudoki Jozu Junmai Ginjo $26/720ml
    (I made this sake and know how much it's worth!)
  • Koshi no Kanbai Junmai $37/720ml
    (Watch the Japanese tourists react to this price and you know it is a steal)
  • Eiko Fuji "Ban Ryu" Honjozo/Futsushu $20/720ml
    (Drink me everyday!)
  • Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai $17/720ml
    (pound for pound the best deal - but everybody knows that!)
  • Dewazakura Nama Genshu $23/500ml
    (Full nama from great brewery!)
  • Wakatake Junmai Ginjo $23/720ml
    (So much for so little!)
  • Shirakabe Gura $7/300ml
    (Medal winning sake at such a low price)
  • Kaika Junmai $21/720ml
    (Solid sake - soft, round and cheap!)
  • Mizunoshirabe Ginjo $22/720ml
    (Great Kyoto sake that speaks easy and is easy on wallet)
  • Wakatake Junmai Dai Ginjo $17/300ml
    (Solid and affordable DG - great example!)
  • Kikusui Funaguchi Nama Genshu Honjozo $5/200ml
    (Do the math 200ml at 19% alc for $5)

Now please note the real value in sake is found in the 1.8L bottles - 60 fluid ounces of love. This is where the bargain hunters and those in the sake know hang out! "Ishobin" (large bottle) sakes make the wallet hurt a little less, and pulling those out at a party makes one look the part!

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