Choosing Sake

There are currently, approximately 1,200 sake breweries in Japan making different styles and types of sake. A brewery can make up to as many as eight styles of sake (sometimes more) depending on rice variety, koji and yeast in a typical brewing season. They can also make unfiltered sake, undiluted sake and even unpasteurised sake. Besides 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, the kind of koji style used and the fermentation method.

Questions to ask when choosing a sake:

  • Will it be an easy drinking sake or a special sake for a special occasion?
  • 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. Sake is versatile and is a personal choice.

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) sakes where the sake can technically be put in a higher premium level but has chosen not to by using a higher rice polish. Some Tokubetsu sakes have a special ingredient or different step during the brewing making it special.

Today sees many styles of sake with different aromas, taste and textures. Cloudy, aged, unpastuerised, fruit flavoured, made with different varieties of rice, different koji and I different yeasts.

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 (no/low alcohol sake)

Muroka: Sake that has not gone through charcoal filtration

written by Marie Cheong-Thong, BSA