MyNavi News calls in sake expert Tatehiro Ishiguro with a slightly unusual request – advice on how to select a “pack sake” and his top ten of those available.

Ishiguro is a sakashō (licensed/qualified sake taster) and educator. He previously worked as a manager in the sake section of an antenna shop of a major food and drink company, dealing with the sake and shōchū selection.

After obtaining his qualifications he joined the Sake Service Institute (SSI) as a dedicated taster in their research department. He is also involved in researching sales promotion, and teaching people about the appeal of sake in his role as an educator.

Although you might expect a professional to turn his (highly trained) nose up at sake sold in waxed cartons, he advised on how to select a sake to enjoy at home that would make it easy even for someone who has never drunk sake to pick one. The article notes there are more and more very reasonably priced, easy to find and high-quality sake on the market, even functional products such as zero-carb varieties. How can a family looking for a sake to use for cooking and drinking with dinner pick the right pack?

Ishiguro has three pieces of advice on choosing a pack sake.

His first approach is to look for something that will go with whatever you’re having or making. Many families buy sake to drink with dinner, so pack sake are made to go well with traditional home cooking. That makes them very versatile and reliable in terms of quality, and able to pair with Japanese, Western or Chinese dishes. Most can also be used for cooking.

Ishiguro also notes the choice between sweet and dry sake, which can be made to suit the dish the sake will be drunk with or to add an extra dimension if used in cooking. A dry sake goes well with strongly flavoured or salty foods, for example, while a sweet sake is the perfect complement to oily dishes like karaage [Japanese fried chicken].

Ishiguro’s second approach is to choose a sake for its suitability for heating. Many sake develop their inherent umami when heated. Pack sake in particular is designed to be drunk with dinner, so works well at room temperature but is even better hot.

Looking at it from a food pairing perspective, heating increases the number of foods sake will go with and makes it an even better contributor to the dinner table. He recommends a honjōzō or junmai pack sake for heating.

Ishiguro’s last suggestion is choosing for function. He notes that pack sake has a negative image among sake fans, but lately the quality has improved to the point where more and more meet the requirements for “premium” legal classifications. [特定名称, tokutei meishō]

Others are “functional” products, for example with reduced carbohydrates, developed in response to customer demand. So it’s easier than ever before to find a sake that ticks all your boxes.

His top ten pack sake are:

  • Kikumasamune: Josen Sake pack Honjōzō
  • Hakutsuru: Kome Dake no Maru Junmaishu
  • Kamotusuru: Josen Kamotsuru Pack
  • Sawanotsuru: Kome Dake no Sake
  • Akita Shurui Seizō: Takashimizu Sake Pack
  • Nihonsakari Daiginjō
  • Kikumasamune: Shiboritate Gin Pack [which won Great Value Champion and Futsūshu Trophy at the International Wine Challenge 2019]
  • Gekkeikan: Tōshitsu Zero [zero carb]
  • Hakutsuru: Josen Hakutsuru Sake Pack
  • Hakutsuru: Hakutsuru Maru

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