As I mentioned in my article last week in my article entitled “How Is Sake Made?”, I recently tasted a great sake, which prompted me to do some research on this wonderful Japanese rice wine. Last week, I talked about how sake is made. This week the focus will be on different types of sake. Next week, we will focus on enjoying sake.
An Overview on the Different Types of Sake
In my research, I learned that there are many different types of sake. You can classify sake by all kinds of factors, including the type of rice used, where it was produced, the degree to which the rice is polished, brewing and filtering processes, and more.
After learning about these classifications, I’m excited to do a formal sake tasting, so I can start to distinguish all the different types of sake.
In the rest of this article, I will highlight the main types of sake you’re likely to encounter. Thanks to boutiquejapan.com, from whom I got a lot of this information.
Junmai is the Japanese word for “pure rice.” The term is used for sake with no additives such as sugar or brewers alcohol and with rice that has been polished to at least 70% (meaning at least 30% has been polished off). Junmai sake tends to have a rich full body with an intense, slightly acidic flavor. Junmai sake is usually served warm or at room temperature.
Even though “pure rice” sake sounds great (and it often is), don’t assume that non-junmai sake isn’t great too. According to boutiquejapan.com, skilled brewers judiciously use additives to “change and enhance flavor profiles and aromas, and can make for some very smooth and easy-to-drink sakes.”
Honjozo also uses rice that has been polished to at least 70%. However, honjozo contains a small amount of distilled brewers alcohol, which is added to smooth out the flavor and aroma of the sake. Honjozo sakes tend to be light and easy to drink and are enjoyed both warm and chilled.
Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo
Ginjo is premium sake that uses rice that has been polished to at least 60%. It is brewed using special yeast and fermenting techniques. The result is a light, sweet, fruity and complex flavor that is quite fragrant. It’s easy to drink and often served chilled. Junmai ginjo is ginjo sake that also fits the “pure rice” definition.
Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo
Daiginjo is super premium sake. It requires precise brewing methods and uses rice that has been polished all the way down to at least 50%. Daiginjo sakes are usually pricey and are served chilled to bring out their nice light, complex flavors and aromas. Daiginjo sake is known for its strong aroma and full body. Junmai daiginjo is daiginjo sake that also fits the “pure rice” definition.
Futsushu is sometimes referred to as table sake. The rice has barely been polished. This type of sake is very inexpensive and is probably a close equivalent to the keg beer you “enjoyed” in college J
Although sake is not generally aged like wine, it’s usually allowed to mature for around 6 months or more while the flavors mellow out. However, shiboritate sake goes directly from the presses into the bottles and out to market. Shiboritate sake tends to be wild and fruity, some even liken it to white wine. According to the experts, people aren’t in the middle with Shiboritate. They either love it or hate it.
Most sakes are pasteurized twice: once just after brewing, and once more before shipping. Nama-zake is unpasteurized so needs to be refrigerated. This type of sake often has a fresh, fruity flavor with a sweet aroma.
Nigori sake is cloudy white and coarsely filtered with very small bits of rice floating around in it. This is because a broader mesh is used for filtering. It’s generally the sweetest of all sakes and can range from silky smooth to thick and chunky. Wow, I can’t wait to try this type of sake! If you’ve tried it, please share your experience with us.
Jizake means “local sake” and is a term you’ll get to know if you’re traveling around Japan and trying the local brew, which usually goes very well with the local cuisine.
I’d like to end this article with an important note from boutiquejapan.com: Even though sake whose rice has been polished more gets a higher classification level, “don’t jump to the conclusion that just because you polish the rice more the sake will be better. Ginjo and daiginjo sakes are generally considered higher-end sakes – and are often more sought-after by sake experts – though often sake experts also love the cheaper local stuff, as long as it’s made from quality ingredients by good brewers. Ultimately you should trust your own palate and preferences.”
By the way, the sake that I thoroughly enjoyed when I was in Portland was a junmai sake. Please read my article next week to hear all about the great traditions associated with sake tasting.
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