There are a number of different kinds of sake. So in order to try to keep things as simple as possible, we are just going to focus on the major classifications and types. In addition to a good cup of sake, the information contained here is all you need for enjoying some sake tasting at a izakaya, bar or specialty sake shop.
Sake can be classified according to various factors, including: how it has been filtered, the brewing processes used, the degree to which the rice was polished, where it was produced, the kind of rice used and other factors.
Instead of overwhelming you, we would like you to enjoy the sake tasting process. Therefore, the following is a useful list of the major classifications and kinds of sake you are likely to come across. If you learn just all or even some of these, then you will know more about sake than about 99% of all tourists visiting Japan.
Junmai | SAKE
Junmai is a type of sake made with pure rice (non-additive). The junmai classification also means the rice that is used in making the sake has been polished 70% at least (which means that the percentage number shown on the bottle will be 70% or lower, for example 61-70%) – so a minimum of 30% was polished off. Although it can be difficult to over-generalize, junmai sake has a tendency to have a full rich body with a slightly acidic and intense flavor. This kind of sake can be especially nice when it is served at room temperature or warm.
This type of sake also uses rice that is polished 70% at least (like junmai that we previously mentioned). However, by definition, honjozo also contains a small quantity of distilled brewers alcohol. It is added to help smooth out the sake’s aroma and flavor. Quite often Honjozo sakes are easy to drink and light. They can be enjoyed both chilled or warm.
Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo | SAKE
Ginjo is a kind of premium sake. The rice used has been polished to 60% at least (so the percentage number that is shown on the bottle will be 60% or lower, or 51-60%) – so 40% at least has been polished off. Ginjo sake is brewed using special fermenting techniques and yeast. This often results in a complex, fruity and light flavor that can be very fragrant. It tends to be chilled and is quite easy to drink.
Junmai ginjo is just ginjo sake that fits the definition of pure rice (no additives) as well.
Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo| SAKE
This type is consider to be a super premium sake (“dai” means “big”). It is considered by many to be the very pinnacle of the art of brewing. Precise brewing methods are required and the rice that is used has been polished down to 50% at least (which means the percentage number shown on the bottle will be at 50% or lower) – so that 50% at least has been polished off. Quite often, Daiginjo sakes are fairly expensive. Usually they are served chilled in order to bring out their complex and light aromas and flavors.
Junmai daiginjo refers to sake that fits the definition of pure rice (no additives).
At times Futsushu is also called table sake. The rice that is used is barely polished (ranging from 93% to 70%), and although we really are not qualified to call ourselves sake snob – it’s really the only kind we would definitely recommend that you avoid! It is surprising, but you can actually get some good-quality sakes at quite reasonable prices, so try to avoid futsushu unless you want a bad hangover (along with flavor that isn’t all that special).
Shiboritate | SAKE
Sake usually isn’t aged the way that wine is. However, usually it is allowed to mature for about 6 months, or sometimes longer, to mellow out the flavor. But shiboritate sake goes from the presses directly into the bottle and then sent to the market. Individuals have a tendency to either hate it or love it. Shiboritate sake has a tendency to be fruity and wild. Some see it as being similar to white wine.
Nama-Zake | SAKE
A majoirty of sakes are pasteurized two times: one time right after they have been brewed, and then again right before they are shipped. One thing that is unique about Nama-zake is that it’s unpasteurized. Therefore to be kept fresh it must be refrigerated. Although it depends on some other factors as well, it frequently has a sweet aroma and fruity, fresh flavor.
Nigori | SAKE
This type of sake has a cloudy white appearance and is coarsely filtered with tiny bits of rice floating in it. Usually it is creamy and sweet, and can range from being thick and chunk to silky smooth.
This translate as “local sake.” When traveling to various parts of Japan it’s a good word for you to remember. Sake is brewed all across the country. Usually good jizake goes very well with the region’s local cuisine. Also, given that it is local, normally it is fresh and affordably priced.