Know your Nihonshu: How to Categorise Sake

Sake tips from The Museum of Sake's Natsuki Kikuya

Categorising sakeThe milling or polishing process where rice grains are reduced in size by removing outer layers is key to sake brewing.

This process creates different grades of sake, each fitting into a certain category or style.


Each grain of sake rice contains Shinpaku or  heart. The heart is high in starch, the outer layers full of impurities such as proteins, vitamins, fats and lipids which are removed by the polishing. This produces a pure and clean drink with higher polishing rates creating premium sake.Sake restaurants in London

Here are some categories of Sake:

JUNMAI DAIGINJO: Sake made with rice milled down to at least 50% of its  original size. This type tends to be extremely elegant, pure and smooth, with a light to medium body, less umami and significantly aromatic. The flavours tend to have fruity characteristics such as fresh melons and green apples, pears, tropical fruits, and ripe banana. Anise seeds and floral fragrance is also typical "ginjo-aromas". Try this category if you like: Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier.

GINJO : Sake made with rice milled down to 51% to 60% of its own original size, and a small amount of brewer distilled alcohol added at the final process. Brewer's distilled alcohol will extract the aromas of sake and make the final products more aromatic and spicier. This type also tends to be lighter, refresher, and pure styles and usually enjoyable chilled. Try this category if you like: Chenin Blanc or Dry Riesling.Sake in London

JUNMAI Ã: Junmai is translated to pure rice and made by only rice which is milled down to over 61% and no maximum limit of polishing ratio. This type of sake often has a rounder, fuller bodies and more complex styles, with more cereal or steamed rice driven notes and richer umami and acidity. Can be enjoyed warm/hot. Try this category if you like: Chardonnay or Pinot Noir

HONJOZO : This sake has a small amount of brewer distilled alcohol added at the final process. The rice polishing ratio has to be 61% to 70% at most. The addition of the alcohol makes the sake lighter umami and acidity, cleaner, crisper and drier styles, easy to accommodate the paring with different fish variety of sashimi & sushi. Can be enjoyed warm/hot.Sake bottles

FUTSU-SHU : Translates as regular sake, which fits in outside of premium sake category, takes up 70% of market products. No minimum rice polishing requirement and higher addition of other ingredients such as brewer alcohol and amino acid.

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