Types of Sake and Their Flavor Profiles
There are basically six types of premium sake. Four of the top six are considered in the “Ginjo” category. The ginjo term was coined in the 1970’s. It was defined by how much the rice was milled. Generally, the greater the outer part of the rice that is milled away, the higher the quality of sake. The ginjo category of sake also required more labor-intensive brewing methods in order to achieve a refined product.
Another useful way to remember the sake types is the understand the term “Junmai”. If the sake is a Junmai, it is pure rice sake. No added brewers alcohol is added. The non-Junmai type premium sake (aru-ten) have just a hint of distilled alcohol added. The distilled alcohol is not for a higher alcohol content. Rather it is added to achieve balance, and enhancing the aromas and fruit flavors.
Here is a description of the six types of sake in descending order of quality, and their general tasting profile:
Daiginjo is made with rice, water, koji, yeast and a hint of distilled alcohol. The small bit of brewer’s alcohol is used to enhance flavors and aromas. Daiginjo is considered some of the most premium of a producer’s product line up. The rice is milled to at least 50%. Therefore at least 50% of the rice is milled away. Daiginjo is forgoes many of the available automated procedures to manually brew sake for a customized method of production. The high labor of the craft, combined with high quality rice tend to result in a refined product and higher price. The flavor tones of daiginjo tend to be light and soft. The aromas are very fragrant. The flavors are complex and the finish is long lasting.
- Junmai Daiginjo-shu
Junmai daiginjo is made with rice, water, koji and yeast. The rice is milled to at least 50% . It does not have distilled alcohol. That is what differentiates it from the Daiginjo. The other profiles and characteristics of Junmai Daiginjo are similar to that of Daiginjo.
Ginjo shu practices the same manual labor skills as Daiginjo and Junmai ginjo. Ginjo is made with rice, water, koji, yeast and a hint of distilled alcohol. The rice is milled to 60%. In other words, at least 40% of the rice is removed from the original size. Ginjos tend to be aromatic. The flavors are slightly sweet, soft and delicate.
- Junmai Ginjo –shu
Junmai Ginjo is made with rice, water, koji and yeast. The rice is milled to at least 60%. Like Ginjo, at least 40% of the rice is removed. It does not have distilled alcohol. That is what differentiates it from the Ginjo. The other profiles and characteristics of Junmai Ginjo are similar to that of ginjo.
Honjozo is made with rice water, koji, yeast and a small amount of distilled alcohol. The rice is milled to at least 70%. In other words, at least 30% of the rice is removed from the original size. Honjozos tend to be low in acidity and dry. Honjozo has fruity aromas and mildly sweet yet complex flavors.
Junmai is made with rice water, koji and yeast. Like Honjozo, the rice is milled to 70%. Junmai does not contain the small amount of distilled alcohol like Honjozo.
It is worth noting that the milling rates for each type of sake is a minimum requirement. Some producers will mill beyond the minimum requirement. Some will even qualify to be classified as a higher grade if they wish. However, it may be a humble strategy to not upgrade the classification and build the reputation for the quality of overall brand.