Welcome to Japan Centre’s Sake Series. Whether you’re a sake connoisseur or a complete beginner, let the Japan Centre be your guide to the rich world of sake. Part 2: Choosing Your Sake will guide you through the different types of sake, from basic to premium, with recommendations for all tastes and budgets from Japan Centre Sake Sommelier Sachiko Koyama.
For a brief history of sake and an overview of how it’s made, have a read of Part 1: What is Sake and How is it Made? Our final two blog posts will focus on serving and drinking sake, ideas for tasty food pairings, and creative ways to enjoy sake, including colourful cocktails and sweet fruit options such as umeshu (plum based sake).
Polished to Perfection
If you’ve read the first of our four-part sake series you’ll know that perfecting the art of sake brewing takes many years, with tricks of the trade often handed down from generation to generation. Many of Japan’s great sake breweries have been around for hundreds of years, the oldest being Sudo Honke, founded in 1141.
Although sake taste and quality can be affected by many factors (from the type of rice and purity of water used, to brewing techniques) one of the main things that differentiates premium sake from standard sake is the amount by which the rice has been milled. The more the rice has been polished down to remove the husk, the higher the quality of the sake. Premium sake doesn’t contain any added alcohol either.
Sake Types, from Basic to Premium
Japan Centre Sake Sommelier Sachiko Koyama brings you some of her top sake recommendations to suit a variety of different tastes and budgets, from refreshing sparkling sake and creamy nigori sake to premium junmai daiginjo.
- Futsushu (standard) sake. This is the sake equivalent of a house / table wine and is an inexpensive option which has been brewed using quicker, more modern techniques than some of the more premium sake types.
- Recommendation: Gekkeikan Nama
- Honjozo: Higher quality than standard sake, made with rice polished to between 60-70% of its original size. Brewed alcohol is added after fermentation for a cleaner, more delicate flavour.
- Recommendations: Nihon Sakari Nama Genshu / Gekkeikan Tokusen
- Junmai: Similar quality to Honjozo sake. No distilled alcohol is added to Junmai, so its flavours are fuller and more mellow.
- Recommendations: Kasumitsuru Kimoto / Zaku Honotomo
- Ginjo / Junmai Ginjo: The second highest sake grade and is made using slower, more traditional brewing techniques. Rice is polished to at least 60% of its original size. Brewed alcohol is then either left out for Junmai Ginjo, or added for regular Ginjo.
- Recommendation: Manotsuru Dry Ginjo
- Daiginjo / Junmai Daiginjo: The highest quality of sake available. Daiginjo is brewed with rice polished to less than 50% of its original size. Junmai Daiginjo has no added alcohol, whereas regular Daiginjo has alcohol added.
- Recommendations: Born Ginsen / Aizu Homare Banshu Yamada Junmai Daiginjo / Gekkeikan Nama Daiginjo
In addition to the different grades of sake, there are also a variety of sake styles, with an array of aromas, taste and textures to suit all palettes. Some of the most popular include:
- Sparkling: Fizzy and bubbly, the sake alternative to champagne.
- Recommendations: Gekkeikan Utakata / Masumi Sparkling
- Nigori: Cloudy sake which has been coarsely filtered. This sake should always be served chilled.
- Recommendations: Shotoku Yuzu Nigori / Gekkeikan Nigori
- Umeshu: Made by steeping Japanese ume plums in sake alcohol and sugar until the flavour of the plum has infused into the alcohol.
- Recommendations: Gekkeikan Kanjuku Umeshu / Nihonsakari Sake-Blended Umeshu
- Yuzushu: Sweet and crisp sake with delicious notes of yuzu, a popular Japanese citrus fruit.
- Recommendations: Hana No Mai Sparkling Yuzu / Nihon Sakari Yuzu
Enjoying Sake With Food
Subscribe to the Japan Centre blog to make sure you don’t miss the next instalment of our Japan Centre Sake Series. Coming up next is Part 3: Enjoying Sake With Food where we’ll take a closer look at serving and drinking sake, and Japan Centre Sake Sommelier Sachiko Koyama will suggest some delicious sake food pairings for starters, main courses and desserts.
Japan Centre have directly imported some of the best sake from the finest breweries in Japan and our in-house sommelier team at Japan Centre Leicester Square will be more than happy to help you select a sake to suit you if you are shopping in-store.
Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.
Words by Emily Lovell