What Are The Types of Sake?
Updated: Mar 14
The label on every can of Sake High!, says Premium Junmai Sake. What is Junmai sake and what is the best sake to drink? Should sake be warm or cold sake? Here’s a fun guide to the different types of sake to help choose Sake High! with more confidence at the store or out for drinks!
To start, remember how sake is made. Sake is a Japanese fermented beverage made from rice. Sake is brewed (just like beer) from rice, water, yeast and koji. Sake has about a 15% ABV higher than beer and wine.
Similar to how wine has categories (red, white, rose, sparkling, dessert) and varietals (champagne, chardonnay, pinot noir) sake has categories and grades.
Categories of Sake
The two categories of sake are basic sake and premium sake. Basic and Premium sake are characterized by ingredients and rice milling percentages. The typical ingredients of sake are rice, water, yeast, and koji. In some sakes, like basic (table) sake, brewer’s alcohol or grain spirits is added. When sake is brewed, sake rice grains are polished to remove fats and proteins. Sake categories are determined by how much the rice grain has been polished.
Usually higher quality sake is polished down the most to at least 70% (30% of the rice removed). When there is less of the rice grain (more polished, higher quality) the sake is more fruity and floral. When there is more of the rice grain (less polished, lower quality) the sake is more earthy and full. Both the ingredients and rice milling percentage of 65% gives Sake High! its flavorful taste yet simple texture.
Basic sake is known as futsū-shu, a.k.a. table sake. Table sake is usually between 15-17% ABV. Table sake is the most affordable on a budget due to the brewing process. When table sake is brewed, it is either not milled or milled the least compared to premium sake. Table sake is milled to 71% or more of the remaining rice. This means basic sake is characterized by more robust flavors because it is less polished.
Basic sake is referred to as cheap sake and sometimes for that reason is used for american sake bombs (cold beer and a shot of sake dropped in the beer). The sake is cheap because usually basic sake uses various additives like distilled alcohol to lower production costs. Not to mention, because table sake is not milled to a high percentage, there is more of the rice available for brewing. That means there is more sake output which makes the sake cheap and meant for large scale consumption (cheap sake is often served in a carton). Sake High! is not considered as basic sake because of its high quality ingredients and rice milling percentage.
What is so special about premium sake and why is Sake High! a great choice? This goes back to the ingredients of the Sake and the 45% of rice remaining after milling (Sake High! is polished down to 65%). Again, the higher the rice polishing, usually means the more premium the sake. That’s because when the sake rice is polished to at least 70%, most of the proteins and fats are polished off leaving mostly just the starch of the sake rice. The more polished the rice, the more fruity and floral the sake. Sake High! is considered Premium and Sake High! is a Junmai sake. Here’s a quick overview of what Junmai sake is and the different grades of sake.
Grades of Premium Sake
Within the premium sake category, there are grades of sake. The sake grades can be broken down into different styles of styles.
Ginjō and daigingō are characterized by clean noses, pure floral and fruity aromas. Usually these styles are polished down to at least 60% and even 50% for daigingō.
Junmai and honjozō are characterized by clean noses, but more body and smooth taste. There’s sometimes more intense cereal (grainy) and lactic aromas with Junmai and honjozō because they are less polished than Ginjō and daigingō styles.
Styles of Premium Sake
The six grades are also broken down by “Pure Rice” and “Alcohol Added” style.
Junmai, which means “pure rice”, indicates that high-strength distilled alcohol was not added before filtration in the brewing process. Quick reminder: Sake High! is classified as Junmai. It’s made with rice, water, yeast and Koji only, without additives and no alcohol added.
The “alcohol added” style is sake made with the four pure rice ingredients plus the addition of a limited amount of distilled alcohol. This distilled alcohol’s purpose is to enhance the flavor, aroma and texture of the sake.
Does Sake Need to be Expensive?
Expensive sake tends to be more flavorful with delicate and fruity aromas. Expensive sake usually has a higher polishing rice ratio that leave less of the rice grain remaining. There’s always a time and place for both table sake and premium sake. At the end of the day, sake choice always comes down to taste and preference! It’s fun to try new categories and grades to learn and explore. The more local and unique sake options tend to give descriptions and flavor profile information on the back of the bottle or the can to learn more!
Curious why some grades of sake are served warm? Check out Warm vs Cold Sake and see why your sake doesn’t need to be organic. Stay up to date with tips and ways to drink and serve Sake High! on Instagram.
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