Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association | JSS
In the sprawling center of the US, Chicago brings a splash of urban living to the Midwest. It has all the conveniences of a major metropolis. When it comes to Japanese dining, Chicago has plenty to offer. But, in recent years, groceries and other Japanese exports have become easier to access outside of specialty restaurants. This includes one of Japan’s most well-known cultural products: sake. When setting out to buy sake in Chicago, you can visit a shop in person, order online, or venture outside the city for more selection. Consider what sake would suit your needs and follow these tips to secure the best sake for your home bar.
Here are some well-known retailers that have one or more locations in Chicago’s central neighborhoods. Shops are listed in alphabetical order.
Binny’s Beverage Depot is one of the largest liquor supply chains in the Midwest. With both a large selection and several stores within Chicago, Binny’s offers shoppers plenty of opportunities to try sake. In fact, the chain offers the widest range of sake brands within the Chicago city limits. Binny’s stocks sake from breweries in Japan and the western United States. Varieties include well-known brands, bargain single-cup sake, and high-end, boutique bottles.
On Saturday afternoons, shoppers can visit Binny’s for a sampling open house. Virtual events offer more structured tastings. Email the store or check their social media to schedule or learn about upcoming tastings.
Binny’s has seven shops in Chicago, spanning the distance from Lakeview to Hyde Park. Check the website to find the most convenient location and browse the sake selection. Binny’s also offers online orders with delivery and pickup options for the greater Chicago area.
Binny’s Beverage Depot
In the northwestern Irving Park neighborhood, Joong Boo Market provides shoppers with a wide selection of Korean and other Asian groceries. Known for their snack counter, the market also hosts an extensive liquor section. While most of the stock includes soju, Joong Boo Market has one of the most beloved sake selections in the city. Their sake brands eschew the typical labels found in general liquor stores for more niche, regional breweries. The staff can also offer suggestions for food pairing options and other recommendations.
The main location is off the Kimball exit on the Kennedy Expressway. However, the market also has a wholesale store on the northern city limits. Sign up for the market newsletter for updates on sales and new liquor and sake stock.
Joong Boo Market
3333 N. Kimball Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
5800 N. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL 60646
Perman Wine Selections sits on the western edge of Chicago’s Near North Side neighborhood. As a high-end wine shop, the store also stocks sake from over 20 different breweries in Japan. The sake selection primarily consists of junmai, junmai ginjo, and daiginjo varieties. Each sake has a description of its origin and taste profile from aroma to finish.
The shop often hosts tasting events in part of a weekly or specialty series. Past events include sampling tours of various Japanese breweries and distilleries. Participation in tastings must be booked in advance on the company website. The website also hosts a schedule of upcoming events, also announced in the company e-newsletter.
Perman Wine Selections
1167 N. Howe Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Alcohol delivery services have grown in popularity over the last ten years. Once limited only to the biggest US cities, more delivery services now include urban areas outside of the coasts. Chicago’s biggest alcohol delivery services require a membership for ID verification purposes. However, both companies offer an increasingly growing selection of sake. The variety depends on local retail partners. But, the pool of partners allows for a total greater variety than individual stores. As a result, ordering online is a suitable option for more experienced sake drinkers who know their preferences. Shops are listed in alphabetical order.
Drizly started as an alcohol e-commerce shop in 2012, servicing the Boston area. Today, the company offers delivery in over 20 US states and major cities like Chicago. Most deliveries take between 30 and 60 minutes. The service partners with local retailers to increase delivery speeds and provide efficient delivery of temperature-sensitive alcohol. The company offers an extensive sake selection, including junmai, sparkling, and even futsushu varieties.
Each sake entry includes a description of the flavor profile. Additional information includes facts about the origin of the brewery and serving suggestions. More popular sake also has pairing suggestions. The highly customizable filter menu allows shoppers to search based on preferred sweetness or dryness and intended food pairing as well as brand or category.
Mainly operating in Southern California, Saucey recently expanded service to include the Chicago area. With a standardized delivery model, Saucey offers deliveries in less than 30 minutes. There is also no delivery fee, though they encourage tipping their contracted team of drivers.
The sake selection at Saucey is limited compared to other options, offering mostly big-name brands. However, the sake categories are fairly extensive, including junmai, draft and flavored sake, and Nigori. The website offers little explanation of the sake, making it less suitable for new sake enthusiasts. But, the convenience, bargain, and speed of delivery make Saucey a good option for casual, yet experienced sake drinkers.
While Chicago hosts many international shops within the city limits, some of the bigger specialty shops lie in the surrounding suburbs. A quick drive offers shoppers greater variety, particularly for Japanese goods. The increased space allows for bigger Asian brand stores to operate. These stores often have much larger sake selections than the smaller shops downtown. Shops are listed in alphabetical order.
Mitsuwa Marketplace is the largest chain of Japanese Supermarkets in the US. The company started in 1998 in San Jose, California. Since then, shops within the chain grew to include 11 locations in five states. The Chicago area location is the largest Japanese market in the Midwest. The large, multi-store complex houses some of the only central US locations of certain Japanese retailers.
Mitsuwa stocks one of the largest sake selections among American grocery chains. The sake aisle rivals the full range of traditional wines in western supermarkets. Due to the company’s focus on carrying imported Japanese goods, Mitsuwa offers the area’s best variety of specialty sake. Flavored and unfiltered Nigori sake line the shelves alongside high-quality junmai daiginjo.
The company does not offer an online store. However, they announce their sales and promotional sake items on their website, through a newsletter, and on social media.
100 E. Algonquin Rd
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
H Mart began as a small Korean corner store in Woodside, New York in 1982. Today, the company operates as the largest Asian American grocery chain with 84 stores across the country. While the store primarily stocks Korean goods, they do stock other Asian groceries, including many Japanese goods.
Smaller H Mart stores do not carry alcohol. However, the large Super H Mart in Niles does have a liquor section. Most of the stock consists of soju and other Korean alcohols. But, the store does offer a wide variety of sake compared to its competitors. Most of the sake represents popular categories, particularly junmai ginjo sake. However, the selection includes a variety of quality, price points, and brewery origins.
Super H Mart
801 Civic Center Drive
Niles, IL 60714
Compared to the more populated coastal US cities, Chicago may fall behind in certain aspects. But, when it comes to sake appreciation, the city is right on track. Chicago residents have the option to enjoy sake in one of the city’s specialty sake bars, but also in the comfort of their own home. Sake novices can visit niche downtown liquor stores to sample different brands firsthand. Experts have the option to order sake directly to their door. Plus, anyone seeking a well-rounded experience can venture a short distance outside the city and choose from the largest sake selection in the Midwest. No matter what your sake preferences are, you can find your perfect sake in Chicago.