HOW TO ENJOY SAKE

A BIT OF HISTORY

Sake has played a central role in Japanese life and culture for the past 2,000 years while the knowledge and techniques involved in sake brewing have spread to every corner of the country. In fact, sake is such an integral part of the Japanese diet that having some knowledge of it can add to one’s understanding of Japanese history, culture, and society.
Made primarily from rice, sake is a fermented beverage. It is brewed using a microorganism called koji along with yeast. Sake’s alcohol content varies from 13% to 16%. It takes pristine water to make sake, and brewers take advantage of the various kinds of natural water available in Japan to make only the best. There are many different varieties of sake, and it can be enjoyed either warm or chilled, depending on the season.

SAKE VARIETIES

Theere are several different types of sake, but let's focus on these four main varieties that all have different creation steps, food pairings, and optimal serving temperatures. A big part of the process and classification depends on how much the rice has been milled, polished, and filtered. In general, the more the rice used in brewing is milled before being used, the higher the grade of sake.

ALCOHOL-ADDED STYLE

Daiginjo (大吟醸)

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.

This high end and even more fragrant sake, like normal gingo, is often served chilled.

Ginjo (吟醸)

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.

Honjozo (本醸造)

Honjozo is pretty similar to junmai except that a small amount of additional alcohol is added to lighten up and smooth out the flavor of the sake. This also makes it a bit more fragrant but rather than asserting the aroma and taste of the sake itself, it helps to bring out the taste of food..Like junmai, the rice must have a degree of milling of at least 70%.

PURE RICE STYLE

Junmai Daiginjo (純米大吟醸)

The best of the best, Junmai daiginjo-shu (literally big ginjo) is regarded as the highest-grade sake. Brewed with very highly polished rice (to at least 50% see below) and even more precise and labor intensive methods. The best products in this class deliver a good blend of refined taste with acidity and umami.

Very special brew category.

Junmai Ginjo-shu (純米吟醸酒)

Brewed with labor-intensive steps, sometimes trading machinary for traditional tools and methods, using highly polished rice (at least 60%) and fermented at colder temperatures for longer periods of time.

Junmai ginjo sake tends to be light and refined, often with distinctively fruity aromas present.

Junmai-shu (純米)

Junmai-shu is made only from rice, koji and water, highlighting the flavor of the rice and koji more than other varieties. The rice polishing ratio is 70% or less (remember : the less the better).

Alcohol Added Style

Rice, Water, Yeast, Koji
& Distilled Alcohol

Daiginjo
大吟醸
Ginjo
吟醸
Honjozo
本醸造
Futsushu
普通酒

Rice Milling Percentage

50 % OR LESS
REMAINING

60 % OR LESS
REMAINING

70 % OR LESS
REMAINING

No Min. Milling
Requirement

Pure Rice Style

Rice, Water, Yeast, Koji

Junmai Daiginjo
純米大吟醸
Junmai Ginjo
純米吟醸
Junmai
純米
Junmai
純米

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Japanese sake is among only a handful of alcoholic beverages from around the world that are often heated before being consumed. Ginjo-shu and daiginjo-shu are most delicious when slightly chilled to maintain a fine balance between their flavor and aroma.
The best temperature to serve a particular sake is usually indicated on the label. What's nice about drinking sake warm is that it produces a mild lingering "buzz" faster than it would if served cold. That means you can enjoy it to the fullest while drinking it in moderation.
In the same way there are some types of sake that taste best when served chilled. The highly aromatic ginjo-shu is best served cold or simply hinata-kan, that is “sun bathed" to about 30°C / 85°F, to avoid upsetting the delicate balance between its fine bouquet and flavor by overheating.
Junmai-shu tastes great both warmed as well as at room temperature but it's also just as delicious when served nice and cold.
Served at room temperature, warm, hot, chilled, ice-cold or iced, Japanese sake can be enjoyed in myriad ways. Try them out yourself and discover which you think is best!