was first made in Japan over 2,000 years ago, and in the intervening years there
have been many different types of sake produced. The first makers of sake would
probably not recognize the rice wine of today: evolution and revolution have
radically altered the sake brewing process and, indeed, the final product.
Nowadays, there are more than 10,000 different varieties of sake produced, and
with so many to choose from it can be hard to figure out which sake is right for
which occasion. But fortunately there are different classifications to help you
choose the sake that is right for you.
separates the different types of sake is the production process, where two
factors determine the quality of the sake. The first is the
"polishing" process, where rice is gently milled to remove the
unnecessary fatty acids and impurities in the outer layers of the each grain of
rice. Most sake rice is polished to about 80 percent of its original sized
kernel. Rice that has been ground to 70 percent or less of its original kernel
size is considered high quality. The other factor that influences quality is
whether or not distilled alcohol is added during the final stages of production.
Alcohol is typically added to increase the yield of each batch, but many of the
best types of sake are still made with only water, rice, koji (mold used to
convert the rice's starch into sugar), and yeast.
are five major classifications of sake, and these can be used to determine the
quality level of sake. The first four "high quality" classifications
of sake are presented in order, starting with the highest quality: (note –
these classifications overlap quite a bit)
Daiginjo sakes use the most highly polished grains of rice in their
production: more than 50 percent of the original kernel is milled away to
leave only the purest starch elements. With a full flavor and a strong
aroma, Daiginjo sakes leave very little aftertaste, making them a good
dinner companion. Sakes labeled Junmai-Daiginjo have had no alcohol added
during the brewing process.
Ginjo sake is made with rice that has been polished to at least 60 percent
of its starting size. Ginjo generally has a more delicate flavor, and tends
to sweeter than other sakes. Ginjo sake can be made with added alcohol or
without; if made without adding alcohol, it will be labeled Junmai Ginjo.
Junmai indicates that the sake is pure rice wine with no alcohol added and
at least 70 percent polished grain. Junmai sake often has a bold taste that
surprises you, and tends to be more acidic than other sakes.
Honjozo is similar to Junmai in its production, except that small amounts of
alcohol are added to take away some of the boldness of Junmai flavoring.
Honjozo sakes are lighter and sweeter than others, and taste wonderful when
Futsuu is a term that covers the vast bulk of sake produced. Most sake
produced and sold has no special designation, and so price is often the best
indicator of quality in these sakes. Futsuu sake will have been made with
rice that has been less than 70 percent polished, and has alcohol added in
much greater quantities than Honjozo sakes.
type of sake is Namazake, which is sake that has not been pasteurized. Namazake
can be any of the first four classifications of sake, and generally has a
livelier and fresher taste. This rare sake should be refrigerated and served
are no hard and fast rules about what quality of sake should be served in
specific occasions. If you have enjoyed some Futsuu-shu sakes, you may want to
experiment with the higher quality sakes to see if you find one that suits your
palette. Because of the many crossovers between classifications, though, the
best indicator of quality is your own sense of taste – if you find sake that
you like, stick with it, and enjoy!