Summer is my least favorite season in Japan. Stepping outside, the heat and humidity hits with startling force: the hot air weighs heavy on my limbs, enveloping me in a stifling and unwelcome embrace. The thought of spending the height of summer in Tokyo fills me with existential dread.
The season's one saving grace? Natsuzake (summer sake). Like a lot of craft beer breweries, many sake producers create drinks designed for summer sipping. Regular sake is graded on the amount the fermented rice has been polished — the more polished, the cleaner and more refined — but there is no legal or technical definition for varieties of natsuzake. While styles vary according to the brewery, most versions of it tend to be light, clean and refreshing. The original sake brewers were farmers who made sake during the agricultural off-season. They were the type of workers who understood the life-affirming pleasures afforded by a cool, crisp drink after a day of toil beneath the unrelenting Japanese sun. Today's natsuzake is created with precisely this image in mind.
Looking to lift my seasonal dread, I headed to Ebisu Kimijimaya, the newest Tokyo branch of the Yokohama-based liquor shop Yokohama Kimijimaya. I've been a regular customer ever since it opened a couple of months ago in the Atre Ebisu Nishikan building outside of Ebisu Station. In addition to the excellent selection of sake, wine and shōchū (distilled liquor), the shop features a tasting bar where you can sample a range of sake and wine, starting at ¥300 per glass.