The word Junmai really has two meanings in the sake world. The first is a category name that revolves around how much a sake uses milled or polished rice to a certain percentage (It used to be a standard 30% removal and 70% remaining figure), and the second is when a sake uses rice and water only in its production (void of added distilled alcohol or honjozo sake.) But “Junmai” is also a way of life for a segment of breweries that would never entertain using added brewer’s alcohol in any of their sakes. Many enthusiasts consider rice and water-only sakes more pure, and it’s almost a religion to them. In honor of this group of sake purists, we have assembled ten “pure” Junmai sakes that should get you in the Junmai spirit:
10) Fukuju Mikagego “Happy Brewery”
This brewery is very near some of the best sake brewing rice in the world. So naturally they have access to this amazing rice, and add to that the fact they are brewing literally above one of the truly best ancient water sources in the industry, then this “rice and water” only brew is pretty damn good!
9) Shirataki Noujun Uonuma “80%”
Since milling rates for Junmai sake now vary as long as a producer stipulates what the percentage is, you would be very wise to taste this incredible Junmai that was milled to a mere 80%. Talk about a fantastic mouthful of rice and water only, this Junmai is full-bodied but manages to drink smooth and clean. Food pairing monster!
8) Yuho “Eternal Embers”
One sneaky offshoot of pure rice and water only sake is that nebulous flavor called “umami,” and this deep and rich Junmai from Ishikawa Prefecture has a mouth full of it! This is also a great Junmai to feast on at room temperature. It’s like liquid rice in your glass!
7) Taiheizan Kimoto “Grand Mountain”
There are several subsets within the “Junmai” category and the “Kimoto” or traditional pole-rammed method is one of them. This kimoto Junmai from Akita prefecture is as creamy and smooth as Junmai gets! Talk about a great mouth feel, this Junmai is made by an IWC Trophy Medal winning brewery, so quality is found in every sip.
6) Kirinzan “Flying Horse”
Sometimes the knock against Junmai sake is that it is heavy and fat, but not this light and clean Junmai from Niigata. This brew is very subtle and goes into that wonderful category known as “neutral.” Not too dry, not too sweet, just great drinking rice and water.
5) Tsukinokatsura “Iwai”
If you have never tried this Junmai sake, then I say do it! Do it now! Why? Well not only is it an amazing “feeling” sake, but the flavor profile is the bomb. Oh and add to that the fact that it uses one of the most expensive brewing rice varietals and is milled to only 80%. Then you have a head scratcher because this brew is so complex, yet oh so tasty! How did they do that?
4) Suehiro Densho Yamahai
Yamahai style sake, or traditionally made, is another subset in the Junmai sake game. Usually these sakes drink rich and shaggy, but this special brew has layers and layers of full-bodied flavors and yet it drinks smooth and velvety. So you get all of that taste and your palate stays smooth and balanced. A great Junmai to warm or have at room temperature.
3) Masumi Okuden Kantsukari “Mirror of Truth”
This ultra popular Junmai is on the other spectrum of less polished sakes for the Junmai category. From Nagano Prefecture, the “Mirror of Truth,” is not lying about its perfect balance. Each sip is rewarded with a flavorful, light and ricey dance through the palate. A brilliant 3-temperature sake that is food friendly and a great example of a “premium” Junmai.
2) Sasaiwai Junmai Muroka
This un-charcoal filtered Junmai is a circus in a glass! Extremely popular now in Japan, this brew is a totem pole of flavors with so many faces and expressions. It drinks great, but it’s so much trying to figure out each flavor as this brew does different things with each sip, but stays balanced all of the while. A really fun take on Junmai sake.
1) Taiheikai “Pacific Ocean”
Hands down one of the best tasting sakes in the store. This “tokubetsu” or special Junmai is all that – special! When you are good, you make the back of your bottle label the front! That is exactly what this sake does. It shouts look at me! If you have never tasted this sake then please make it a point to, because it does the Junmai category of sake proud!
1) Kibo “can” Junmai
A tasty little Junmai from Iwate prefecture with a great story. Think rice and water in a can that provides hope!