Whether you heard it from Ella Fitzgerald or Sublime, summertime living is easy. Now you can make it even easier with a refreshing sake on hand.

Over the last several years, innovative sake makers have been diversifying their offerings to appeal to younger drinkers, compete with cocktails, and capitalize on the Japanese love and commercialization of seasonal holidays. To capture these opportunities, sake makers have introduced sparkling sakes, flavored sakes, low alcohol sakes, and sakes that are delicious on the rocks. So, there really are summer sakes—to drink right now.

Sakes that Are Perfect for Summertime

Sparkling Sake

No matter which brand you reach for, sparkling sake is for summer.  Sparkling sakes are light, lower in alcohol, fruity, and fun.  Niichiro Marumoto, the 6th generation president of the Marumoto Brewery, was a pioneer in the sparkling sake, launching HouHouShu in 2001.  He saw the popularity of champagne and sparkling wine, grew concerned about sake’s appeal to younger consumers, and experimented until he had a delicious, sparkling sake.  Hou Hou (“ho ho” like Santa says it) means “bubble bubble.  “Shu,” pronounced like “shoe,” means “sake,” as in “genshu,” or undiluted sake.  Hou Hou Shu is light, soft, fruity, and refreshing.  While not sweet, per se, it is fruity and fun.  Many drinkers compare its refreshing taste to peach yogurt or cream soda.

Years after launching the HouHouShu blue, Marumoto-san introduced Hana HouHou Shu, a rose sparkling sake.  “Hana” means “flower,” reflecting the addition of rose hip and hibiscus to the brew.  Rose hip makes the sake dry, while hibiscus makes it pink. Consumers describe notes of cranberry and cherry.

Hou Hou Shu Sake - Sparkling

Hou Hou Shu Sake - Sparkling Rose

Both Hana HouHouShu and HouHouShu should be served chilled, on their own, or with a squeeze of lemon in the blue or a creative garnish like candied ginger.  Both are only 5% ABV, which makes them very drinkable.

Sparkling Sake to Look for:
Marumoto Hou Hou Shu “Blue Clouds”
Marumoto Hou Hou Shu

Flavored Sake

Flavored sake is another great summer option. Japan has many indigenous fruits and a history of macerating these fruits in sake. However, only in recent years have high quality, fruit-infused sakes made it to the U.S. market. Japan’s indigenous citrus, Yuzu, has caught on with mixologists and consumers alike. Ume, Japanese plum, is so ingrained in Japanese food culture that many Japanese have home macerations of ume in sake. Restaurants make their own infusions, too. However, certain prefectures like Wakayama are known for ume like some are known for yuzu. These regions have been top producers of real plum sake, umeshu. Japanese consumers pay a premium for these products.

Joto Yuzu “The Citrus One”

Joto Yuzu, 8% ABV, made by the Imaoka Brewery in Shimane is bursting with fresh, citrus flavor. It is made using a natural maceration. So is Joto Umeshu, which will be released in the fall.

Flavored Sake to Look for:
Joto Sake Yuzu “The Citrus One”
Joto Sake Umeshu (coming Fall 2020)


Henry Sidel is the Founder and General Manager of Joto Sake, the sake division of Kobrand Wine and Spirits. Henry started Joto Sake LLC in 2005 with the vision of creating the most selective and respected sake importing company in the U.S. Joto means “highest quality” and this was the guiding principle for Henry and his team. Before starting Joto Sake, Henry held management roles at Belvedere Vodka/Moet Hennessy, Brooklyn Brewery, and Ciao Bella Gelato.

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