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At Tippsy, we believe that classification of sake is not as important as your experience and the time you spend with your loved ones enjoying it. Still, to ensure you find sake that will be a great match for you, it may be helpful to have a basic understanding of the various sake types. Here we explain the main categories and subcategories, which may help you find the types of sake to your liking.
There are two major factors that help determine the main category: whether or not brewer’s alcohol (a neutral distilled spirit) is added during the brewing process, and rice polishing ratio (RPR).
When there’s no brewer’s alcohol added in the brewing process, it is called a junmai. If there’s a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added to premium sake, you won’t see this word on the label. Additionally, rice polishing is a very careful step done before the brewing process. Each category of sake has its own rice polishing ratio requirements. For example, if you see the word “ginjo,” it means the RPR is at least 60%. “Daiginjo” means the rice was polished down to at least 50%.
Daiginjo requires a rice polishing ratio of at least 50%, and adding the word “junmai” before it means it’s made without brewer’s alcohol. They are made in smaller quantities, and take more time and care to create. Daiginjo and junmai daiginjo showcase the highest level of craftsmanship since brewers hone their skills and knowledge to achieve the perfect balance of flavors. These sake are usually clean, crisp and very easy to drink.
This lightly sweet junmai daiginjo offers a pleasing honey and rice flavor. It’s a great example of the smoothness of this sake type. Even dry sake lovers will find it delightful.
“KID” demonstrates the floral and fruity nature of junmai daiginjo. A white bouquet meets fresh guava and citrus for the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.
Elegant yet juicy, this light and dry daiginjo refreshes with hints of peach and melon. It’s silky and round thanks in part to the pristine natural well water that gathers near Mount Seaburi in Fukushima.
Ginjo is brewed with rice grains that are polished down to at least 60% of their original size, and when you add the word “junmai,” it means it was made without distilled alcohol. Fermenting the highly polished rice at lower temperatures using different yeasts can bring out aroma components such as banana and apple.
Mizubasho “Ginjo” (left) has a fruity aroma with an elegant aftertaste. Makiri “Ex Dry” (right) is a pleasantly dry junmai ginjo with a clean finish.
Touches of banana and citrus give this junmai ginjo a flavor profile that partners well with both sweet and savory foods. Fun fact: The brewmaster at Niizawa Brewing Company, Nanami Watanabe, is Japan’s youngest female to occupy that role.
This Dewazakura ginjo personifies Japan’s most iconic flower: the cherry blossom. Supremely floral, “Oka” is a highly popular, award-winning ginjo that catapulted this sake category into the spotlight in 1980.
This bottle represents the subtle complexities ginjo sake can have. It’s light and refreshing, yet there is a taste of licorice that gives it character.
Junmai literally means “pure rice,” and in the absence of the word ginjo or daiginjo following it, it represents a category on its own that can technically be made from any RPR. This is sake that is brewed without the use of brewer's alcohol. Junmai has rich flavors of rice that are enjoyable at warm temperatures, and the fuller flavor profile generally can be paired with stronger flavors.
Junmai is an exciting category because its wide range of rice polishing percentages allows for many different personalities to shine through. Tengumai “Junmai” illustrates this point with its earthy, nutty and buttery elements that come together for a full body.
This unfiltered junmai has a 55% RPR, which is the same milling rate as many ginjo sake. But what makes this bottle by Yumegokoro Brewing Company a junmai is the undeniable umami underneath its sweet melon aroma.
“Tokubetsu junmai” literally translates to “special junmai.” There are several reasons why a brewery might classify their sake as tokubetsu. In this case, Kato Kahachiro Brewing Company used their own invention called an OS Tank to endow this junmai with a slightly more viscous texture. Enjoy the rich flavor beyond the fruity aroma.
Honjozo is premium sake with added brewer’s alcohol. The careful addition of brewer’s alcohol towards the end of fermentation creates a clean finish called “kire,” and releases some of the trapped aroma components. Honjozo sake tends to be clean and easy to drink, and can be enjoyed either chilled or warmed. It must have at least a 70% RPR.
“10,000 Ways” demonstrates the versatility of honjozo sake. Its notes of warm spice and orange are delicious at both warm and cold temperatures. It’s smooth and very food friendly.
This dry honjozo has been recognized as an outstanding hot sake, but it can be served at practically any other temperature as well. Soft notes of banana and flowers are met with a satisfying umami.
Compare Kenbishi “Kuromatsu” with other honjozo, and you’ll get a bigger picture of this sake type and its possibilities. Not as light as other sake in its category, “Kuromatsu” has a richness of flavor that balances sweet and savory.
“Futsushu” literally means “ordinary sake.” Equivalent to table wine, futsushu isn’t held back by the strict regulations of premium sake. Futsushu makes up the majority of affordable sake in Japan. At Tippsy, we have some really great sake that simply doesn’t conform to the regulations of premium sake.
Nutty tones accompany banana and warm spice for this futsushu from Kyoto prefecture. Like many sake of this type, it contains added alcohol, but is still easy to drink.
Hakutsuru “Brewer’s Pride” dispels the notion that futsushu is a throw-away category. The company’s head brewmaster, Masao Nakazawa, intentionally set out to make a sake he would love to drink on an everyday basis. Its flavor of sweet rice makes it very approachable.
This futsushu, with its playful profile of citrus, pineapple and banana, is perfect for sharing with friends. A subtle undercurrent of mint lends a refreshing sensation.
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 more.
Sometimes called “cloudy sake,” nigori contains brewed rice particles that are intentionally left when the sake liquid is separated from the sake lees. The lees add to the rich texture, and nigori ranges in different levels of sweetness. It is important to realize that nigori is coarsely filtered sake, which is different from “muroka” or unfiltered sake.
We recommend gently mixing the lees by tilting the bottle before serving. This type of sake can be paired with intensely rich or spicy foods, as well as fruits and desserts.
Some people think that nigori sake is overly sweet and not as elegant as other types. Dassai, a brand known for its high-end products, turned that notion on its head with this junmai daiginjo nigori. It’s sweet with a creamy mouthfeel, but has a light dryness one wouldn’t typically expect.
For a futsushu, this nigori is surprisingly refined — even with an RPR of 75%. It’s smooth yet somewhat grainy, with a splash of melon flavor.
Pear and sweet rice define “Tsukiakari,” as well as a good balance between sweetness and acidity. This nigori is a junmai.
A sparkling sake is a great aperitif. Often a bit lower in alcohol content, it can have bubbles from natural fermentation or added carbonation just like sparkling wine. Reach for sparkling sake when it’s time to celebrate!
“AWA Sparkling” is an exceptional sparkling sake. This bubbly junmai ginjo offers bright, fruity flavors exquisitely balanced by dryness.
For such a rich junmai ginjo sparkling sake, this bottle by Ninki Brewing Company is still rather soft. Enjoy its sweet notes of plum, apple and white chocolate between courses.
The unusual use of white koji in the making of this sparkling junmai establishes hints of lemon, lime and tropical fruit, as well as a briny characteristic that makes it great for pairing with oysters.
“Koshu” means aged sake. Most sake are matured at a cool temperature for six months before release, but koshu is typically aged over three years. It can take on an amber color and develop nutty, rich, deep and savory taste profiles.
A prime example of koshu, Kanbara “Ancient Treasure” is robust and complex, but pleasantly smooth. This undiluted junmai has been aged for 12 years to bring about a deep honey flavor.
“Rhythm of the Centuries” is made from the time-consuming and laborious traditional method of kimoto. After being bottled it is aged for four years to achieve a rich, round, umami-filled sake complete with notes of orange and banana.
In Japanese, “yuki” means snow, which is the perfect name for this junmai daiginjo koshu that has been aged for three years in a room chilled by mountain snow. It’s creamy and smooth with a hint of pear.
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 lactic acid instead of letting lactic acid occur naturally. 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 what they consider to be ideal sake.
As the name suggests, this bottle by Daishichi Brewing Company was made with the goal of brewing the ultimate kimoto. It’s a full-bodied junmai with the taste of steamed rice, which becomes even more enveloping when warmed.
The use of the kimoto method to make this junmai has endowed it with a soft mouthfeel. It’s a nutty, earthy sake with a dry finish.
Anyone who is interested in understanding how the various regions of Japan approach sake brewing should try this Akita-born junmai ginjo. There are several factors at play here: It is unfiltered, undiluted and has only been through one round of pasteurization. All of this makes for a complex kimoto sake that has a fruity acidity and a touch of anise.
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 more pronounced acidity.
This junmai ginjo boasts the characteristic acidity of yamahai sake, but balances it with flavors of banana and clove.
A dose of earthy, spiced umami compliments this yamahai’s acidity. This flavor profile makes it a great mealtime sake.
An element of cedar provides an intriguing foil to the sweet caramel flavor of this yamahai.
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. Because it is delicate, constant refrigeration is required to prevent changes in its color, aroma and flavors.
The sweet taste of strawberry from the use of strawberry flower yeast evokes thoughts of springtime. A brisk tartness keeps this junmai ginjo nama balanced.
This spirited, undiluted ginjo nama is herbaceous, nutty and aromatic.
The acidity of this undiluted junmai ginjo gives it a wonderful brightness that plays well with its floral and melon notes.
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, namachozo sake retains the freshness and vivid flavors of nama sake. Like nama, please be sure to keep it refrigerated after purchase.
Kikumasamune Brewing Company uses their own special yeast to achieve the bright aroma of fresh apples in this dry junmai namachozo.
This namachozo is a junmai ginjo, which is apparent by its lighter body and flavors of fruit. There is a slight umami beneath the sweetness.
Being a junmai daiginjo, this bottle by Nihonsakari is light, smooth and graceful, all while maintaining the personality of a namachozo. The subtle taste of melon delights the palate.
Whereas sake which omits the first pasteurization process is called namachozo (stored unpasteurized), sake that omits the second pasteurization is called “namazume” (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.
The taste of pear guides this clean, aromatic and easy-to-drink sake. Serve this junmai ginjo namazume at any temperature.
This unfiltered honjozo definitely has the exuberance of a namazume. A rejuvenating herbal aroma gives way to the rousing taste of juicy apples.
Floral and fruity, this junmai daiginjo namazume brings the tart and sweet flavor of pineapple to the table.
“Genshu” is undiluted sake. Usually at the end of production, sake is diluted with pristine natural brewery water to lower alcohol content to 14%-15% and adjust the flavor. Genshu, on the other hand, is undiluted, and tends to have higher alcohol content and more concentrated flavors.
A lovely nuttiness lies beneath the initial flavors of lychee and banana. A solid body and creamy mouthfeel round out this rich and dynamic genshu.
The fact that this junmai ginjo is both a yamahai and a genshu means it is exceptionally bold. This is a strong, dry sake with notes of smoke and rich cocoa.
“Sakamai Kikusui” is a unique representation of the genshu sake category because it is made from a rice type that nearly vanished during the 20th century. It entices with a vibrant apple scent, yet the flavor is that of a more mellow fruit like mango.
Sake often goes through some kind of filtration process to stabilize the product and adjust flavor. Muroka (not filtered) skips this process to retain robust aromas and raw taste profiles. Note that unfiltered sake is not the same as nigori, which is coarsely filtered.
Junmai daiginjo is typically a more delicate sake, yet while this muroka is very smooth, it retains a full body and doesn’t hold back on flavor.
This special junmai muroka has been crafted with great care. It has a sugar-and-spice flavor profile that stands out.
This is an unfiltered junmai ginjo that is fragrant, fruity and smooth, but not overly delicate.
Flavored sake is a broad category for Tippsy that includes fruit-infused sake and fruit-mixed sake using Japanese plums, peach, apple and yuzu citrus. Learn more about yuzu and its role in Japanese food and beverage, and find out how to pair plum sake with food. Even try turning your favorite flavored sake into a delicious, boozy sorbet!
Peach lovers will find Kamikokoro “Momo” absolutely divine. The use of a special yeast reinforces the real white peach scent and flavor of this sake.
Yuzu has a taste that is similar to lemon with a hint of pine. This sake is 10% yuzu juice, providing a healthy dose of real fruit flavor.
Unlike other “umeshu” (plum sake), this bottle by Nanbu Bijin contains no added sugar. They’ve managed to strike a palatable balance between the fruit’s natural tartness and sweetness without it!
As you can see, there are seemingly countless types of sake! Here are a few more additional sake styles that should be on your radar.
There are several ways to press sake, meaning to separate the liquid from the rest of the mash. There is the automatic method that uses a machine called a “yabuta,” and there is a more traditional method using a manual press called a “fune.” To make “shizuku” sake, however, one only needs the power of gravity.
Bags of the mash (“moromi”) are hung, and whatever liquid drips out freely is known as shizuku sake. This sake is loved for its smooth texture, light body and often, its fragrant, fruity style. Because this hanging bag method can only yield a small amount of sake, shizuku can be considered precious and is priced accordingly.
The name of this sake illustrates the brewery’s confidence in its premium quality. The light taste of peach meets a subtle spice for a one-of-a-kind junmai daiginjo.
The Yamadanishiki rice used to make this sake has been milled down to 40%. It’s a floral, fruity, ethereal shizuku that is all the more enchanting for the fact that it’s also a genshu.
This bewitching shizuku by Tomita Brewing Company has a smooth yet smoky flavor with a dry finish. Pair it with prime meat cuts and other rich, elegant fare.
Sake that has been stored in wooden vats is called “taru sake.” Because it is stored this way, the sake acquires the aroma and flavor of the wood, which is usually either Japanese cypress or cedar. This gives the sake an intriguing, natural quality. Learn more about the history of taru sake, how to serve it and what type of food to pair it with.
Not only is this a taru sake, but it’s also a junmai kimoto, meaning it was brewed in a traditional manner that establishes a robust flavor profile. The enveloping taste and aroma of Japanese cedar also carries a certain spice.
The woody character of this futsushu is sweetened by notes of honey and sweet rice.
While premium sake can be used in cooking, it is usually a better idea to reach for a bottle that is specifically intended to be cooking sake. The difference between premium sake and cooking sake is a matter of ingredients and alcohol percentage. Cooking sake typically has less alcohol content, and can contain additional ingredients such as salt or sugar. This type of sake is designed to accentuate umami and other flavors in food.
The sake industry is a kaleidoscope of flavors, textures and even colors. With so many different types of sake available, there is sure to be something for everyone. Browse all of Tippsy’s categories and subcategories to find your favorite!
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