Japanese sake - What are the differences?

culture drinks food

If you're a Japan fan, you can't go past the delicious rice wine. A while ago, we explained the special features of sake, shochu and mirin here. But now we want to delve deeper and focus on the millennia-old drink. Since sake is often drunk with food, we also recommend our text on table manners in Japan. 😊


The production

As you may know, sake is made from polished white rice grains and koji. Together with water and yeast, a two-stage fermentation is produced. After the rice grains have been polished, they rest for several weeks and are often washed by hand. After swelling and steaming, the fermentation process begins with the addition of koji. The production process, in compliance with the purity law, is comparable to the brewing of beer. The alcohol content of sake is usually 15 to 20 percent.

The premium levels  

There are different quality grades of sake and a total of six premium levels that divide the rice wine, which strictly speaking is not wine at all, into different varieties. Three of these varieties have the name Junmai, which means polished rice: Junmai, Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Daiginjo. Unlike the other three varieties, Junmai may not contain any added alcohol and thus tastes strong in character. In the Honjozo, Ginjo and Daiginjo varieties, pure alcohol is added, creating flavours that tend to balance the sake. In addition to these classic premium varieties, there is also unpasteurised sake, for example, in which the yeast cultures continue to work in the filled bottle. The unpasteurised drink is sometimes a little cloudy and must be stored in the refrigerator.

The degrees of polishing

Incidentally, the degree of polishing provides information about how noble a sake is. The more of the rice grain has been polished away, the more expensive the drink will be in the end, but the connection is often not quite so simple. As a rule, the degree of polishing of a good sake is between 50 and 70 percent, which means that more than half of the rice grain has been polished away. A real premium sake is drunk chilled, while some non-premium varieties are also drunk warm or at room temperature.

Sake or beer?

Incidentally, the word sake simply means "alcoholic drink". In Japan there are almost one and a half thousand sake breweries with a population of 126 million. In comparison, Germany has about the same number of breweries with a population of 83 million. So people in both countries like to drink beer, but in Japan the stronger alcoholic drinks made from rice, especially sake or shochu, are also very popular.

MYCONBINI tip: The taste of sake is difficult to describe and, depending on the variety, also very special. For beginners, we recommend Junmai sake and Nyukon sake from Kamutsuru. Sake lovers should definitely try the Junmai Kimoto sake. Kanpai!

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