Here Are the 3 Premium Types of Sake, Top Brands & Costs

The 3 types of premium sake, known for its meticulous brewing process and superior ingredients, include Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, and Daiginjo-shu.

Sake, Japan’s iconic beverage, has a rich heritage that dates back thousands of years. There are other formidable sake grades that walk the walk, which we’ll mention as well. Each variety of these 3 types of sake offers a unique flavor profile, influenced by the degree of rice polishing, fermentation techniques, and whether additional alcohol is added during the brewing process.


These types of sake are celebrated for their purity, depth of flavor, and the craftsmanship involved in their production.

They are also celebrated as the preferred beverage on luxury train rides in Japan.

Junmai-shu: The Pure Rice Sake

What is Junmai-shu?
Junmai-shu translates to “pure rice” sake, made exclusively from rice, water, yeast, and koji mold without the addition of distilled alcohol. This type of sake offers a full-bodied taste and an acidity that complements a wide array of dishes.

Ingredients and Production Process of Junmai-shu
The production of Junmai-shu involves a careful selection of rice, which is then polished to remove the bran; this affects the sake’s flavor and quality.

The polished rice is washed, soaked, and steamed before being mixed with koji mold to convert the starches into sugars. Fermentation occurs as yeast is added, creating alcohol and deep flavors.

infographic of sake grades

Flavor Profile and Pairing Recommendations
Junmai-shu is known for its robust flavor with a balance of acidity and umami. It pairs excellently with hearty meals, such as grilled meats and savory stews. Its rich taste also makes it a good match for creamy cheeses and spicy foods.

Our Top Pick of Junmai-shu Sake: Hakkaisan “Yukimuro” 3 Years Snow Aged

Prefecture: Niigata

Nestled in the heart of Niigata Prefecture (district), Japan, the Hakkaisan brewery has been perfecting the art of sake brewing since 1922.

With a rich history and unwavering commitment to tradition, Hakkaisan has earned a reputation for producing some of the finest sakes in the world.

A yukimuro using nature to age this sake.

Among their most prized creations is the “Yukimuro” 3 Years Snow Aged Sake, a true testament to the brewery’s innovative spirit and quest for excellence.

What sets Hakkaisan “Yukimuro” apart from other sakes is its unique aging process.

The sake is carefully stored in a specialized snow-covered cellar, known as a “yukimuro,” for a period of three years.

This method of aging sake in the snow is a rare and labor-intensive practice that requires great skill, patience, and attention to detail.

Perfect Pairings for This Type of Sake: Foods that Complement “Yukimuro”
Hakkaisan “Yukimuro” 3 Years Snow Aged Sake is a versatile companion to a wide range of dishes, but it truly shines when paired with seafood, particularly sushi and sashimi.

Sushi – perfect for pairing with any of these types of premium sake.

The sake’s smooth texture and delicate flavors complement the freshness and subtlety of raw fish, creating a harmonious balance on the palate. Other excellent pairing options include grilled meats, tempura, and lightly seasoned vegetables.

Ginjo-shu: The Fragrant Sake

Techniques and Characteristics of Ginjo-shu
Ginjo-shu is crafted with rice that has been polished to at least 60%, and often fermented at colder temperatures to develop its signature delicate and fruity flavors. This sake category is notable for its aromatic qualities, which can range from floral to fruity notes.

Tasting Notes and Serving Suggestions for Ginjo-shu
The light and often fragrant profile of Ginjo-shu makes it ideal for serving chilled. It complements dishes that are equally subtle in flavor, such as light seafood salads or simple sushi rolls. The sake’s nuances are best appreciated when served in a wine glass, allowing its aromas to fully develop.

Our Top Pick: Okunomatsu Ginjo

Prefecture: Fukushima

Okunomatsu Ginjo sake is a premium Japanese rice wine crafted by the renowned Okunomatsu Brewery, located in the picturesque Fukushima Prefecture.

This exquisite sake is the result of centuries-old brewing traditions, meticulous craftsmanship, and a dedication to using only the finest ingredients.

Okunomatsu-sake bottle
Photos: Okunomatsu-Brewery

Rice Selection and Polishing
Renowned for its superior brewing properties, Okunomatsu Brewery relies on the locally grown Yamada Nishiki rice – hailed as the “king of sake rice” – as the key ingredient in their exquisite Ginjo-grade sake.

Through a meticulous polishing process, where 50% of the outer layer is carefully removed, the starchy core is revealed, unleashing a flavor and aroma profile that is simply unmatched.

Such a high polishing ratio not only guarantees a refined sake experience but also showcases the artistry and dedication of the brewery in every sip.

Koji Mold Cultivation
In the world of sake production, there exists a precious ingredient known as Koji – a special type of mold that holds the key to crafting the perfect brew.

At the prestigious Okunomatsu Brewery, their coveted koji strain is nurtured and tended to with the utmost care, carefully introduced to steamed rice to transform starches into sugars fit for fermentation.


With a watchful eye and skilled hands, the brewery’s artisans orchestrate the koji cultivation process to perfection, resulting in sake that boasts a magnificent balance of smoothness and complexity.

One sip reveals a mesmerizing dance of tropical fruits and delicate florals, a true testament to the dedication and expertise of these masters of the craft.

Food Pairing Suggestions
Okunomatsu Ginjo sake is a versatile companion to a wide range of dishes, thanks to its delicate flavor profile and smooth texture.

It pairs exceptionally well with sushi and sashimi, as the sake’s subtle sweetness and acidity complement the fresh flavors of raw fish.

Light, seasonal vegetables and tempura-fried dishes also make excellent partners, as the sake’s clean finish cuts through the richness and enhances the natural flavors.

Daiginjo-shu: The Premium-Tiered Sake for Special Occasions

Due to its refined nature, Daiginjo-shu is best enjoyed on special occasions. It pairs wonderfully with delicate dishes such as fine sashimi or light, creamy desserts. Serving it slightly chilled in a tulip-shaped glass enhances its sophisticated flavors.

Our Top Pick: Takatenjin “Soul of the Sensei” Junmai Daiginjo 

Prefecture: Shizouka

Takatenjin “Soul of the Sensei” Junmai Daiginjo, a sake that epitomizes the pinnacle of craftsmanship and quality. This ultra-premium sake is a rare gem, meticulously brewed using rice polished down to an astonishing 50% of its original size.


Delicate floral notes, reminiscent of fresh cherry blossoms and jasmine, intertwine with the subtle scent of ripe honeydew melon and crisp green apples.

These fragrant layers are a testament to the sake’s unparalleled quality and the skill of the master brewer behind its creation. According to The Japanese Bar, Takatenjin “Soul of the Sensei” is a classic Shizuoka junmai daiginjo with a fragrant-floral nose, abundant fruit (green apple, melon, lemon oil), and a creamy texture.

This extraordinary junmai daiginjo pays homage to the legendary Hase Toji, a master brewer who devoted his life to perfecting the art of sake brewing. Hase Toji’s unwavering commitment to preserving traditional techniques and his meticulous attention to detail

Lore of The Taktenjin
The brewery’s history is steeped in legend, with its name “Takatenjin” paying homage to the nearby ruins of Takatenjin Castle. According to Kome Collective, the brewery’s founder fought many battles near these ruins, embodying the spirit of a true warrior. Hey, if you’re going to war, let it be over the integrity of your sake.

Pairing Recommendations
Pairing this sake with dishes such as tuna tartare, grilled prawns with lemongrass, apple and jicama slaw, or goat cheese with lavender honey.

The sake’s concentrated fruit aromatics and dry mouthfeel make it an excellent companion for a wide range of cuisines, from delicate sashimi to rich, creamy cheeses.

Honjozo-shu: The Versatile Sake

Actually, there are 2 more premium sake brews we’d be foolish to ignore. First is Honjozo-shu, made with a small addition of brewers’ alcohol, which lightens its flavor and aroma, making it very versatile. It typically features a light, smooth taste with a hint of dryness.

Culinary Matches for Honjozo-shu Sake
This sake goes well with a broad range of foods. Its cleansing effect on the palate makes it an excellent companion to oily or fried dishes. Tempura anyone?

Serve Honjozo-shu warm to enhance its comforting, umami-rich qualities, especially during cooler weather.

Our Top Pick For Honjozo-shu: OZEKI KARATANBA SAKE: “DRY WAVE”

Prefecture: Hyogo

In a sea of premium sake options, OZEKI KARATANBA SAKE distinguishes itself with its unparalleled “Dry Wave” flavor profile.


This innovative style combines the best of both worlds, offering a crisp and refreshing dryness that is perfectly balanced with subtle hints of sweetness.

The result is a sake that is both complex and approachable, appealing to both seasoned sake enthusiasts and those new to the world of this beloved Japanese beverage.

Understanding the “Dry Wave” Flavor Profile
The “Dry Wave” flavor profile is a masterful creation by the skilled brewmasters at OZEKI. It refers to the delicate balance between the sake’s dryness and its subtle sweet undertones.

This unique combination creates a wave of flavors that wash over your palate, leaving you with a crisp and refreshing finish.

The “Dry Wave” style of sake is achieved through meticulous brewing techniques and the use of high-quality ingredients, resulting in a sake that is both sophisticated and easy to enjoy.

As you pour a glass, take a moment to appreciate its crystal-clear appearance and the delicate aromas that rise from the glass. You’ll be greeted with hints of citrus, particularly lemon, and grapefruit, which add a bright and zesty note to the sake’s bouquet.

As you sip, you’ll notice the sake’s smooth and silky texture, which glides effortlessly across your tongue.

OZEKI KARATANBA SAKE is a true gem in the world of premium sake, offering a unique and captivating “Dry Wave” flavor profile that sets it apart from the rest.

Namazake: The Unpasteurized Premium Sake

Production Methods and Characteristics of Namazake
Namazake is a unique type of unpasteurized sake that offers a fresh, lively flavor profile with a slight sweetness and increased complexity.

It must be kept refrigerated to maintain its freshness and prevent spoilage, so you’ll have to drink it like you mean it once the bottle is opened. Kanpai!

Why Namazake Sake Is Associated with Spring
In the land of the rising sun, the art of sake making has long been reserved for the chilly winter months. And with the arrival of spring, the prized namazake is finally unveiled from its slumber, bursting with youthful vigor and vibrant flavors.

It is during this magical time, when the country is ablaze with blush-pink cherry blossoms, that the ethereal drink is savored at its peak.


The nice thing about the cherry blossom season is that it starts at the southern end of Japan and slowly heads to the north over about a month’s time.

There’s nothing like a country that milks its seasonal sake brews to last as long as it can. Hats off to Mother Nature for pitching in and doing her part!

Although modern techniques have made it available throughout the year, the purists among Japanese brewers honor the age-old tradition of launching namazake exclusively in the season of Sakura.

Enjoying the Freshness of Namazake
The vibrant, fresh nature of Namazake makes it best enjoyed young and chilled. It pairs beautifully with fresh vegetables, salads, and light fish dishes, highlighting the crisp and dynamic character of the sake.

Our Top Pick: Shichi Hon Yari “The Seven Spearsmen” Junmai Muroka Namazake

Prefecture: Shiga

Within the world of Japanese sake, there exists a name that echoes with an unparalleled resonance – Shichi Hon Yari, also known as “The Seven Spearsmen.”


This exceptional junmai muroka namazake has bewitched the hearts and taste buds of sake connoisseurs across the globe, cementing its position as one of the most highly acclaimed sakes in the industry.

Origin and History of Shichi Hon Yari Sake
In the early 1900s, amidst the rising sun of Japan, a tale of epic proportions unfolded.

Seven masterful brewmasters, hailing from diverse corners of the country, united with a singular goal: to forge a sake that would transcend all others.

They became known as the “Seven Spearsmen,” their diverse skills merging into a symphony of flavor and finesse.

Together, they birthed a sake that would endure the trials of time and become legendary in its own right.

The sake’s bouquet is a symphony of floral notes, with hints of apple blossom and jasmine dancing alongside subtle undertones of rice and fresh spring water.

As the sake touches your lips, a smooth and silky texture envelops your palate, revealing a complex tapestry of flavors. The initial sweetness, reminiscent of ripe pears and honey, gives way to a gentle umami richness that lingers on the tongue.

Brewing Techniques
Crafted through the age-old kimoto method, Shichi Hon Yari is a labor of love that harnesses the power of lactic acid bacteria to enhance fermentation.

This meticulous process, although time-consuming, imbues the sake with unparalleled depth and intricacy, setting it apart from mass-produced alternatives.

In a nod to preserving its natural essence, the brewmasters opt for a distinctive “muroka” filtration technique, abstaining from charcoal filtering to retain the sake’s true flavors and aromas

Ideal Food Pairings
For a classic Japanese pairing, consider serving Shichi Hon Yari alongside sashimi or sushi. The sake’s clean, crisp profile perfectly complements the delicate flavors of raw fish, while its subtle sweetness helps to balance any hint of fishiness.

Niigata prefecture in the Spring.

Tempura dishes also make an excellent match, as the sake’s light body and refreshing finish cut through the richness of the batter. For a more unexpected pairing, try serving Shichi Hon Yari with a creamy risotto or a decadent cheese plate.

The sake’s acidity and subtle fruity notes will help to cleanse the palate between bites, allowing you to fully appreciate the flavors of each dish.

In recent years, Shichi Hon Yari has also released limited-edition bottlings that have become highly sought-after by collectors and connoisseurs alike.

Given the small production volume and high quality, this sake is very difficult to find, even in Tokyo. The artisanal nature of its production and the limited quantities released each year make obtaining a bottle of this coveted sake a challenge.

For those fortunate enough to secure a taste,Shichi Hon Yari promises an unforgettable experience that showcases the very best of Japanese brewing tradition.


The world of premium sake offers a fascinating array of flavors, textures, and experiences. From the pure, robust taste of Junmai-shu to the delicate, aromatic qualities of Ginjo-shu and the luxurious complexity of Daiginjo-shu, there is a style to suit every palate.

Exploring these different types can enrich any dining experience and lead to greater appreciation of Japan’s artisanal brewing craftsmanship. For enthusiasts looking to dive deeper, attending tastings or visiting sake breweries can provide insightful and enjoyable experiences.

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