Japanese Sake grades System and Sake categorisation

SAKE 101

Improve your Sake types understanding and classifications of Sake types

The types of sakes are divided in three categories, the “normal sake“, “premium sake” and the “super premium sake” .
 
To archive the category of premium sake, the rice used needs to be milled “polished” at least 30% off the original, leaving the 70% of the rice core to produce the premium sake and 50% for the super premium sake. The reason for this is to eliminate the fats, proteins and minerals on the outer part of the rice which can inhibit fermentation and cause off flavours and nuances originally intended in the finished product. The result is a cleaner and more crisper elegant drink with elegant nuances and flavours. It is possible to take rice polishing too far and grind away all distinction and uniqueness of a sake as well. The polishing rate is called seimaibuai.

Daiginjo and ginjo are a relatively new creation when compared to the sake that has existed for 2000 years, as ginjo has existed for only 40 years. The reason being that until 40 years ago it was not technologically possible to mill “polish” away so much of the rice without either cooking or cracking the rice caused by the friction created or by being economically not feasible, caused by the time it would take.

 
Brewers have two different methods to produce sake, the non-Junmai and the Junmai(純米). Junmai(純米) labelled bottles means that no extra alcohol is added to the process while non Junmai on the label means extra alcohol is added. Junmai is not better than the non-Junami, but the process differs when the sake is added extra alcohol to the brewing process, to enhance the flavour and taste of the sake.
Looking further into the range of premium Sakes, they are each divided by three classes of sake.
 
Junmai / Honjozo :
Rice milled to 70% of it's original size

Junmai is pure Sake, and is brewed only with rice polished to a seimaibuai of 70%, water, yeast and koji. There are no other additives. To qualify as a Junmai, there is technically no minimum milling requirement, but the sake must be the “pure rice” style. Junmai sake is robust, full-bodied, and slightly acidic. It goes well with a wide variety of food.

Honjozo Sake must be polished to 70% or less of it’s original size and as far as ingredients go, it contains a small amount of distilled brewer’s alcohol, which is added to the sake to achieve different flavor & aroma profiles.


Junmai Ginjo / Ginjo:

Rice milled to at least 60% of it's original sizeJunmai Ginjo Sake is brewed using only rice, water, yeast and koji. There are no other additives. To qualify as a Ginjo, the rice grain must be polished to 60% or less of it’s original size. The flavor of Junmai Ginjo sake is light, fragrant and even complex. 

Ginjo Sake is the same as Junmai Ginjo except a small amount of distilled brewer’s alcohol is added to the sake to achieve different flavor profiles.

 


Junmai Daiginjo / Daiginjo:

Rice milled to 50% or less of it's original sizeJunmai Daiginjo Sake is ultra premium pure sake and has a very light, fragrant, fruity and subtle taste. It is brewed with rice where each grain has been polished away by 50% at the minimum, and the various brewing processes are handled with greater care and attention to detail. It is the pinnacle of sake brewing.

Daiginjo Sake is the same as Junmai Daiginjo except a small amount of distilled brewer’s alcohol is added to the sake to achieve different flavor profiles.

This system for classification is not complete, as it does not take into account the quality of the rice used or the skills of the brewers. But one thing you can be sure of is that a daiginjo will be more expensive than a ginjo from the same brewer, because the production cost will always be higher. As for the food pairing it must be done including the normal sake, junmai and ginjo as possibilities. Although the polishing rate is lower for normal sake, the taste can still be very interesting, offering many nuances and flavours which makes a distinctive combination with different kinds of food.

The question between Chilled and Warm depends on the type of sake. Premium sake is much more delicate, balanced, fragrant, and complex than non-premium sake. That is why premium sake is best stored at around 5°C and enjoyed chilled at around 10°C. Heating the premium sake essentially destroying the delicate flavours and nuances originally intended when heating a premium sake you compromise its true expression.

 

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