BasicsTypes of Sake

Tokutei Meisho-shu (Specially Designated Names)

  • There are several different types of sake, and the following special designations are specified by the Japanese government.

    Sake that falls outside the specially designated sake categories is typically called "futsu-shu". This includes sake made with a rice polishing ratio over 70%, made with ingredients other than the ones approved for specially designated sake, and sake containing more than 10% brewer's alcohol.

  • Junmai Daiginjo-shu
    Junmai daiginjo-shu is regarded as the highest-grade sake. The best products in this class deliver a good blend of refined taste with acidity and umami.
  • Junmai Ginjo-shu
    Because ginjo brewing techniques are used in making junmai ginjo-shu, the acidity and umami are toned down and there is a clear ginjo-ka.
  • TokubetsuJunmai-shu,Junmai-shu
    Junmai-shu and tokubetsu junmai-shu are made only from rice, koji and water, highlighting the flavor of the rice and koji more than other varieties. There are no requirements regarding polishing ratio. Junmai-shu is typically high in acidity and umami, with relatively little sweetness.
  • Daiginjo-shu
    Daiginjo-shu is a form of ginjo-shu made with even more highly polished rice from which at least 50% of the outer layer of the grain has been removed. It has an even more refined taste and stronger ginjo-ka than ginjo-shu.
  • Ginjo-shu
    Ginjo-shu is made with rice grains from which more than 40% of the outer layer has been removed by milling. Fermentation occurs at lower temperatures and takes longer. Distilled alcohol equivalent to up to 10% of the weight of the polished rice may be added.It has a fruity fragrance, called ginjo-ka, with a light, that is low in acidity. “Light” does not simply mean “mild” or “diluted.” The sake should also have a smooth texture (mouth feel) and a good aftertaste.The specific characteristics of ginjo-shu vary by brewer, with the more fragrant varieties designed to highlight ginjo-ka and others designed with more emphasis on flavor and less on ginjo-ka.
  • TokubetsuHonjozo-shu,Honjozo-shu
    In honjozo-shu, the emphasis is on flavor and there is little ginjo-ka or aging‐induced aroma. It has a reasonable level of acidity and umami and rather than asserting the aroma and taste of the sake itself, it helps to bring out the taste of food.

Rules Established for Specially Designated Sake

  • When classifying specially designated sake, the first remarkable point or attention has to do with the rice polishing ratio. This refers to the proportion of the original rice weight left over after the process of milling away the outer surface of the original rice. For example, when it says rice polishing ratio 60% or less, that means that 40% of the outer surface of the unpolished rice has been milled away.
  • Rice Koji
    Specially designated sake must be made with at least 15% rice koji (the ratio for rice koji weight as a part of the total white rice weight used to make the sake).
  • Alcohol
    The weight of the brewer’s alcohol added must not exceed 10% of the weight of the white rice used in making the sake. The brewer’s alcohol is a distilled alcohol of agricultural origin.
  • Junmai-shu
    It is possible to label a sake junmai-shu as long as it is sake made with rice and rice koji only.
  • Rice polishing refers to milling the rice’s outer surface
    "Rice polishing" refers to the process of shaving off the outer surface of the rice grains to remove proteins, fats, and minerals that cause undesirable flavors in the sake. Sake rice is especially suited to the process, because of its low protein content and its large shimpaku (opaque section in the center of the rice).
  • All sake produced to be exported is given this mark by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association. Sake with this mark authenticates sake produced in Japan and in accordance with Japanese liquor tax law, and although it does not place restrictions on the origin of the sake's ingredients, it does specify that the sake is made in Japan.

Sake Types

  • Free run sake
    This refers to the very first part of the sake that comes off the press when the moromi is pressed. It contains a little particles and relatively less amounts of alcohol. Its appeal is in the freshly fermented and pleasantly stimulating carbon dioxide.
  • Long-term storage and aged sake
    Sake can be matured for 6 months to one year. For example Junmai-shu, longer-term storage smooths out the sake's flavor. Some koshu is aged for two, three, or even over five years.
  • Undiluted sake
    Most sake on the market has had its alcohol content adjusted 15-16% through dilution with water, but since genshu is undiluted sake, it’s alcohol content is often quite high, at 18-20%.
  • Sparkling sake
    This is sake that contains a lot of carbon dioxide.
  • Special autumn sake
    This sake has been pasteurized once and stored until fall, and is then shipped without a second pasteurization.
  • Brewing in winter
    Kan-zukuri and Kan-jikomi
    By making the sake in winter, brewers are able to do a long, slow fermentation to create sake that features more refined flavors.
  • Aged and specialty sake
    This sake is made with sake as a base ingredient in place of water. Dense and sweet, this sake has been prized since ancient times.
  • Kimoto starter culture
    This sake is made with a traditional shubo (moto or yeast starter) that cultivates lactic acid bacilli before yeast propagation.
  • Unfiltered
    Sake is usually made by pressing the moromi after that, sake is filtered to stabilize the quality, but this sake skips that last step.
  • Cask sake
    Taru zake
    Sake that has been kept in a cedar cask, has its own special aroma.
  • Nama-chozo-shu
    Freshly pressed sake is stored at low temperatures, and is pasteurized only once, just before shipping. This sake retains the flavors of unpasteurized sake.
  • Nama-zume-shu
    This sake is pasteurized, stored, and moderately matured for a stable product quality. The matured sake is then bottled without a second pasteurization.
  • Un-pasteurized sake
    This sake is sent to market without any pasteurization in the production process. There are many types, such as junmai nama and ginjo nama.
  • Cloudy sake
    This is a white, cloudy sake made by straining the moromi through a coarse cloth only. Nigorizake that is shipped without pasteurization is called kassei seishu (active sake), and still contains living yeast and enzymes.
  • New sake
    The official sake brewing year runs from July to the following June. Usually, sake that is shipped within the same brewing year would be classified as shinshu.
  • Low alcohol sake
    Tei-aru shu
    Generally, this is sake with an alcohol content below 12%. It has a soft feeling in the mouth and is perfect for people with a low tolerance for alcohol, or for when you want to drink but not feel the effects too strongly.
  • Frozen sake
    To-ketsu shu
    This sake is packaged in a special container and has been frozen into a sherbet-like texture.