While wine is classified by grape variety or region, classification of sake is rather complicated. It is interpreted different ways, and many people, including the Japanese, get confused with the uncommon words like daiginjo and honjozo.
Among the various sources of information, we decided to comply with the classification designated by the Japanese government for alcohol regulation and liquor tax purpose, which we believe is most comprehensive and authentic. But before we get into that, let’s clarify something you really want to know about sake varieties.
|1)||Sake is primarily divided into two categories: regular (futsu shu) and special (tokutei meisho shu)|
|2)||“Special sake” is produced in specific methods, and the complicated classes such as ginjo and daiginjo belong to this category|
|3)||All other types of sake, which are designed for everyday-drinking, fall under the category of “regular sake”|
|4)||Many affordable labels, including ones served hot at Japanese restaurants, are “regular sake”|
Regular Sake (Futsu Shu)
Regular sake represents over 80% of the entire sake market and is consumed widely throughout Japan and the world. There are no rules for production of regular sake. It does not necessarily mean that a product is lower quality or less tasty simply because it is classified as regular. With numerous products with different features, many products in this category are award-winning, great quality and/or following traditional brewing.
Special Sake (Tokutei Meisho Shu)
Special sake has eight sub-categories classified by raw ingredient, rate of rice milling and brewing method. They are basically a different combination of 1) junmai or honjozo, 2) ginjo or non-ginjo, and 3) special brewing process or ordinary process. It is typically considered that the former is more premium than the latter.
|Junmai||Junmai means “pure rice.” By definition junmai sake has no fermented alcohol added|
|Honjozo||Jozo means “fermentation.” By definition honjozo sake has fermented alcohol added to lighten the flavor and to accentuate the unique aroma. The amount of fermented alcohol should not exceed 10% of rice weight|
|Ginjo||Ginjo is often mistaken as minimum rate of rice milling but the Japanese government defines ginjo as sake made in a ginjo method. It refers to the process of using highly polished rice and fermenting in cold-temperature|
|Tokubetsu||Tokubetu means “special.” If the sake is brewed in a special process, it is denoted as tokubetsu. Breweries must indicate the description of process on the label|
Other Varieties of Sake
The following features are also used to classify sake:
|Nama Zake||Sake that is not heated for pasteurization after the final mash is pressed. It is characterized by a light, fresh flavor|
|Genshu||It literally means “undiluted sake.” It has a deep, rich flavor and an alcohol content of from 17% to 20% because it has not been diluted with added water|
|Nigori Zake||Sake that is milky white, as the mash is only lightly filtered using a coarse-texture cloth|
|Carbonated sake, with a mouth feel reminiscent of champagne|
|Sake that is aged in casks and thus takes on the fragrance of the wood from which the cask is made|
|Sake that has been aged for a couple of years, or for upwards of five years or longer. It has a bouquet like sherry, with a flavor profile that includes spices and nuts|
Sake 101 Series:
*What is Sake & How to Drink it
*How to Buy and Store Sake (coming soon)
*Sake Cocktails and Beyond (coming soon)
*Ways to Master Sake (coming soon)