At Tippsy, we believe that classification of sake is not as important as your experience with brands or the time you spend with your loved ones. Here we want to explain just the basics of how rice polishing ratios and brewing techniques represent different categories and form flavor characteristics. And “Yes”, when a half of rice grain is milled away the yield of final product decreases thus the prices of daiginjo are typically higher than others. But what matters the most is the unique brewing techniques of each brand and the flavor characteristics that enhance your dining experience.
We simplify the terminology and classify the rice polishing ratio by three groups: junmai, ginjo and daiginjo. In the process of making sake, rice grains are polished before steaming, mashing, fermenting and squeezing. The polishing work takes dedicated care and affects largely the type of flavors the brewers want to achieve.
Junmai literally means pure rice. At Tippsy we categorize this as rice polishing ratio of 70% or less. But it actually ranges from 70% to 55%. Junmai has rich flavors of rice that holds well at warm temperatures. The bold flavors of junmai can be appreciated most when it’s paired with dishes with strong flavors.
Ginjo is brewed with rice grains that are polished down to 60% or less. By brewing at lower temperatures the well-polished rice can bring out the aroma components which are also found in fruits like bananas and apples.
Mizubasho “Ginjo” (left) has a fruity aroma with an elegant aftertaste. Makiri “Ex Dry” (right) is a pleasantly dry ginjo with a clean finish.
Daiginjo requires a rice polishing ratio of 50% or less. They are made in smaller quantities, and rely more on traditional methods. Brewers use their highest skills and knowledge to extract the full flavor and aroma from the rice and craft the best quality sake possible. Daiginjo showcases the level of craftsmanship of brewers as it takes a lot of effort and delicate care to achieve the perfect balance of flavors.
There are many different ways and techniques to brew sake. Each different style of sake provides unique flavor profiles. By learning a bit of background, you will enjoy sake quite more.
To simply define it, honjozo is premium sake with added alcohol. The opposite category is junmai, whose alcohol is purely produced by fermentation and contains no added alcohol. Rice polishing ratios of honjozo sake usually range from 70% to 60%, but some have a polishing ratio that is lower than 60%, which could be regarded as ginjo. Honjozo sake tends to be clean and easy-to-drink, and can be enjoyed either chilled or warmed.
Futsushu literally means “regular sake”. The sake classification specifies the rice polishing ratio, types of rice, whether or not alcohol is added. Any other types of sake that don’t fall under above is classified as futsushu. 65% of sake production in Japan is from this category.
Sometimes called “cloudy sake,” nigori contains the particles of unfermented rice grains that are intentionally left at the filtration. It has rich and often sweet flavors. We recommend the bottle be slightly tilted before serving to blend these particles at the bottom.
A sparkling sake is a great aperitif. Usually low in alcohol with a fuller body, it can have bubbles from natural fermentation or added-carbonation just like sparkling wine.
Flavored sake is a broad category for Tippsy that includes fruits-infused sake and fruits-mixed sake including umeshu, or plum wine.
Koshu means aged sake. Most sake are stored at a cool temperature for six months before release, but koshu is typically aged over three years. It takes on an amber color and milder, richer and well-rounded taste profiles.
In order to create an environment for yeast to start fermentation, about 90% of breweries today use a modern method called sokujo, or quick-brew, which adds artificial lactic acid. Some breweries, on the other hand, make sake with a traditional method called kimoto, which uses naturally-existing lactic acid in the air. Compared to sokujo, kimoto requires much more delicate and time-consuming care and maintenance. Sake made with the kimoto method tends to have richer, fuller and deeper flavors with less off-flavors. Today, an increasing number of breweries use this traditional method for their ideal achievements of sake-brewing.
Similar to kimoto, yamahai is also a traditional and time-consuming method that uses lactic acid in the air (instead of adding it) to naturally create an environment for yeast to start fermentation. The only difference from kimoto is that in the yamahai method, a process called yamaoroshi, or mash-grinding, is omitted. Yamahai sake tastes very similar to kimoto sake, but tends to have pronounced acidity.
Brewers normally perform pasteurization (heat-treatment) before shipping, but they also produce a small amount of nama, or unpasteurized sake. Usually released in early spring, nama sake tends to have bold and refreshing flavors. Delicate and constant refrigeration is required to prevent changes in its color, aroma and flavors.
Sake is usually pasteurized twice—once before storing and once before shipping. However, there is a type of sake called namachozo, meaning the first pasteurization is omitted. Because it’s stored unpasteurized (nama means unpasteurized, and chozo means storing), namachozo sake retains the freshness and vivid flavors of nama sake. Like nama, please be sure to keep it refrigerated after purchase.
Whereas sake which omits the first pasteurization process is called namachozo (lit. stored unpasteurized), sake that omits the second pasteurization is called namazume (lit. bottled unpasteurized). Similar to namachozo, namazume sake tends to have refreshing and vivid flavors. Like nama, please be sure to keep it refrigerated after purchase.
Genshu is undiluted sake. Usually at the end of production, sake is typically diluted with water to lower alcohol content to 14–15%. Undiluted sake, on the other hand, has a higher alcohol content with richer and stronger flavors.
Sake usually goes through carbon-filtration for better transparency and aroma balance. Muroka, literally meaning not filtered, skips this process to retain robust aromas and raw taste profiles.