At beginning stage, harvested rice is polished (milled) down to certain size by removing outer layers. This process is essential to decide the category of sake and its style. As each grain of sake rice contains "Shinpaku / heart" of rice in the middle which is high starch concentration, the outer layers of impurities such as proteins, vitamins, fats and lipids would be removed by rice polishing, in order to make the sake purer and cleaner styles.
Here are some categories of Sake:
- JUNMAI DAIGINJO 純米大吟醸: Sake made with rice milled down to at least 50% of its own original size. This type tends to be extremely elegant, pure and smooth, 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 吟醸: Sake made with rice milled down to 51% to 60% of its own original size, and a small amount of brewer’s 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.
- JUNMAI 純米: 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 本醸造: This sake has a small amount of brewer’s 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.
- FUTSU-SHU 普通酒: 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’s alcohol and amino acid.
Please pay attention to sake labels next time at Japanese restaurant or grocery stores to see which category they fit in!
graphic by SoHo+Co