Sake is a Japanese alcohol that is unique in its own special way. The Japanese legal name for the drink is Seishu. It is made from sake rice that's fermented in the presence of fungus and yeast. There are many different types of sake, and it is a good idea to consider them before you can choose one or several that you would enjoy.
Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, Honjozo-shu and Namazake are the five main kinds of sake. They are brewed in slightly different ways and make use of different percentage of milling and hence, have a unique taste. Seimai Buai, or the degree of milling, makes all the difference to the sake. The drink is made with sake rice which is stripped of the bran in order to remove the protein and oil that the grain contains.
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Another notable difference is the addition of pure alcohol to the fermented drink. Unlike what some people think, the addition of brewer’s alcohol doesn’t adulterate the sake but may actually add to its richness and improve the shelf life of the sake. It may be difficult to distinguish one type of sake from the other and so, it is recommended that people pay attention to the details mentioned on the label on the bottle.
Junmai-shu contains pure unadulterated sake and no brewer’s alcohol is added to it. No additional starch or sugar is added to the alcohol. Junmai-shu uses Seimai Buai of a minimum of 70% of milled rice. This means that no more than 70% of the rice maintains its original size. Only about 30% of the rice grain has its outer layer removed. While there is no legal specification regarding the amount of milled rice in Junmai-shu but brewers are required to mention this amount on the label.
Junmai-shu sake has a full and rich body. It has a higher acidic level as compared to some other types of sake. Its fragrance is not very prominent and is often served hot. Some other types of sake such as Ginjo-shu and Daiginjo-shu can also be considered as Junmai-shu if no alcohol is added to them.
The Ginjo-shu is made with rice, of which 40% is milled, while 60% retain their original size. It has a wonderful aroma, and has a delicate and light flavor. Brewer’s of Ginjo-shu use a special type of yeast and the rice mash is fermented in low temperatures. It also requires labor-intensive techniques to prepare the sake. It is best served cold to retain its flavor and aroma.
The Daiginjo-shu is a type of Ginjo-shu. It too uses a rice mash made with sake rice that includes milled rice in a percentage between 35%-50%. This alcohol is high on fragrance and has a full body, delicate taste and a brief tail.
Honjozo-shu uses sake rice which has a Seimai Buai or the degree of milling of 70%. This means that 70% of the grain retains its original size, while 30% is milled. The sake is made by adding brewer’s alcohol and is not as potent as sake that is made without the addition of alcohol. This addition is responsible for giving the sake a light and smooth body and flavor. It also makes the aroma of the drink distinct and easily identified. The Honjozo-shu is ideally served warm.
Namazake basically means that the alcohol is not pasteurized. All types of sake can be Namazake. Therefore, Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu or any other types of sake can be Namazake. This type of alcohol needs to be refrigerated so that the flavor and aroma of the drink does not change. Some other types of sake include Jizake or sake that is produced by small brewers and is not mass produced. This doesn’t always mean that it is high quality sake.
Unfiltered sake is referred to as Nigori-zake. It is cloudy and not clear like some of the other sake. It also often has some koji rice in the bottle. It is sweet and makes a great dessert drink. The Kijoshu is also considered to be dessert sake. It uses less water and more sake during the fermentation process.
The process of brewing sake is influenced by many factors including the type of sake rice, the amount that is milled, the water used for the process and the addition of brewer’s alcohol. Ideally the alcohol should not be matured more than 9 to 12 months. If it is aged for longer, it is called Koshu, and has a rougher and stronger texture and flavor.
Sake has a high Alcohol by Volume of about 17%-19%. Usually a brewer dilutes it by adding water before bottling the alcohol. If the sake is bottled undiluted it is Genshu. Some other types of sake that may interest you include the following:
Infused sake: This is a rather popular form of the drink. It includes fruits flavors such as apple, cherry and raspberry. It is sweet and fruity and ideal for mixing cocktails.
Akai sake: This sake has a distinct reddish color that is attributed to the use of a special type of Koji fungus.
Taru sake: If the sake is stored in cedar barrels then it is referred to as Taru or cedar sake. It has a woody and earthy texture and aroma that many find appealing.
Sparkling sake: This is a ‘bubbly’ of a different kind. The sake is treated to a secondary level of fermentation giving the alcohol a light and sweet flavor. The alcohol by volume is not as high as it is for other types of sake.
Kinapaku-iri: This is expensive sake that contain gold flakes. The addition does not influence the flavor and aroma greatly.
Arabashiri: is the name given to the sake that is not matured and is usually produced from the sake first pressed out of the rice mash. It has a full body, and is quite enjoyable.
Until the 1990s, sake was classified by the Japanese government as Tokkyu or special class, Ikkyu or first class and Nikkyu or second class. This made it easy to shop for a bottle of sake that matched your specifications and expectations. However, this type of ranking has now been phased out. So, you need to pay attention to the different types of sake in the market so that you can choose correctly according to your taste and palate.
In addition to its classification, a sake can also be made in several different styles. These styles are often included in the product name and on the label, and indicate a deviation from the standard brewing process.
Genshu: Undiluted sake which does not have water added prior to bottling. Its higher alcohol level (around 18-19%), makes it suitable for heavier foods or an after-dinner drink.
Nama: Unpasteurized sake which must be kept refrigerated at all times. It often has a fresher and livelier flavor profile.
Namachozo: Sake that is pasteurized only once, after bottling. It should also be kept refrigerated, and also tends to have livelier flavors, although it is somewhat more subdued than nama sake.
Koshu: Sake which is aged by brewers for anywhere up to about 5 years. While practices differ greatly among brewers, koshu sake tends to have more earthiness and a generally stronger flavor profile.
Yamahai/Kimoto: These terms refer to brewing methods in which the yeast starter is made in a more labor-intensive manner and without the addition of lactic acid, and therefore requires longer to develop. Both tend to impart gamier, more pronounced flavors to the sake.
Nigori: Sake which is cloudy, due to the use of a coarser press or the addition of some of the lees after pressing. Nigori sake is therefore thicker, and while it is often sweeter as well, it can have a wide range of flavors.
Hello, thank you for providing all this information for beginner sake drinkers to take into consideration. I was wondering though, is there a such thing as sweet hot sake? I don’t think I would like dry sake if it’s the same as dry wines. I like sweet wines, so I’m willing to bet I will like sweet sake. I hope this is not a stupid question, and if it is, you don’t have to reply if you don’t want to. Thank you again for sharing your experience and knowledge. It’s greatly appreciated.