Friday, September 2, 2011

Sake 101: Main Classifications

To continue our Sake 101 series, here are several sake classifications that will help you understand what kind of sake you are tasting or buying. Although there are many different types of sake, the four basic classifications you will often see are Junmai, Honjonzo, Ginjo and Daiginjo. Unlike wine or spirits, these names refer to the brewing method - not the region, age or varietal.
Ohyama "Big Mountain" Junmai
1. Junmai

Junmai is the most basic form of sake - only rice, water and koji are used in its production. The rice has been polished so that at least 30% of the outer shell of each grain has been removed, resulting in a heavier, full bodied sake with a subtle nose, a bold palate and high acidity. Junmai does not have any specific flavor characteristics, and can range from earthy flavors such as herbs and minerals to refined notes of fruit and fresh flowers. While the flavors are certainly distinctive, they are not particularly complex, which is why junmai is typically paired with food.

2. Honjozo

Honjozo is produced similarly to junmai, but is a significantly lighter style. The rice has also been polished so that at least 30% of the outer shell of each grain has been removed, but a small amount of distilled alcohol (called brewers alcohol) is added to the fermenting sake during the final stages of production. This makes the sake lighter, smoother and usually more fragrant. Honjozo sake tends to be off-dry and low in acidity with complex, earthy flavors and a long finish.

3. Ginjo

Ginjo sake is produced with rice that has been polished so that at least 40% of the outer shell has been ground away, which removes components such as fats and proteins that can impede fermentation and cause unwanted flavors. It is fermented at colder temperatures for a longer period of time and a small amount of brewers alcohol has been added, which results in a sweeter, lighter sake with soft acidity. Ginjo sake is highly aromatic and usually offers delicate fruit and floral notes.


4. Daiginjo

Daigingo is produced very similarly to ginjo sake, except the rice is polished so at least 50% of the grain remains - some brands go even further and remove 65% of the grain, with only 35% remaining. The resulting sake is off-dry and light-bodied with soft acidity, and offers intense aromas and complex flavors of fresh fruit and flowers.

Now that you know the four main types of sake, it's time to mix things up a bit.


Junmai Ginjo combines both brewing methods - the rice is polished so 40% of the grain has been removed, then fermented at colder temperatures for a long period of time (ginjo), however no brewers alcohol has been added so it is considered junmai (only rice, water and koji are used in its production). Junmai Ginjo is considered to be of higher quality than junmai and offers a lighter body, lower acidity and more refined flavors.

Junmai Daiginjo again combines both brewing methods - at least 50% of the outer shell of the rice must be removed, and the remainder is fermented at colder temperatures for a long period of time (daiginjo). No brewers alcohol is added, so the sake is still considered jumai. Light, aromatic and complex, this type of sake is considered to be of incredibly high quality and truly showcases the skill of the brewer.

Dewatsuru Hihaku Junmai Daiginjo
Believe it or not, there are still other types of sake - but we'll leave them for next time.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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