Ah, sake… delicate, but complex. Sharp, but balanced. Delicious, but deadly! Japan Centre has the best selection of sake in Europe, brush up on your knowledge then choose a sake to get you started on your merry way!
What is Sake?
Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink made from rice and similar to wine it comes in a huge variety of different grades depending on the quality of rice used, the % the rice is polished (milled), the additional ingredients that are added during the brewing process and even the way it is stored. All these factors can make the difference between a cheap and cheerful sake, or a premium, exclusive sake that can cost hundreds of pounds a bottle. Having been developed alongside Japanese cuisine so that it harmonises with the delicate flavours of Japan’s fish-rich diet, sake is a perfect accompaniement to any Japanese meal and should be drunk in unison to complete you Japanese dining experience.
Keep reading for a quick tour of the different types of sake available.
First, a Little Background of Sake & The Brewing Process
Sake is made from rice that is fermented with koji, a type of mould, then mixed with pure water to create our favourite tipple! Being a rice wine, the variety and preparation of the rice is paramount to creating a high quality, delicious tasting sake.
The first important step is to to remove the outer layer of rice bran and oils to get to the starchy centre of the rice grain. The rice is milled or polished to a different amount depending on the sake being brewed. This can range from polishing away 30% for a standard sake to 50% for a premium sake.
After the rice has completed fermenting and the liquids are separated, some varieties of sake receive a type of distilled alcohol to help extract the delicate flavour and aromas. They are then filtered to remove any excess solids and pasteurised before being bottled and consumed.
So, What Are The Different Varieties of Sake?
Futsu-shu is the standard basic type of sake. It is often considered a table sake, something easy to drink on any occasion. It contains a large amount of distilled alcohol added after fermentation and is not considered one of the premium types of sake. That being said, there are many types of futsu-shu sake that are quite delicious!
Honjozo is the beginning of the more premium classifications of sake. It is made to a high standard with rice polished to below 70% of its original size and also includes a little added distilled alcohol.
Junmai is similar to Honjozo in the type of ingredients and preparation with the exception of added distilled alcohol which is absent in Junmai. This gives junmai a pure, clean taste.
Tokubetsu means ‘special’ in Japanese and is applied to both Honjozo and Junmai types of sake. Tokubetsu sake uses higher quality rice which is often polished to less than 60% of its original size. Distilled alcohol is then added for Tokubetsu Honjozo or left out for Tokubetsu Junmai.
Ginjo is the next grade up from Tokubetsu and uses excellent quality ingredients for a full flavoured taste and aroma. As before, Ginjo sake can have distilled alcohol added, or can be a Junmai Ginjo if none is added.
Daiginjo is the highest quality sake you can find and uses rice grains that are polished to less than 50% for a light, complex and fragrant taste. Again distilled alcohol is added to normal Daiginjo and the purer Junmai Daiginjo contains none.
Other Sake Varieties
Sake can come in other variants apart from the ones detailed above such as Namazake, an unpasteurised sake, Nigori Sake, which is left unfiltered to give it a cloudy appearance and Taru Sake, a variety that is aged in wooden casks made from sugi, a Japanese cedar which gives it an earthy, natural flavour and aroma.
Japan Centre has one of the largest selections of authentic Japanese sake in Europe so head on over to our website and browse all the types of sake we have available. A bottle of sake makes a great gift for any friends or family who claim they already have everything they want! After all, everyone loves a delicious drink! 🙂