Historically, saké was by definition a regional product. Crafted with local rice and water according to regionally-developed brewing styles, it was intrinsically tied to native tastes and cuisine. In modern times, with no framework of appellations governing saké production and efficient transportation of raw materials, saké is often a product of ingredients from far away lands and homogenized brewing styles.
Yet breweries that hold steadfast to regional traditions continue to exist today, and as demand for premium jizaké (loosely translated as craft, microbrew or regional saké) increases, brewers and consumers alike are exhibiting renewed interest in the notion of regionality. As an introduction, here are a few generalizations (from north to south) on notable regional saké styles and recommendations:
Representative of Japan’s cold and mountainous Tohoku, or northeast region, Akita brewers often combine their soft, mineral-rich spring waters and abundant rice varieties with a regionally developed yeast strain called AK-1 to create saké that is silky and round with subtle sweetness, gentle acidity and a density of flavor and texture that lingers on the tongue. Try Asamai Shuzo Co. Ama No To Heaven’s Door Tokubetsu Junmai (Akita); $34/720 ml. Imported by Vine Connections. amanoto.co.jp
With its icy, cold winters, copious rains and pristine snowmelt waters, Niigata is a bastion of quality rice and saké. Reminiscent of its native waters, saké from Niigata is often representative of the tanrei style — dry, light and refreshing with elegant and restrained aromatics. Try Echigo Denemon Co., Ltd. Denemon Junmai Daiginjo (Niigata); $55/720 ml. Imported by Nishimoto Trading Co., Ltd. denemon.com
The dominant force in premium saké production, Hyogo, and most particularly the coastal Nada area, is blessed with what is considered the best saké brewing water and rice in Japan — mineral rich miyamizu water and yamada nishiki rice. Nada saké is often described as being masculine with flavor profiles that are hearty, structured and savory rather than soft, fruity or floral. Try Sawanotsuru Co., Ltd. Jitsuraku Kimoto Tokubetsu Junmai (Hyogo); $34/720 ml. Imported by Nishimoto Trading Co., Ltd. sawanotsuru.co.jp