Beau Timken, our resident expert, helps take the “guesswork” out of purchasing a bottle of sake. If you can address your wine and beer likes and dislikes then we can better match you to a sake that would speak to you. For example somebody who likes big Cabernets and Guinness or other stout beers will generally enjoy a different flavored sake than somebody who likes light beers and Chardonnay. We can get you into a general ballpark of textures and flavors and removes the “taking a chance” when buying a bottle of sake. It is 99% accurate and we have had a tremendous response to this system.
How do I read the SakeSocial Reviews for each sake?
How is sake categorized?
- The Brewery’s name and/or the “street” name of the sake translated into English.
- The Prefecture (or State) where that sake is made in Japan.
- The category of that sake. (See below for greater detail)
- SMV (Sake Meter Value) Is the measurement of the residual sugars in the sake, which denotes if it is a sweeter or dryer brew. The lower the number the sweeter, the higher the dryer. Below +2 tends to be sweeter and above +5 tends to be dryer. (See below for greater detail)
- Acidity number indicates the overall acidity of the sake with most brews residing between 1.3 – 1.5 Sakes with acidity levels below 1.3 tend to be light bodied and levels above 1.5 tend to be full-bodied. (See below for greater detail)
- The aroma components, taste and texture descriptions. What to look for in a particular sake.
- WORD is a one-word summary that best captures the essence of the sake.
- WINE are the wines that generally fit the palate of the drinker of that particular sake.
- BEER are the beers that generally fit the palate of the drinker of that particular sake.
- FOODS are general and sometimes specific cuisines that best accompany that particular sake.
Sake is categorized by how much each grain of brewing rice is polished or milled. Huh? Similar to wine there are many different varietals of brewing rice as there are different grape varietals. But where wine categorizes by those grape varietals (Cabernet, Chardonnay etc) sake, which has about 60 really popular brewing rice varietals to choose from, categorizes by how much all the different rice strains are milled (polished). When you eat consumption rice they have removed roughly 10% each grain to achieve “white rice.” There is no such thing as naturally occurring white rice, all rice is brown rice, and sake brewing rice, which is twice as starchy as consumption rice, is no different. So the more you remove the outer layers of each grain of rice, the different the category of sake. Why do they polish rice? The endgame for sake making is to convert starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol. Thus starch, which rests on the inside of each grain of rice and is surrounded by layers of fats, minerals, proteins, lipids, and vitamins - nutrients that are good for you and bad for making sake, makes better sake. The more you remove the impurities the more refined the sake, and the different the category:
CLASS X: Sakes that are made using just rice, mold and water.
- JUNMAI – The rice has been polished (milled) 30% with 70% of each grain remaining.
- JUNMAI GINJO – The rice has been polished (milled) 40% with 60% of each grain remaining.
- JUNMAI DAI GINJO – The rice has been polished (milled) 50% with 50% of each grain remaining.
CLASS Y: Sakes that are made using rice, mold, water, and added brewer’s alcohol. (See below)
- HONJOZO – The rice has been polished (milled) 30% with 70% of each grain remaining.
- GINJO – The rice has been polished (milled) 40% with 60% of each grain remaining.
- DAI GINJO – The rice has been polished (milled) 50% with 50% of each grain remaining.
The word JUNMAI has two meanings. First it is a milling rate of 30% removal and 70% remaining. But more importantly it is also the term used for sakes that do NOT use added brewer’s alcohol, thus the sake is just made with rice and water only.
Brewer’s Alcohol and the addition thereof is not a bad thing in regards to making sake. When alcohol is added to sake it is NOT used to make the sake stronger (fortified) rather it is used to bring out larger aromas, soften the texture, and to achieve a different type of character of sake that differs from a just water and rice (Junmai) only sake.
What other types of sake are there?
- NAMA is sake that has not been pasteurized the typical two times. Think Beaujolais wines!
- NIGORI is sake that has not been filtered, thus the unfermented rice particles are left in this “cloudy sake.”
- GENSHU is sake that has NOT been diluted with added water to bring down the alcohol content.
- TARU is sake that is fermented then placed in cedar casks to give it a cedar flavor component.
- KINPAKU is sake that has gold flakes in it for celebrations and decedent occasions.
- KOSHU is sake that has been purposely aged.
- KIJOSHU is sake that has been made in a way to make it more sweet and is considered an after dinner drink.
What is the Sake Meter value or Nihonshu-do?
The SMV is the measurement of the residual sugars found in a completed batch of fermented sake. Basically it is an indicator of how sweet or dry a sake is, and represents a generality more than a definitive barometer. The lower the number the sweeter the sake and the higher the number the dryer the sake. Please keep in mind that “sweet” in sake terms is not as “sweet” as in wine terms. Thus don’t be surprised if dry wine lovers actually like sweeter sakes. In general here are the ranges: -5 to –2 tend to be sweet, -1 to +2 tend to be semi-sweet, +3 to +5 tend to be semi-dry, and +6 to +10 tend to be dry.
What is the Acidity of a sake?
The Acidity or “San-Do” is a measurement of the overall acidity that is within that particular sake. Acidity should be considered the vehicle that moves flavors and textures and as such it is the first thing that touches your tongue and the last element that leaves your palate. It is a good indicator of the “body” of the sake in terms of full-bodied or light bodied. Acidity levels range between 1.0 and 2.0 in general with the average level for most sakes around 1.3 – 1.5 . Anything below 1.3 and the sake will usually be very light (gentle) and light bodied, and anything above 1.5 tends to be more full-bodied and rich in most cases. Old-style sakes like Kimoto or Yamahai methods tend to have a higher acidity level.