A trip to Japan isn’t complete until you try some sake. Being the birthplace of all things sake, it can be a little overwhelming for tourists who don’t know much about this special drink. Luckily for you, we’re here to help.
te until you try some sake. Being the birthplace of all things sake, it can be a little overwhelming for tourists who don’t know much about this special drink. Luckily for you, we’re here to help.
There are several types of sake that you should know about. So keep on reading and we’ll take you through everything you’ll want to know.
What Is Sake?
Sake actually has different meanings, depending on where you are in the world. In the English-speaking world, “sake” refers to the alcoholic fermented rice drink from Japan. If you’ve gone to your neighborhood izakaya (sake bar), this is the kind of drink that you were served.
However, if you ask for “sake” in Japan, you might be given some quizzical looks. Why is this? It’s because “sake” in Japan refers to all alcoholic beverages in general.
In Japan, sake refers to shochu, wine, beer, as well as the beverage that we know as “sake” in the West.
So what do the Japanese call “sake?” In Japan, the word for “sake” as Westerners know it is nihonshu. This word translates to “Japanese alcohol.”
Sake has been around since at least the eighth century AD. However, some historians think that it was consumed hundreds of years before this time.
Sake is brewed using highly polished sake mai rice, yeast, a mold called Aspergillus oryzae (also used in the fermentation of soy sauce), and water.
Fine sakes are aged for at least one year. And many variations have an alcohol by volume content between fifteen and twenty percent.
Strong undiluted sake is known as Genshu and it tends to be at least twenty percent alcohol.
Polishing and Junmai
If you’re new to sake, it’s important to know that there isn’t just one type. There are many different kinds of sake.
One of the first steps in producing sake is the polishing of the rice. Before the sake is made, the rice kernel needs to be polished, or milled. This is to get rid of the outer layer of each grain of rice.
The more the rice has been polished, the higher the classification level. However, just because the rice is more polished doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be better. It’s really going to come down to the quality of the rice itself.
Junmai is a Japanese word that means “pure rice.” Junmai is only brewed with koji, yeast, water, and rice.
Now that we know about polishing and junmai, we can go over the different types of sake wine.
As we stated earlier, junmai is a pure rice sake. Also, the junmai classification means that the rice was polished to at least seventy percent. Junmai sake usually has a rich full body and a slightly acidic and intense flavor.
Junmai is best served at room temperature or warm.
Honjozo also uses rice that’s been at least seventy percent polished. The difference is that honjozo, by definition, needs to contain a small amount of distilled brewers alcohol. This smooths out the flavor and aroma of the sake, when added.
Honjozo sakes are usually light and easy to drink. You can try them both chilled and warm.
3. Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo
Ginjo is premium sake that utilizes rice that’s been polished to at least sixty percent. It’s brewed using special yeast and fermentation techniques. This leads to a fruity, light, and complex flavor that also tends to be fairly fragrant.
Ginjo is easy to drink and tends to be served chilled.
Junmai ginjo is ginjo that’s made without any additives.
4. Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo
Daiginjo is super premium sake and is seen as the pinnacle of the brewer’s art by many sake connoisseurs. You need to exercise precise brewing methods and use rice that’s been polished to at least fifty percent in order to make daiginjo.
Daiginjo sakes tend to be fairly expensive. They’re usually served chilled in order to bring out their light and complex aromas and flavors.
As you might have guessed, junmai daiginjo is daiginjo sake that’s made without any additives.
Futsushu is sometimes referred to as table sake. The rice for this sake has barely been polished. This is usually regarded as lower-quality sake.
While sake isn’t generally aged to the same extent that wine is, it’s usually allowed to mature for several months while the flavors smooth out. However, shiboritate sake goes straight from the presses into the bottles and out to market.
This kind of sake tends to have a fruity flavor and some enthusiasts will compare it to white wine.
Nigori is a cloudy white sake. It’s coarsely filtered with tiny bits of rice floating around inside of it. This is usually creamy and sweet. It can range from smooth to thick and creamy.
This kind of sake tends to be much more popular in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan than in Japan.
The Importance of Knowing About the Different Types of Sake to Taste in Japan
As we can see, there are many different types of sake out there. And each kind of sake tends to have its own set of loyalists who swear by their preferred variation. The next time you go to Japan, make sure to taste several different kinds and see which type you enjoy most.
Looking for more fun things to do in the land of the rising sun? Make sure to check out our articles on things to do in Japan for more!