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A Brief Guide to Saké

Saké is an all-natural rice-based fermented alcoholic beverage. It is made like beer and served like wine, with tasting characteristics and alcohol content very similar to wine.

Saké was first made in China roughly 5,000 years ago, but was later dramatically improved in Japan. Today, there are over 14,000 different sakés produced by 1,800 brewers worldwide, primarily in Japan.

Saké is made from four ingredients: rice, water, yeast, and koji, an enzyme. The starches in rice are concentrated in the center of the grain, and for premium and super premium saké, the outside of the grain is polished away. This exposes the heart of the rice that contains the starch that will be converted to fermentable sugars. The degree to which the rice is polished determines how the saké is classified.

Most saké is aged for about six months, either in tanks or in the glass bottle. It is important that saké is kept at a controlled temperature, and can be consumed up to 3 weeks (and often longer) after opening the bottle with little to no change in flavor or quality.

Main types of saké include:

Junmai – Made from rice, water, yeast and koji only.

Junmai Ginjo – Junmai Saké with 40%-50% of the rice grain polished away. (or Junmai Sake with a polish ratio of 50% – 60%)

Junmai Daiginjo – Junmai Saké with 50% or more of the rice grain polished away.

Honjozo – Saké with a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added.  This brings out flavors & aroma.

Nama Saké that has not been pasteurized. Namazake must be kept chilled.

Genshu – Saké that has not been diluted with water.  Alcohol content can reach 20%.  (there are also well made sakés that only reach 16 – 17% alcohol)

Nigori  Unpressed sake – leaving a white, cloudy layer.  The taste is often sweet but can be dry.