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Is All Sake Gluten Free?

| Louie Anne Batac-Nguyen

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Here at Tippsy, we get a lot of inquiries from curious drinkers about how sake affects one’s health. One of the questions that comes our way concerns our celiac friends who want to know, “Is sake gluten free?” The good news is that Japan has very strict regulations on what constitutes “tokutei meishoshu” (premium sake). Additionally, you can rest assured that all sake on the Tippsy site is gluten free. Still, there is a very slight chance that not all “futsushu” (table sake) in the world is 100% celiac friendly. Read on to learn more.

Premium sake vs. futsushu

Premium sake is strictly made using only four ingredients: rice, water, yeast and koji, with the option of adding brewer’s alcohol to achieve a desired flavor or aroma. All these ingredients are gluten free. Let’s break it down: Rice is naturally gluten free, and the koji (special mold) that is used to break down the rice is also made of rice. Additionally, the yeast used in sake brewing to convert sugars to alcohol is also gluten free. With regards to brewer’s alcohol that is sometimes added in premium styles, this liquor is gluten free after completing the distillation process. As you can see, all premium-grade sake is gluten free.

To find premium sake, look for any of the specialty names that fall under the premium category: junmai, honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo, junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo.

On the other hand, futsushu is not as strictly regulated and may have other ingredients and additives like sweeteners, which aren’t guaranteed to be safe for celiacs. Most of the inexpensive sake that are packaged in cartons and sold at convenience stores are futsushu, so be sure to take note of this if gluten is a serious dietary concern. But again, we make sure that every futsushu on Tippsy is gluten free.

Here are some frequently asked questions about gluten-free sake.

Is junmai sake gluten free?

Yes, all junmai sake are gluten free. Junmai is also known as “pure rice” sake because it is made up of only four ingredients used for brewing sake: rice, water, yeast and koji. No brewer’s alcohol is added to junmai sake.

Is nigori sake gluten free?

Nigori sake is coarsely filtered sake which gives it a cloudy appearance, hence its nickname “cloudy sake.” Take note of the sake label. If it contains any of the specially designated sake names (junmai, honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo), it is a premium sake and therefore undoubtedly gluten free.

Is unfiltered sake gluten free?

To be 100% certain that a “muroka” (unfiltered sake) is gluten free, make sure it has one of the specialty names indicating it is premium-grade sake.

Is plum wine gluten free?

Plum wine is very popular, but not all plum wine or plum sake are premium grade. People with celiac disease who may potentially have a reaction to even trace gluten may want to be wary of futsushu found outside of TippsySake.com.

Is flavored sake gluten free?

The same advice applies to flavored sake. While any fruit used to flavor sake is naturally gluten free, there is the rare possibility that some futsushu ingredients may not be gluten free.

5 premium gluten-free sake brands

All sake brands that Tippsy offers are gluten free. Here are five featured brands you may want to start with.

Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company (Kubota)

Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company (Kubota)
Courtesy of Asahi-shuzo Sake Brewing Company (Kubota).

The Kubota brand is brewed in Niigata prefecture with choice Gohyakumangoku rice and other local varieties. One look at their lineup and you’ll be drawn in by the beautifully designed “washi” paper labels, which is another representation of their dedication to quality and preservation of culture. Don’t miss their flagship “Manju” junmai daiginjo or “Hekiju” yamahai for extra flavor.

Suigei Brewing Company

Suigei Brewing Company
Courtesy of Suigei Brewing Company.

Suigei Brewing Company uses mountain spring water to brew sake that is food friendly and approachable. “Tokubetsu Junmai” is one of my personal favorites and it’s extremely popular with sake fans. Also check out their “MANN” junmai daiginjo, which is painstakingly polished to 30%; a perfect treat for a special occasion.

Asahi Shuzo Co., Ltd. (Dassai)

Asahi Shuzo Co., Ltd. (Dassai)
Courtesy of Asahi Shuzo Co., Ltd. (Dassai).

The Dassai brand is one of the breweries that helped to make sake internationally known. One word comes to mind when sipping Dassai: elegant. But even with their reputation for being high-end, they still manage to offer a variety of sake fit for different occasions. The Dassai Set is a great way to get to know this brand. Dassai “23” is also my go-to sake for wedding gifts. Find out what an official Dassai sake tasting is like.

Daishichi Brewing Company

Daishichi Brewing Company
Courtesy of Daishichi Brewing Company.

Daishichi is a brand known for umami-driven sake and specializes in the kimoto style of brewing. It’s beautiful in a wine glass, with a medium viscosity that hints at its savory characteristics. Their sake is great for pairing with different kinds of cuisine, including Spanish tapas and paella. For everyday meals, try their “Kimoto” Honjozo and for special engagements, opt for Daishichi “Minowamon.”

Suehiro Brewing Company

Suehiro Brewing Company
Courtesy of Suehiro Brewing Company.

Suehiro Brewing Company was founded at the end of the Edo era (1603-1868), the final years of traditional Japan. So when gifting Suehiro “Ken,” it feels as though I am sharing the brewery’s history and culture of Edo tradition in a modern setting. Enjoy its rich, juicy flavor and dry finish. Or try their affordable “Densho” Yamahai Junmai, a creamy sake that is sure to provide warmth on a chilly afternoon.

Common questions about other popular sake brands

Here are a few more frequently asked questions about specific sake brands. Remember to check each bottle label as most breweries offer a variety of different styles to accommodate both beginners and experienced drinkers.

Is Gekkeikan sake gluten free?

Gekkeikan sake — which began and is brewed in Kyoto, but also has a branch in California — is one of the most common sake in local convenience stores. Their most popular junmai sake comes in a bright green bottle, but they offer a variety of sake, all of which they report to be gluten free.

Is Sho Chiku Bai gluten free?

Sho Chiku Bai is the brand of sake brewed by Takara Sake USA Inc. The majority of their sake is premium with lots of choices under the junmai, ginjo and daiginjo categories, and their nigori sake is also noted as gluten free.

Is Hakutsuru sake gluten free?

Hakutsuru is a popular brand that can be found on the Tippsy site. You can be sure that all sake here is gluten free.

Is Ozeki sake gluten free?

All Ozeki sake in the Tippsy collection are gluten free.

Choosing gluten-free sake

We hope that this is helpful in guiding your selection of gluten-free sake. By nature of its ingredients, most premium sake are gluten free, even with brewer’s alcohol added. Take a careful look at futsushu ingredients if gluten is a significant dietary concern. Cheers to your happy and healthy sipping!

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