Drinking culture runs deep in Japan, and sake is undoubtedly the country’s most well known and deeply loved drink.
It’s said that sake is an acquired taste, but once the first sip hit’s your pallet, you’ll never look back as a world of unalloyed drinking pleasure opens up before you.
A good place to start with Sake is understanding the process of how it is made and the various different grades that are given to each batch brewed. But all the
while a little learning can prise the gates open to your sake journey, your tasting will be the true guide to the delights of Japan’s national drink.
To your surprise ‘Sake’ isn’t the name for the Japanese drink, Sake actually means ‘alcoholic drink’ in Japan. The real name for the rice-based drink is called ‘Nihonshu’ which means ‘Japanese Alcoholic Drink’. But when asking for the drink, it doesn’t normally matter if you say either.
Sake has been made in Japan for over 1,000 years, there are around 70 rice varieties used for its production, with three main varieties, yamadanishiki, gyohakumangoku and miyamanishiki. Sake normally weighs in at around 15–16% ABV, although, of course, there are exceptions to every rule. It has just a fifth of the acidity of wine. But what it lacks in wine’s crisp and refreshing bite, it redeems in texture, nuance of flavour and diversity of styles.
Sake’s quality grades are determined by the polishing ratio; how much of the rice grain is milled away before the starchy core is ready to be converted by the koji mould to fermentable sugar. Grades are usually a guide to quality but, as with most drinks, it can often pay to find a lower grade, premium example from a good brewery.
When it comes to the style and flavour of Sake comes from the aims and techniques of the ‘toji’, the master brewer. They decide every step of how it’s brewed
from the rice chosen to when the koji mould spores are added to begin fermentation.
There are a number of sake types, mostly classified by the level of polish on the rice, but we’ve picked out some of the more well known varieties to get you started on your Sake journey:
Daiginjo – Super premium, fragrant sake with minimum 50% polishing ratio and a very small amount of distilled alcohol added to enhance flavour and aroma.
Often best served chilled.
Ginjo – Premium fragrant sake with minimum 40% polishing ratio, similar to daiginjo.
Honjozo – Light, mildly fragrant premium sake polished to a minimum of 70% with a small amount of distilled alcohol added to extract aroma and flavour.
Junmai – Sake made with nothing other than rice, water, yeast and koji with no minimum polishing ratio. When appended to daiginjo and ginjo, no alcohol has been added.