Japan, Japanese Sake

How to Read a Japanese Sake Label

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With so many unfamiliar terms, and often in Japanese, Sake can be an impenetrable subject. To read a Japanese Sake label, where is the best place to start?
In simple terms, what you need to know when drinking Sake is the fragrance and flavour. Before you get to the drink, you need to get past the label first. Understanding a little about some of the styles and a few terms mean can help you find the best Sake for you.

What is Japanese Sake?

Before we look at the 15 Sake terms, you need to know, let’s start at the basics: what is Sake?

Sake is made from rice, a mold (called koji), water, and yeast. There are two broad styles: sake with distilled alcohol added or without distilled alcohol added (junmai).

Within these two styles, there are varying degrees of rice polishing. The amount of rice polishing affects the aromas and weight of the Sake. Rice is milled to remove the outer portion of fats, proteins, and minerals to leave a starchy centre. Sake rice is polished so that somewhere between 80% (very cheap Sake) and 35% (very expensive Sake) of the grain remains. This percentage is called seimaibuai.

All premium Sake has been polished down to at least 70% of the rice grain’s original size.

Two Styles of Japanese Sake (According to Polishing Rate)

1. Sake with Alcohol Added

  1. Honjozu (70%)
  2. Ginjo (60%)
  3. Daiginjo (50%)

2. Sake with No Alcohol Added

  1. Junmai (70%)
  2. Junmai Ginjo (60%)
  3. Junmai Daiginjo (50%)

In my next post, I will explain the 15 terms you may find when you read a Japanese Sake label to understand and enjoy this fascinating drink.