Lesson 3: Types of sake
At Tippsy, we believe that classification of sake is not as important as your experience and the time you spend with your loved ones. Here, we explain the main categories and subcategories which could 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).
Is it junmai or not? When there’s no amount of 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 the word junmai. Rice polishing ratio (RPR) Rice polishing is a very careful step done before the brewing process. If you see the word ginjo, it means the rice polishing ratio (RPR) is at least 60%, and daiginjo means rice was polished down to at least 50%.
Daiginjo, Junmai Daiginjo
at least 50% RPR
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 relying on more traditional, hands-on methods. Daiginjo and junmai daiginjo showcase the highest level of craftsmanship since brewers hone in their skills and knowledge to achieve the perfect balance of flavors.
Ginjo, Junmai Ginjo
at least 60% RPR
Ginjo is brewed with rice grains that are polished down to at least 60%, 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 bananas and apples.
No regulation on RPR
Junmai literally means pure rice and in the absence of the word ginjo or daiginjo following it, it represents a category on its own and can technically be made from any RPR. This is sake that is brewed without the use of brewer’s alcohol, and doesn’t use a highly polished rice like ginjo and daiginjo. Junmai has rich flavors of rice enjoyable at warm temperatures, and the fuller flavor profile generally can be paired with stronger flavors.
Clean and easy to drink, at least 70% RPR
“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.
“Futsushu” literally means “ordinary sake.” Equivalent to table wine, futsushu isn’t held back by the strict regulations of premium sake. Although futsushu makes up the majority of affordable sake in Japan, at Tippsy we find really great sake which simply doesn’t conform to the regulations of premium sake.
Flavored, or some other reason
This category includes sake that doesn’t legally fall into either futsushu or the premium sake categories above. These include fruit flavored sake, sometimes a wine blend (fermented Japanese plum juice rather than sake made from rice then infused with the fruit), sake made in the U.S., and “doburoku,” which is a really thick, truly unfiltered sake which technically doesn’t fall into any of the clear sake categories above.
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.
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. We recommend gently mixing the lees by tilting the bottle before serving. Often very versatile for pairing with intensely rich or spicy foods to fruits and desserts.
A sparkling sake is a great aperitif. Often a bit lower in alcohol, it can have bubbles from natural fermentation or added-carbonation just like sparkling wine.
Aged for 3+ years
“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 and deep, savory taste profiles.
A traditional brewing style
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.
Crafted with natural microorganisms
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 in sake-brewing.
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.
Pasteurized once before shipping
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.
Pasteurized once before storing
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.
“Genshu” is undiluted sake. Usually at the end of production, sake is diluted with that pristine natural brewery water to lower alcohol content to 14-15% and adjust the flavor. Genshu on the other hand is undiluted, tends to have a higher alcohol content and more concentrated flavors.
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.
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.