It is important to note that saké categories are guidelines intended to define quality and set an expectation for saké in the marketplace but there are always exceptions to the rule. We have enjoyed some wonderful tasting Futsu and some not so tasty Daiginjo. While the classifications will provide a clear path to increasingly higher quality saké, don't rule out exploration of those of defined lower grade.
Futsu-shu: Basic saké that does not have to be made from premium grade rice and does not have a special milling requirement. Futsu generally has more added alcohol than does the Honjozo style.
Honjozo: Saké brewed with any level of added alcohol. A Ginjo or Daiginjo that does not also state "Junmai" is most often a Honjozo. These sakés have varied amounts of added alcohol used to enhance flavor and/or aroma and are typically very good in quality. A premium level saké.
Junmai: Pure saké, made from only rice, water, yeast and Koji. To carry the Junmai name the saké cannot have anything added to it. No alcohol, fruit, flavor, nothing. Junmai does not have a legal milling rate required but the rate must be included on the label. A premium level saké.
Ginjo: Made with rice polished between 51% - 60% and has a varied level of added alcohol. A super premium level saké.
Junmai Ginjo: Pure saké made with rice polished 51% - 60% with nothing added. A super premium level saké.
Daiginjo: Made with rice polished to at least 50% (often much more) and has a varied level of added alcohol. An ultra premium level saké.
Junmai Daiginjo: Pure saké made with rice polished to at least 50% with nothing added. An ultra premium level saké.
Amakuchi: Saké that is sweet.
Genshu: Undiluted, full strength saké. Most saké are diluted to 14% - 15 % alcohol but Genshu have no added water. They are typically heartier in flavor, body and around 18% - 20% alcohol.
Karakuchi: Dry saké.
Kimoto: A process of creating a yeast starter brew by using old methods of an intensive mixing and aerating technique.
Koshu: Aged saké, whether deliberately or on accident. Typically very earthy and strong tasting.
Nama: Unpasteurized saké. Most saké is pasteurized either once or twice before shipping.
Nama Chozo: Saké that has been stored as Nama and then pasteurized just once before bottling.
Namazume: Saké that is bottled as Nama with but will be pasteurized in the bottle.
Nigori: Cloudy saké. Only partially filtered/pressed to retain some of the rice sediment that provides a rich creamy style depending on the degrees of filtration and pressing.
Sanzo-shu: Made with heavy amounts of alcohol that nearly triples the volume. This style is not legally considered saké in Japan.
Shibori-tate: Freshly brewed and pressed saké.
Shinshu: New saké from this year’s rice harvest. Typically not aged very long and intended to drink fresh.
Taru sake: Saké that is aged in a cedar barrel. The time of aging varies greatly.
Tokubetsu: A special designation that often means special rice or polishing has occurred but sometimes simply means the brewer has designated the saké as special.
Yamahai: A style of making the yeast starter using natural lactic bacteria but no mixing with poles. Typically has a wild or gamey flavor.
Jizake: A term designating a local brewery, essentially a microbrewery.
Kakemai: The steamed rice (without Koji) that is added to a brewing tank of saké.
Kasu: Saké lees (sediment) that is removed during pressing.
Koji: Rice with Koji-kin growing on it.
Koji Muro: The special room where Koji is made.
Koji-kin: Aspergillus oryzae, the mold that digests rice starch converting it into sugar.
Kura: A saké brewery.
Kurabito: Employees of a saké brewery.
Moromi: The starter mash where all the ingredients first come together to brew.
Moto: The first brewing step.
Multiple Parallel Fermentation: Saccharification and fermentation taking place at the same time. Koji digests rice starch into sugar as the yeast digests the sugar into alcohol.
Nihon-shu: Literally means “Wine of Japan.” This is the formal Japanese name for what we call saké.
Sakemai: A term that stands for the collection of saké brewing rice.
Seimai: Polishing rice.
Seimai-buai: The remaining percentage of the grain after polishing.
Seishu: A legal term for saké.
Shimpaku: The white starchy heart of a rice grain.
Shubo: The starter yeast.
SMV (Saké Meter Value): Also called Nihonshudo, is the gauge of dry to sweet in a saké. A positive number like +5 is dry (medium dry) and a negative number like -22 is going to be quite sweet.