Good sake or ‘Nihon Shu’ is a clean, low acidity and mostly vegan drink with no chemicals added and enjoyed by millions around the world. In this second article of the trilogy, we look at how to choose sake and explore the multitude of options on the market.
Choosing a sake
There are approximately 1,200 sake breweries in Japan making different styles and types of sake. A brewery can make up to 8 styles (occasionally more) depending on rice variety, koji and yeast. They can also make unfiltered, undiluted and even unpasteurised sake. Beyond Japan, sake is now made all over the world using local and imported rice, local water and yeasts. The quality of sake generally depends on how much of the rice grain is polished, the yeast, koji style used and the fermentation method.
Questions to ask when choosing sake:
- Will it be basic sake or premium sake?
- Junmai or non-Junmai (based on whether alcohol is added or not)?
- Drinking sake with or without food?
- Hot or cold?
As a general rule of thumb, sake should always be bought and drunk fresh. The better the sake, the more polished the rice grain is. The better the sake is, the cooler the temperature is for drinking. However, this is a general guide and down to personal preference.
General classification of sakes:
Futsushu: Basic sake, up to approx. 70% polish rate, alcohol added
Junmai: Basic to premium sake, up to approx. 60% polish rate
Honjozo: Premium sake, up to approx. 60% polish rate
Ginjo: Premium sake, up to approx. 50% polish rate, alcohol added
Junmai Ginjo: Premium sake, up to approx. 50% polish rate
Daiginjo: Premium sake, below 50% polish rate, alcohol added
Junmai Daiginjo: Premium sake, below 50% polish rate
Some brewers make Tokubetsu (special) sake where the sake can technically be placed in a superior category but has chosen not to by using a higher rice polish.
Today sees many styles of sake with different aromas, taste and textures. Cloudy, aged, unpasteurised, fruit flavoured or made with different varieties of rice, koji and yeast.
Nigorizake: Cloudy sake
Sparkling sake: Champagne-like sake with delicate bubbles
Yamahai/Kimoto: A very interesting old method of making sake
Taruzake: Cedar cask sake
Koshu: Aged sake
Genshu: Undiluted sake
Ume shu: Plum wine
Yuzushu: Yuzu wine
Amazake: Fresh moromi (low alcohol sake)
Muroka: Sake that has not gone through charcoal filtration
Check out Japan Centre’s wide range of sake at https://www.japancentre.com/en/categories/905-sake
Director British Sake Association
Association of Wine Educators