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Natsuzakes (summer sakes) typically get released starting in June, and satisfy thirsty sake lovers through the hottest months in Japan. The timing for us in Northern California is perfect, as the sakes start to arrive in August and September, when things really start heating up here. 

Natsuzake is a pretty recent phenomenon – appearing on shelves in the late aughts. There was a hole in sake sales during the summer, as there was no sake equivalent to an ice cold beer or sparkling wine, which are often the drinks of choice for the summer time. Sakemakers knew a summer sake needed to have similar attributes: sessionable, low alcohol, light, fresh, and sparkling. To make sure that they can be enjoyed over a long period of time (say at a picnic or BBQ), these sakes need to be easy to drink. Many of these sakes balance sweetness and acidity, which you’ll notice on the stats on the reverse side (low SMV, high acidity). There are no specific requirements for calling a sake a natsuzake, hence the category is still quite open to interpretation.

I like drinking my natsuzake very cold in a small white wine glass. I often experiment and try the sake on-the-rocks as well. I urge you to try the Himezen with soda, as Nakamura-san recommends on the reverse side. Please store your natsuzakes in the refrigerator before enjoying.

Brewers know that people lose their appetites during the very hot and sticky summer in Japan, so they make these sakes to stand on their own, without food. This means the sake itself offers a range of tastes including sweetness, umami, and tartness – a light meal in a glass. Bring these sakes to a BBQ and sip while the food sizzles on the grill, or while you are setting the picnic table. The idea is that you can sip on these sakes all day while you hang out with friends and family at summer gatherings!

Kanpai,

Yoko (Co-Founder + Sake Director at Umami Mart)

Gokyo Nama Junmai
Saikai Brewing (Yamaguchi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Nihonbare 60%, SMV: +2,  Acidity: 1.9, ABV 15%

Brewed in May, this sake makes it stateside just in time for our Indian Summer. Located in a delta that has abundant groundwater, Sakai Shuzo makes this fizzy, refreshing unpasteurized sake for the hot summer with aromas of lime and cucumber, accented by minerality and a crisp finish. The toji, Kenishi Morishige, recommends having this sake very cold with potato salad.

Himezen
Ichinokura (Miyagi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Toyonishiki 65%, SMV: -70,  Acidity: 4.8-5.2, ABV: 8%

This low alcohol sake was released after the previous president went to Europe to study the drinking culture there. Erina Nakamura, sales rep at Ichinokura, explains his experience, “While in Paris studying wine, he tried a Belgian Lambic beer. The beer was sour, aromatic and not very frothy, like wine. Then in Vienna, Austria, he tried a bubbly new wine, Heuriger, in a tavern run by a viticulturist. The experience of drinking beer like wine and wine like beer made him realize that there are no barriers between wine and beer. He began to imagine a world in which there could be sake like wine and sake like beer. When he returned to Japan, he set about developing this wine-like sake.” Enjoy notes of blood orange, ume, and grape juice. Nakamura recommends having 6oz Himezen, to 4oz soda on ice with a squeeze of lemon!

“Summer Light” Junmai Nama Genshu
Daisekkei Sake Brewing (Nagano, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Hitogokochi 65%, SMV: +1,  Acidity: 1.7, ABV: 13%

Summer Light is a new product released in 2021. Brewmaster Mamoru Nagase explains its concept, “We prepared an unfiltered refreshing sake for the hot summer with an alcohol content of 13% and bottled it while retaining carbon dioxide gas (slightly foamy feeling) derived from fermentation.” With the tart aroma of grapefruit and dried cherries, complemented by notes of cream soda, this is definitely what I want to drink in my backyard on my day off. Drink this sparkly sake chilled in a wine glass with zaru soba or teriyaki chicken.


Masumi Shiro
Miyasaka Brewing Co. (Nagano, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Miyama Nishiki 55%, SMV: -3.3,  Acidity: 1.5, ABV: 12%

When asked how Shiro came about, Kenji Nasu, the Executive Master Brewer said, “Recent changes in diet, health, and taste has increased interest in lower alcohol drinks, and brewers have put more effort into developing high-quality, low-alcohol sake.” At 12% ABV this sake is light enough to enjoy all day. Notice aromas of lemon and apple with a lingering finish of umami. Atsushi Nakano, the Master Brewer says they achieve a low ABV sake with enough body by, “setting a long and slow fermentation plan of at least 30 days and to lower the mash temperature to calm the yeast down before we filter the mash.” Try this sake chilled with summer greens, grilled shrimp, or shiitake.