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A bottle of Ichishima Breweries Karen Sake with a mischievous cat on the label

Sake Review: Karen Sweet Junmai – Lady Only?!

Dec. 27. 2021
by Cindy Bissig

Ichishima Brewery – Behind the Sake

Ichishima Brewery is located in Shibata, about an hour from Niigata. It was founded by the Ichishima family more than 200 years ago and their Brewery now also holds a small sake museum where historical documents and artefacts related to the family and the brewery are on display. 

You can even go on a tour, which generally does not require reservations, however, it is advised to check their homepage for available dates and if in doubt contact them (especially during the pandemic). The tour includes the opportunity to examine a variety of equipment that would have been used for sake brewing through the centuries, ancient jars and bottles as well as sake barrels and so on.

Of course, there is also a chance to taste the sake, with a variety of products to be available to sample for free and if you do take a liking to one (or all of them), the adjacent shop will let you pick up your favourite brew. It is also worth mentioning, that there is usually some limited sake that can only be purchased here, so make sure to ask the staff for it.

Ichishima Brewery Sake Profiles

Similar to many breweries in Japan, Ichishima Brewery is dedicated to using only the best ingredients. As for the rice, they mainly use Gohyakumangoku rice from the Hokuriku region because of its crispy and dry touch. Another variety used, especially in their higher grade sake includes Koshitanrei, which is also acquired from producers within the Niigata region.

Interesting to know is that their water comes from the Kaji river, located in Kita-echigo. The reason behind this is that this water is particularly soft and therefore allows for slower brewing, which as a result is said to produce higher-quality sake.

Of course, the environment also plays its part, as the Echigo plain is well-known all through Japan for its rice production as well as its favourable climate. Low temperatures and moderate snowfall bring the perfect conditions to make sake, which is why so much great sake come out of this area…

All of the above combined and of course, the great people who put in the work, are what makes Ichishima Breweries sake unique, with four distinct product lines being made. These include high-end “Aumon”, “Hidematsu” and “Yume” as well as “Karen”, a sake range designed for a younger crowd.

The five products in the Karen line are particularly made to appeal to a younger audience, which is visible already in their design. They are also meant to be an introduction to sake to people who would normally choose wine. All of them are low in alcohol and with a fruity taste profile, or as the producer calls it “light, sweet and gently flavoured sake”.

The Sake – Karen Sweet Junmai

This sake is part of the Karen product line and it is called “Karen Sweet Junmai” with a note saying “for ladies only”. To be honest I personally am not sure how I feel about that. Its red label furthermore features a mischievous wine glass holding cat with a message saying “ステキなよるダネベイビー”, which loosely translates into “It is a nice evening baby".

The bottle is tinted in a shade of rose, not to get confused, as the sake itself is clear. Furthermore leaning into the gender stereotypes. However, I do see the thought behind the branding, trying to create a unique product tailor-made to attract a female demographic, with a pinch of humour – why not. This will certainly stand out on any shelf and could make a great icebreaker and get a conversation started.

Now to focus on the actual sake, I personally do like the idea of a low alcohol sake, so with 11% the Karen Sweet Junmai intrigued me. Tasting it, this is a sweet, medium-bodied sake, which alignes nicely with the design.

It has a very syrupy, velvet texture which I quite enjoyed. It is fruity and very sweet, with hints of peach and plum, reminding me a bit of umeshu. This almost makes me want to drink it on the rocks and makes me think it could be used in a sake cocktail. It is definitely better served chilled, which is also the recommendation of the maker. However, I also thought it drinks well at room temperature, but it does intensive in sweetness.

As for how this sake pairs, I can only see it as an apperitive on its own or together with mellow flavoured or fruit based desserts. For example, milk or vanilla ice cream, peach cobbler, tarte tatin, or maybe Kakigori style – poured over shaved ice? Possibly strawberries and cream or a sweet crepe. Definately a dessert sake for me.


Semaibuai: 65%

Sake Alcohol Content:  11%

Sake Rice: 

Bottle size: 500ml

Brewery: Ichishima Sake Brewery

Location: Niigata