05: The Types of Sake

Today let me introduce the different types of sake. There are various kinds of sake just as there are wines. You may know that wine can be divided depending on the kind of grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot etc…. But in the case of sake, there are not so many varieties of the main ingredient, rice. Many sake breweries use one kind of rice called “Yamadanishiki”. Sake can be divided by how much the rice is polished before making it into sake, because carbohydrates which are the most important component in brewing sake exist in the center of the rice. The surface of the rice contains protein, fat and minerals. They are unnecessary components in the process of making alcohol. Because of this, the more polished the surface of the rice is, the more refreshing it will taste. Even if the same sake brewers use the same rice, the taste of the sake will be quite different between rice which has been polished a lot and the rice which has only been polished a little.

Sake is named as follows by the degree of polishing:

  •  Normal Sake: more than 70 percent (less than 30 percent of rice has been polished)
  •  Junmai (純米) or Honjozo(本醸造) : 60~70 percent
  •  Ginjo(吟醸) : 50~60 percent
  •  Dai-Ginjo (大吟醸): less than 50 percent

Left: Daiginjo, Right: Junmai Ginjo
Chigonoiwa Sake Brewery in Gifu Prefecture

If brewers polish the rice a lot, the amount of rice needed to make sake will increase by a lot. This means that the price of liquor becomes high. A long time ago, it was hard to polish rice because brewers used to do it by hand. However, now it is much easier because rice is polished by machines, so brewers tend to polish rice a lot in order to make sake with a refreshing taste and a high price. There is also a type of sake made from rice polished to 23 percent!! But, as you know expensive sake is not always delicious (the same with wine, right?). There are many people who prefer “Junmai” or “Normal Sake”(They are mostly extreme sake lovers). I’m also one of them!! They love the unique flavor of the components which exist on the surface of rice.

If you have a chance, please try to drink various types of sake.


Various sake in the sake bar