SAKE 201

In Sake 101 we learned that sake is required to be made from four main ingredients: rice, kōji, water, and yeast. We also learned the basics of sake production. In this guide we will dive deeper into the main ingredients, fermentation, finishing methods, and styles of sake produced.

SHORTCUT LINKS:

RICE

KŌJI

WATER

YEAST

HOW SAKE IS MADE

FINISHING STEPS

SAKE STYLES

MAPS

 
Japan Map - Sakemai

Okayama

Yamagata

Nagano

Niigata

Hyōgō

RICE

Rice is the base ingredient for sake production. Brewers can select from a wide range of rice varieties, from table rice to sake specific rice. Each type of rice has its own unique characteristics that are desirable for different styles of sake. After the selected rice is harvested, it must be prepared before it is ready for sake production. The preparation steps for the rice are: polishing, washing, soaking, and steaming.

SAKE SPECIFIC RICE VARIETIES ("SAKEMAI"):

  • Rice designated for sake production has roughly 25% larger grains than table rice.

  • The heart of the rice grain is larger, resulting in more starch and less proteins and lipids in each grain.

    • Proteins and lipids are ideal for table rice, as it gives rice flavor.

    • In sake production, it creates richer, more savory styles of sake.

  • Ideally the rice grain is strong, easy to polish, water absorbent, and breaks down easily by enzymes.​

  • There are over 100 registered rice varieties used for sake production. Below are the top five:

    • YAMADA NISHIKI: ​

      • The most grown variety of sake rice in Japan, "king of sake rice".

      • Commonly from the Hyōgō Prefecture.

      • Large, easily polished grains with a well defined shinpaku.

      • Creates a lightly aromatic sake with a refined palate.​

    • GOHYAKUMAN-GOKU:

      • The 2nd most grown variety of sake rice in Japan.

      • Commonly from the Niigata Prefecture.

      • Medium sized, easily polished grains, with a well-defined shinpaku.

      • Creates a clean, pure, and delicate style of sake.

    • MIYAMA NISHIKI:

      • The 3rd most grown variety of sake rice in Japan.

      • Commonly from the Nagano Prefecture.

      • Medium sized grains with well defined shinpaku.

      • Creates a rich and powerful sake with delicate aromatics.

    • DEWASANSAN:

      • Commonly from the Yamagata Prefecture.

      • Large grains with a well-defined shinpaku.​

      • Creates a complex, pure, herbaceous style of sake. 

    • OMACHI:​

      • Commonly from the Okayama Prefecture.

      • One of the oldest rice varieties.

      • ​Large, fragile, and difficult to polish grains.

      • Creates an earthy, spicy, savory style of sake.

POLISHING ("SEIMAI"):

  • Polishing is the removal of unwanted, exterior layers of the rice grain.

  • After the rice is harvested it has a hard exterior shell known as a husk. The husk must be removed to access the rice grain. Once the husk is removed the layer below is known as the bran. The bran has a brown color, rice with the bran is known as brown rice, or genmai. The bran layer is not desirable for sake production and is also removed. Once the bran is removed, the rice becomes white rice, or hakumai. 

  • The degree to which the rice is polished is dependent on the style of sake the brewer desires to produce. The percentages below indicate the amount of the rice grain remaining, known as the seimai-buai (SMB).

    • 92% SEIMAI-BUAI​​

      • A rice grain with the husk, germ, and bran removed​

      • High amounts of protein and lipids

      • Fast, vigorous fermentations

      • Rich, savory styles of sake

    • ​70% SEIMAI-BUAI

      • Minimum required SMB for sake labeled Honjōzō

      • Roughly 12 hours of polishing time 

    • 60% SEIMAI-BUAI​

      • Minimum required SMB for sake labeled Ginjō and Junmai Ginjō

      • Roughly 33 hours of polishing time

    • 50% SEIMAI-BUAI

      • Minimum required SMB for sake labeled Daiginjō and Junmai Daiginjō

      • Roughly 50 hours of polishing time

      • Low amounts of protein and lipids

      • Slow, controlled fermentations

      • Pure, delicate styles of sake

Rice Diagram

HUSK: hard exterior shell, removed before polishing

BRAN: brown exterior layers, commonly polished away as it contains high levels of lipids and proteins, which results in savory flavors. 

ENDOSPERM: white interior layers, containing high levels of desired starch with some lipids, minerals, protein, and vitamins.

SHINPAKU: the heart of the rice grain that is unique to sake specific rice varieties. This is an opaque white center that is made up of starch. 

GERM: the reproductive component of the rice grain. The germ is removed during polishing, thus kōji mold is required for the enzymatic conversion.

 

 

WASHING ("SENMAI"):

  • When the rice grain is polished, there is a fine dust of rice particles, known as nuka, on the rice grain.

  • These particles were intentionally polished away and need to be removed.

  • Washing the rice grains ensures that all rice grains are clean and free of residue.

  • Traditionally rice is hand washed in small batches, however, machines are now able to mimic the traditional technique. 

SOAKING ("SHINSEKI"):

  • Once the rice is washed, it is moved to a clean container for soaking.

  • This stage increases the moisture level to roughly 30%.

  • Finely polished rice grains are more porous, thus absorb more water, making soaking time critical.

    • Rice used for premium sake production (<70% SMB) is timed to the second.

    • Rice used for entry level sake production  (>70% SMB) can be left to soak for several hours, or even overnight.

  • The colder the water, the slower the absorption rate, ideal water temperature is 46-59°F (8-15°C).

  • Once the soaking time is complete, the rice is drained and will rest for a short period of time (up to 24 hours).

STEAMING ("MUSHIMAI")

  • Once the rice has absorbed water, heat will be applied in the form of steam by:

    • ​traditional steamers, known as a koshiki, (pictured below), steams the rice in 40-60 minutes.

    • continuous machines, known as renzoku jōmai-ki, (pictured below), steams the rice in 30-40 minutes. 

  • Rice is steamed to:

    • rid the rice of any contaminants.

    • make the rice grain malleable.

    • change the molecular structure of the starch within the heart of the rice grain.

      • This allows kōji enzymes to break down the starch into fermentable sugars.

    • increase the moisture content of the rice to roughly 40%.

    • encourage the rice grain to break down during fermentation.

COOLING:

  • Once the rice is steamed, it must be cooled down. 

    • traditionally by laying the rice out on mats in the coolest part of the brewery.​

    • continuous machines cool the rice down automatically.

  • 2/3 of the steamed rice is used for fermentation.

  • 1/3 of the steamed rice will become kōji.

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT RICE - SEE OUR RICE STUDY GUIDE

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

Sake: Polishing Machine

Polishing Machine

Sake: Polishing Stones

Polishing Stones

Sake: Rice Washing

Rice Washing

Sake: Traditional Steamer

Traditional Steamer

Sake: Steamed Rice

Steaming Machine

Sake: Polished Rice

Polished Rice

Sake: Steamed Rice

Steamed Rice

Sake: Koji

Kōji

Koji Muro

Kōji Muro

Koji Muro and Koji

Kōji Muro and Kōji

KŌJI

Kōji is a special ingredient that makes sake unique. Rice grains contain starch, rather than sugar like grapes, as a result that starch must be converted into fermentable sugars. In beer production, starch is converted into sugar by enzymes in the germ, activated by heat, during the malting process. Malting is not an option for sake production as the germ of the rice grain is removed during the polishing process. In sake production, brewers utilize a mold strain, known as kōji-kin (aspergillus oryzae) to produce enzymes that in turn will convert the rice starch into sugar. Steamed rice that has had the starch within converted into sugar is known as kōji.

KŌJI-KIN :

Kōji-kin, also known as kōji mold, is typically purchased from a supplier and comes in a powdered and granulated forms. There are numerous varieties of kōji mold used throughout Japan, the following are the most common:​

YELLOW KŌJI: Aspergillus oryzae, is the traditional kōji used in production of sake.

BLACK KŌJI: Aspergillus awamori, is the traditional kōji used in the production of Awamori.

WHITE KŌJI: Aspergillus kawachi, is the traditional kōji used in the production of shōchū.

HOW TO MAKE KŌJI:

Once the batch of steamed rice is cooled, 1/3 of the batch will go into a warm, humid room known as a kōji muro. The steamed rice will be laid out on long beds in a thin, even layer. The brewer workers will sprinkle the mold spores, known as kōji-kin, over the top of the rice. The spores are massaged into the rice to ensure even distribution. The rice is then piled up and wrapped in a cloth to retain moisture and encourage the growth of the mold. As the mold grows, it releases enzymes that will convert the starch within the rice into fermentable sugar.

After 8-12 hours the rice will be spread back out and massaged to break up any clumps. The rice will be wrapped again to encourage further mold growth. After another 8-12 hours, the rice will be unwrapped again, spread back out, and often moved to smaller vessels to monitor growth more precisely. During this stage, it is important to reduce the humidity and moisture in the room to create specific mold growth patterns (discussed below). After 24 more hours, two days in total, the steamed rice is covered in white, powdery mold. This batch tastes sweet, has aromas of roasted chestnuts, and is now known as kōji.

KŌJI MOLD GROWTH PATTERNS:

Kōji mold requires optimal moisture and warmth to thrive. If the moisture levels are too low, the mold will not grow. If the moisture levels are too high the mold will grow too rapidly for quality production. If the temperatures drop too low, the mold will stop growing. If the temperatures rise too high, the mold will spoil and die, resulting in off-flavors often associated with the aroma of sweat. For successful mold growth a lot of precision, skill, and monitoring is necessary. There are two common growth patterns used for quality sake production:​​​

  • TSUKI-HAZE KŌJI: A mold pattern in which there are spots of growth that penetrate deeply into the shinpaku.​

    • Precisely controlled levels of moisture and heat are necessary to restrict mold growth.

    • Less mold growth results in lower levels of enzymes​.

    • Commonly used for slow, cool fermentations.

    • Creates clean, elegant sake with lighter body, lower acidity, low umami, and delicate ginjō aromas.

  • SŌ-HAZE KŌJI: A mold pattern in which the mold covers the entire grain and penetrates into the shinpaku.​

    • Requires less precision and skill than tsuki-haze.

    • More mold growth results in higher levels of enzymes​.

    • Commonly used for quick, warm fermentations.

    • Creates a powerful sake with more body, higher acidity, and savory flavors, known as umami.

KŌJI REQUIREMENTS:

To qualify as a premium sake in Japan, a minimum of 15% of the total rice used for sake production must be kōji.

If a sake is produced with 100% kōji, it is known as zenkōji. 

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT KŌJI - SEE OUR KŌJI STUDY GUIDE

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

 

WATER ("MIZU")

Water is used in almost every step of sake production from washing, soaking, and steaming the rice, to fermentation and finishing. There is ten times more water used in sake production than rice and the final product of sake is 80% water, thus water quality is of the utmost importance. Breweries utilize water sources near their brewery such as springs, wells, lakes, rivers, snow melt, etc. However, it is possible to adjust tap water with modern equipment.

SOFT WATER ("NANSUI"): ​

  • Soft water is categorized by its low levels of calcium and magnesium (less than 100mL).

  • Soft water has lower levels of yeast nutrients resulting in slower fermentations.

  • Sake produced with soft water is typically aromatic, smooth, and silky. 

  • GOKOSUI - "perfumed water" = prized soft water from Fushimi in the Kyōto Prefecture.

HARD WATER ("KŌSUI"): ​

  • Hard water is categorized by its high levels of calcium and magnesium (more than 100mL).

  • Hard water has high levels of yeast nutrients, which encourages vigorous fermentations.

  • Sake produced with hard water is typically aromatically restrained with a structured, crisp, dry palate​.

  • MIYAMIZU - "shrine water" = prized hard water from Nada in the Hyōgō Prefecture.

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT WATER - SEE OUR WATER STUDY GUIDE

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

 

YEAST ("KŌBO")

Yeast's most important role in sake brewing is the production of alcohol. Yeast will convert sugar into alcohol (ethanol), carbon dioxide, heat, as well as aromatic and flavor compounds. The yeast commonly used for sake production, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is the same species of yeast commonly used in wine and beer production. However, sake yeasts have been bred to tolerate the higher alcohol levels and cooler temperatures required for sake production. A brewery can chose to utilize yeasts individually or combine them together to capitalize on each of their abilities.

WILD YEASTS:

  • Wild yeasts refer to yeasts that live throughout the world in common places in our environment.

  • Traditionally, brewers would not add yeast to the vat, they would allow for the wild yeasts naturally occurring in the brewery to begin the sake fermentation.

  • Today these naturally occurring yeasts are not commonly used in sake production as they are less reliable, difficult to manage, and are susceptible to microbial contamination. ​

SELECTED YEASTS:

  • Traditionally, fermentations would have multiple strains of wild yeasts in the batch, because of this, each batch would ferment differently. With the advancement of brewing techniques, when a batch would ferment exceptionally, the yeast from that batch would be isolated, duplicated, and tested to ensure successful fermentations.

    • This process requires great training and skill and is commonly conducted by research institutes, however, some of the yeasts still used today were first isolated at a brewery.

  • Some breweries continue to isolate their own yeasts, whether from the brewery or in nature, these are known as "proprietary yeasts".​

KYŌKAI KŌBO:

  • In 1906, the Brewing Society of Japan acquired proprietary yeasts from multiple breweries around Japan. These yeasts, known as Kyōkai kōbo, or "association yeasts", can be purchased by any brewery to increase consistency and quality of their sake production.

  • Each yeast strain has different attributes that makes it favorable for different types of sake production, such as alcohol tolerance, fermentation speed, aromas, temperature tolerance, and more. The most commonly used are:

    • Yeast #7: the industry standard as it is strong, reliable, and ferments quickly.​

    • Yeast #9: the standard for ginjō production as it known for lower acidity and classic fruity and floral aromas.

    • Yeast #__01: if a yeast number ends in "01" it is a low foaming yeast.

      • Low foaming yeasts are popular as they:

        • allow for a higher volume of production.

        • reduce the risk of overflow.

        • reduce the risk of microbial contamination. 

        • are easier to clean up and sanitize after.

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT YEAST - SEE OUR YEAST STUDY GUIDE

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

 

HOW SAKE IS MADE

World Sake Day is October 1st and marks the traditional start date of sake brewing. Once all of the main ingredients are sourced and prepared we can now begin the process of creating a starter. A starter is necessary to ensure a healthy population of yeast can carry out the fermentation. Once the starter is prepared, the moromi will be built, after which the fermentation can then begin. The culmination of the steps can take anywhere between a couple weeks to a couple months depending on the brewery and style of sake.

 

CREATING THE STARTER ("MOTO" OR "SHUBO"):

Similar to making bread, a starter must be created to ensure a healthy population of yeast can carry out the fermentation. There are three important starter methods to know:

KIMOTO:

  • A rare starter method dating back to the early 1600s.​​

  • A traditional starter with naturally occurring lactic acid.

    • In multiple small vessels, kōji and cold water are combined to extract enzymes.​

    • Cooled steamed rice is then added to the vessels.

    • Wooden mashers are used to grind the mixtures into paste.

    • All vessels are combined into a larger vat to rest, during this time lactic acid bacteria naturally develops.

    • Temperatures must remain low to reduce the risk of microbial spoilage 41-46°F (5-8°C).

  • This process creates an acidic, nutrient rich environment, safe for yeast survival and growth.

  • After roughly two weeks the environment is suitable for the addition of yeast.

  • Only used for roughly 1% of sake production.

  • Kimoto sakes are high in acidity with high umami, gamey, and earthy notes (styles vary per producer).

YAMAHAI:

  • A rare starter method that dates back to the early 1900s.

  • A traditional starter with naturally occurring lactic acid.

  • This method follows the steps of Kimoto with a few alterations​:

    • The grinding process with wooden mashers, known as yamaoroshi is not used. 

      • Yamahai, short for yamaoroshi hai-shi, meaning to "stop yamaoroshi".

    • The temperature is a few degrees higher and more water is used to encourage the breakdown of rice and creation of lactic acid.

  • This process creates an acidic, nutrient rich environment, safe for yeast survival and growth.

  • After roughly two weeks the environment is suitable for the addition of yeast.

  • Only used for roughly 9% of sake production.

  • Yamahai sakes are high in acidity with high umami, gamey, and earthy notes (styles vary per producer).

SOKUJO-MOTO:

  • The most common starter method, used for roughly 90% of all sake production.

  • This "quick starter" was created in 1909 and introduces a pure lactic acid solution to the mixture of steamed rice, water, and kōji.

  • Temperatures are moderate 64-77°F (18-25°C), rather than cool, as the environment is already acidic and safe for yeast survival and growth.

  • Yeast can be added right away, cutting the overall fermentation time in half when compared to traditional starters.

  • These sakes are clean, lower in acidity, with fruity and floral notes, and an elegant palate (styles vary per producer).

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT STARTERS - SEE OUR STARTER STUDY GUIDE.

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

BUILDING THE FERMENTATION MASH ("SANDAN JIKOMI"):

Once the starter is complete and the population of yeast is healthy and strong, the starter is moved into a large vessel. Then a three step process, known as sandan jikomi, will take place over the course of four days to build the main fermentation mash, known as the moromi. To build the moromi, steamed rice, kōji, and water will be added three separate times to the large vessel containing the starter. After the first addition, the mixture will sit untouched to encourage the yeast population to multiply. On day three, more steamed rice, kōji, and water are added to the vat, giving the yeast more nutrients to continue to grow. On the fourth day, the third addition is added, creating a large batch with a strong population of yeast. The moromi is now ready to begin fermentation.

 

FERMENTATION ("HEIKOU FUKUHAKKOU"):

The creation of alcohol, is the main purpose of the moromi. Kōji still has active enzymes that will break down the added steamed rice and convert the starch into sugar. This process continues in the fermentation vat, the same vat in which yeast converts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat. Both of these conversions take place at the same time, and is known as multiple parallel fermentation, heikou fukuhakkou in Japanese. This simultaneous process is unique to sake production.

The average fermentation takes 21-28 days. An important factor during fermentation is temperature. Warmer fermentations are more vigorous, reducing overall time and creating rich, savory styles of sake. Cooler fermentations take longer to complete and create more delicate, fruity, and floral styles of sake. The average temperature range for fermentation is in between 46-65°F (8-18°C). 

The head brewer, known as the tōji, has a desired outcome of sugar and alcohol for each batch of sake produced, this is achieved through meticulous preparation and skill. To ensure the efforts do not go to waste, fermentation must be stopped delicately to ensure the yeast becomes dormant and does not die. Dying yeast produces unfavorable characteristics that would result in a faulty sake. Once the batch has completed fermentation to the tōji's satisfaction, the temperature will be slowly reduced to below 41°​F (5°C) to render the yeast dormant.

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT FERMENTATION - SEE OUR FERMENTATION STUDY GUIDE.

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

CLICK THE PICTURES BELOW TO BE LINKED TO VIDEOS BREAKING DOWN THE PRODUCTION OF SAKE:

 

FINISHING STEPS

Once the fermentation is complete there are many optional and some required steps before the product can be released:

OPTIONAL ADDITION OF DISTILLED ALCOHOL ("JŌZŌ ALCOHOL"):

Once the batch has finished fermentation, the brewer typically adds high strength (95% abv.) distilled alcohol to the vat. The purpose of adding jōzō alcohol is not to "fortify" the batch, or to increase the alcohol level of the batch, as water is added after filtration. The purpose of this addition is because aromatic compounds and textural components are more soluble in alcohol than in water. The addition of jōzō alcohol creates a desired short, crisp finish, enhances aromatics, preserves the shelf-life, and reduces the body. If a sake has not had jōzō alcohol added to the batch, the brewer will indicate so by stating "junmai", meaning pure, on the label.

PRESSING ("JŌSŌ"):

The alcoholic liquid needs to be separated from the rice solids in the tank to legally be called sake. The remaining solids are known as kasu. This can be conducted by three separate methods.

 

MACHINE PRESSING ("YABUTA-SHIBORI"):

  • A machine, known as an assakuki, is connected to a tank for the moromi to fill vertical pockets.

    • Often referred to by the most popular brand name, Yabuta (pictured below).

  • Controlled pressure is applied from the sides of the pockets pressing the liquid from the solids.

  • This method has become an industry standard because:

    • the pressure can be adjusted to mimic the below methods.

    • it is conducted within a few hours.

    • it limits the exposure to oxygen.

TRADITIONAL PRESSING ("FUNA-SHIBORI"):

  • The moromi is filled into cloth bags and piled on their sides neatly in a traditional press, known as a fune.

  • A lever from above is slowly lowered, applying gentle pressure to the bags (pictured below).

  • The liquid is pressed from the bags over the course of two days.

  • This method creates a finely textured sake, however, it is time consuming and only used for premium sakes.

  • This method only presses roughly 80% of the liquid from the bags. The remaining moromi is often transferred to a Yabuta to press the remaining liquid away from the solids.

GRAVITY ("FUKURO-SHIBORI"):

  • The moromi is put into cloth bags and hung over a tub to collect the liquid as it drips out of the bags.

  • This method only separates roughly 50% of the liquid from the solids. The bags are often transferred to a fune and/or Yabuta to press the remaining liquid away from the solids.

  • This method is the very time consuming and labor intensive so it is only used for super premium sakes.

  • Sake "pressed" by gravity is delicate and often referred to as "shizuku".

FILTRATION ("ROKA"):

After pressing, sake has a slight yellow-green color. Most sake is filtered with activated carbon to remove the coloring components and to create a clear sake. If a sake has not been carbon filtered, the brewer will indicate so by stating "muroka", meaning not carbon filtered, on the label.

OPTIONAL ADDITION OF WATER ("WARMIZU"):

After pressing, the alcohol level of the batch is typically between 17-20% abv. Most sake is diluted after filtration with water. This brings the alcohol level down to the typical 15-16% abv. to create a smooth drinking experience. If a sake has not been diluted, the brewer will indicate so by stating "genshu", meaning undiluted, on the label.

PASTEURIZATION ("BIN HI-IRE"):

Pasteurization occurs for almost all sake produced. This process heats the sake to 140-149°F (60-65°C) for roughly 10 minutes. This process kills any active microorganisms and creates a stable product. Pasteurization typically occurs twice: immediately after filtration (before storage), and either before or after bottling (before shipping) and can be conducted in bulk or in bottle.  If a sake has not been pasteurized, the brewer will indicate so by stating "nama", meaning unpasteurized, on the label. Nama sake must be treated similarly to milk, keep it refrigerated and consume it quickly.

BULK PASTEURIZATION ("JA-KAN")

  • The most common and efficient method.

  • Breweries pasteurize sake by transferring the sake from one tank, through heated pipes, into a second tank.

  • This method takes longer to cool down, resulting in a reduction of fruity, floral aromas and freshness. 

BOTTLE PASTEURIZATION ("BIN-KAN"): ​

  • The sake is bottled and then heated by hot water and then quickly cooled down by cold water.​

  • A more gentle method preserving fruity, floral aromas and freshness.

  • Requires more labor and space for bottle storage and typically only used for ginjō and daiginjō sakes.

STORAGE ("CHOZŌ"):

All of the processes that create sake often leave the finished product slightly disjointed. Tōji's typically let the sake mature pre and post bottling to allow the sake to achieve optimal flavors, textures, and harmony. The sake is typically stored for one to six months prior to release. If the sake is stored for over two years, it is known as koshu, or aged sake.

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT FINISHING - SEE OUR FINISHING METHODS STUDY GUIDE.

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

 
Sake: Yabuta

Yabuta

Sake: Fune

Fune

Sake: Bottle Pasteurization

Bottle Pasteurization

Sake: Bulk Pasteurization

Bulk Pasteurization

Sake Storage

Storage

SAKE STYLES

Now that we understand how sake is made, lets dive into the most common styles of sake.

FUTSŪ-SHU:

  • Basic or entry level sake.

  • This grade of sake has minimal regulations add allows additions to adjust the final taste.

    • No polishing requirement.

    • Addition of glucose, or other sugars, to adjust sweetness is permitted.

    • Addition of organic acids to adjust acidity is permitted. 

    • Addition of amino acids to adjust umami is permitted.

    • Addition of jōzō alcohol is permitted up to 50% of the total weight of rice used.

  • Futsū-shu production is on the decline and is roughly 65-70% of all sake production, ranging from mediocre to great quality.

PREMIUM LEVEL SAKE  ("TOKUTEI-MEISHŌ-SHU"):

Premium sake, or "special designation sake", does not permit the vast amount of additions like entry level sake. Premium sake is made with rice, water, kōji, and yeast, along with the optional additions of jōzō alcohol and yondan (both of which are discussed in more detail in the finishing methods breakdown). Kōji must account for a minimum of 15% of the total volume of rice used. Jōzō alcohol can only account for a maximum of 10% of the total weight of rice used. Grades typically become more delicate and refined as we go down this list. Premium sake production is on the rise and is roughly 30-35% of all sake production.

JUNMAI:

  • No rice polishing requirement.

  • Only produced with rice, water, kōji, and yeast.

  • The addition of distilled alcohol and yondan is not permitted.

  • Styles vary per producer, however, typically are moderate in acidity, savory, and less fragrant.

  • If a brewer produces a bottle of Junmai that is more special than their typical bottling, such as it has specialty rice or a low polishing ratio, the brewer may indicate so by stating "TOKUBETSU JUNMAI" on the label.

    • ​Styles vary per producer, however, are typically more refined than a basic Junmai.

HONJŌZŌ:

  • 70% or less of the original rice grain remains (70% seimai-buai).

  • Styles vary per producer, however, typically are moderate in acidity, savory, and less fragrant.

  • If a brewer produces a bottle of Honjōzō that is more special than their typical bottling, such as it has specialty rice or a low polishing ratio, the brewer may indicate so by stating "TOKUBETSU HONJŌZŌ" on the label.

    • ​Styles vary per producer, however, are typically more refined than a basic Honjōzō.

JUNMAI GINJŌ:

  • 60% or less of the original rice grain remains (60% seimai-buai).

  • Only produced with rice, water, kōji, and yeast.

  • The addition of distilled alcohol is not permitted.

  • Styles vary per producer, however, typically are low in acidity, delicate, and fragrant.

GINJŌ:

  • 60% or less of the original rice grain remains (60% seimai-buai).

  • Styles vary per producer, however, typically are low in acidity, delicate, and fragrant.

JUNMAI DAIGINJŌ:

  • 50% or less of the original rice grain remains (50% seimai-buai).

  • Only produced with rice, water, kōji, and yeast.

  • The addition of distilled alcohol is not permitted.

  • Styles vary per producer, however, typically are low in acidity, delicate, clean, and fragrant.

DAIGINJŌ:

  • 50% or less of the original rice grain remains (50% seimai-buai).

  • Styles vary per producer, however, typically are low in acidity, delicate, clean, and fragrant.

SPECIALTY SAKE:

These specialty sakes can be made with any of the above entry level or premium level grades of sake.

KOSHU:

  • Aged sake.

  • Koshu is not legally defined, however, typically it is aged at the brewery for a minimum of two years.

  • As the sake ages:

    • The texture becomes more rounded.

    • More savory and earthy notes develop along with increased richness and complexity.

    • The color darkens with time turning from clear to yellow to amber.

NAMA-ZAKE:

  • Unpasteurized sake.

  • Fresh, vibrant, and uniquely aromatic.

  • Also referred to as "nama-nama", "shinshu", or "draft sake".

  • Should be consumed within 1 month of bottling.

NAMA-CHOZŌ:

  • Legally defined.

  • Sake that has only been pasteurized once.

  • The sake is not pasteurized after filtration (before storage), however, it is pasteurized in bulk before bottling.

  • This style of nama typically has a more "nama-like" freshness and flavor.

  • Also referred to as "fresh-stored sake".

  • Should be consumed within 6 months of bottling.

NAMA-ZUME:

  • Not legally defined.

  • Sake that has only been pasteurized once.

  • The sake is pasteurized in bulk after filtration (before storage), but not again before bottling.

  • Also referred to as "fresh-bottled sake".

  • Can be labeled as"Hiya-oroshi" when released as autumnal seasonal product.

  • Should be consumed within 6 months of bottling.

NIGORI:

  • Cloudy sake.

  • Nigori sake can be made one of two ways:

    • The sake is filtered through a coarse mesh filter that allows some solids to pass through.

      • Resulting in a cloudy, white sake with a fuller body and rich texture.

    • The sake is filtered completely and then kasu is added back into the batch.

      • Resulting in a cloudy, white sake with a light, delicate texture.

  • Sweetness levels vary from dry to sweet depending on the producer's style.

  • Due to contact with the solids, nigori sake has a reduced shelf life and should be stored at cool or chilled temperatures and consumed within a year.

SPARKLING SAKE:

  • Sparkling sake can be created in several ways:

    • Injected carbon dioxide into the sake (not common, poor quality)​.

    • Capturing the carbon dioxide during fermentation in a closed tank (good to high quality).

    • Capturing the carbon dioxide during fermentation in a bottle (good to high quality).

  • This style is typically lower in alcohol (5-10%) and on the sweeter side.

TARUZAKE:

  • Sake that is aged in Japanese cedar vats.

  • Typically the sake is aged for one to two weeks as Japanese cedar is very fragrant.

  • Cedar alternatives such as planks, chips, etc. are not permitted.

FOR MORE IN DEPTH DETAILS ABOUT STYLES - SEE OUR STYLES AND SPECIALTY STUDY GUIDE.

(included in the Industry Education Plan)

 
 
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Japanese Prefectures

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