Sake Information and Terminology

In this article, we have gathered together instructions on how to classify sake, and terminology that may be useful when making a selection. You’ll be well on your way to becoming a sake master after reading this article.

1. General Classification of Sake

Many people become indecisive when choosing sake, as there are a number of brands and types of sake on the market. Types of sake can be classified by their manufacturing processes. Having a knowledge of these types will be the foundation of your decision making. First, all Japanese sake is made from rice and koji (type of mold used for fermenting), though some contain distilled alcohol. Sake that contains only rice, koji and water is called junmai. Seimaibuai, a ratio indicating the quantity of rice used in the production of the sake, will be shown on the bottle. If the quantity of rice was reduced by 30%, it will be labeled “seimaibuai 70%”. The higher the percentage, the fruitier the taste. Types of sake suitable for atsukan (hot sake) are those with lower seimaibuai percentages. Sake products with higher percentages are likely to be more expensive as the number implies more rice and a more complicated manufacturing process. The seimaibuai percentage does not, however, indicate the rank or the quality of the sake. Preferences will differ between people, so please find your own favorite kind.

(1) Types of Junmai Sake

With junmai sake the taste of rice is more apparent as the only ingredients are water, koji, and rice. It has a clear flavor and is usually sweet. Although not a formal rule, it is commonly said that sake with a seimaibuai percentage around than 70% is called junmai sake. Also, by regulation, sake with less than 60% is called junmai ginjou-shu, and that below 50% is called junmai daiginjou-shu. Junmaishu is suited for those who are not used to drinking sake, as it has less bitterness to its taste.

(2) Japanese Sake Containing Distilled Alcohol

Sake containing distilled alcohol with a seimaibuai percentage below 70% is called honjouzou-shu, below 60% is called ginjou-shu, and below 50% is called daiginjou-shu. Most of these kinds of sake have a drier taste. Honjouzou-shu has a simple taste, so it pairs well with food. Ginjou-shu is recommended for sake beginners for its simple taste.

2. Various Kinds of Japanese Sake

There are more types of sake than the primary types we have introduced above. When different types of sake are fused with these primary types, they are called ginjo namachozou-shu, and junmai daiginjou namagen-shu.

(1) Arabashiri

This is a murky sake that is produced naturally when fermented sake is squeezed. It has a unique freshness, and because only a small portion can be extracted it is highly valued for its rarity.

(2) Genshu

While usually the alcohol percentage of sake is controlled by adding water, genshu is undiluted. The alcohol percentage is approximately 20%, higher than normal sake for which the percentage is around 13% to 16%. Genshu has a deep, rich flavor.

(3) Koshu

Koshu is also called jukuseishu (matured sake), and is aged for more than a year. It has a ripe, smooth flavor and is priced higher than other types of sake. In contrast, sake made and sold in the same year is called shinshu (new sake).

(4) Namashu, Namazake, Kizake

These are types of sake made without a heating process normally performed twice during production. They have a pure flavor that can only be tasted with sake that has been freshly squeezed. Those heated once prior to shipment are called namachozou-shu, while others that were heated once, but not prior to shipment, are called hiyaoroshi.

(5) Nigorishu

This is a murky sake that is grated with rough fabric when the sake is squeezed. Nigori, the unrefined substance, is rich in nutrients and is said to help you avoid heat exhaustion. Although it is common to shake the bottle when the nigori has settled inside to distribute the flavor, the flavors of states that are equally mixed, lightly mixed, and without nigori all have different tastes you can try. The ability of nigorishu to offer various tastes in a single bottle is one of its charms.

Having a basic knowledge of Japanese sake will definitely help with ordering in restaurants and purchasing sake as a souvenir. We hope you will find a type of sake especially suited to your preferences.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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