Akai sake (赤い酒) literally means red sake, and as you can likely guess from its name, it’s renowned for its reddish color. This hue is due to the use of a special type of koji-kin.
Amakuchi (甘口) simply means sweet tasting and is used to describe the sake’s sweetness. Karakuchi (辛口), on the other hand, is used to describe its dryness.
Arabashiri (あらばしり) is used to describe sake that hasn’t yet matured, usually produced from the sake first pressed out of the mash. It has wild connotations with a full body and enjoyable flavor.
Bijinshu (美人酒) or "beautiful woman sake" was a traditional method of producing sake. Village virgins would chew rice and spit into wooden containers and let it ferment. This is commonly regarded as the earliest method used to make sake.
Daiginjo (大吟醸) or daiginjoshu (大吟醸酒) means upper premium sake, hence the “dai,” or “big” prefix. It uses rice that has been polished to at least 50%, meaning that it has fewer impurities than both junmaishu and ginjoshu. This extra refinement creates highly complex yet light flavors and aromas. Without the junmai label, distilled alcohol can also be added.
Futsushu (普通酒) means ordinary sake. The majority of sake produced is futsushu, making up over 80% of the market. Although it lacks the complexity of premium sakes, it is perfectly enjoyable, and regular rice and distilled alcohol are used to achieve low costs and, unlike special-designation sakes like junmaishu, honjozo or ginjoshu, it doesn’t need to follow strict production rules.
Genshu (原酒) is undiluted sake. Unlike most sake, which is diluted with water after brewing to lower the alcohol content from 18–20% down to 14–16%, genshu is not diluted after pressing. However, if water has been added and the alcohol content remains unaffected within 1%, then it is still considered genshu.
Ginjo (吟醸) or ginjoshu (吟醸酒) means premium sake, which uses rice that has been polished to at least 60%, meaning that it has fewer impurities than junmaishu. It is brewed using low-temperature fermentation, and without the junmai label, distilled alcohol can also be added. Ginjoshu tends to be light, fruity, and complex and is generally served chilled for the summer.
A guinomi (ぐい呑) is a large sake cup and essentially means a “gulping cup” in Japanese. They’re often collected as works of art and can vary dramatically in design.
Unlike traditional winter sake brewing, hiyaoroshi (冷やおろし) is a type of sake that is aged throughout the summer and distributed in autumn. Another distinctive feature of this autumnal sake is that it is not pasteurized for a second time after the summer ageing process.
Honjozo (本醸造) or hojozoshu (本醸造酒) means “genuine brew”, and it uses rice that’s been polished to at least 70%, like junmaishu. However, honjozo contains a small amount of distilled alcohol to make the sake’s flavor and aroma smoother. Honjozo sakes are versatile and smooth, and can be served both warm or chilled.
This is a rather popular form of sake and it involves infusing it with fruits like apple, cherry and raspberry to get different flavors. These are sweet and fruity, perfect for mixing with cocktails.
For jizake (地酒), think microbrewing. This is locally produced sake from smaller kura (sake breweries).
Jukuseishu (熟成酒) means aged sake, with the ageing process giving it its distinctive sweet and rich aroma. The process creates complex and interesting sakes, both in appearance and taste.
Junmai (純米) is simply the Japanese word for “pure rice,” and when used to refer to sake, it means that no additional alcohol or sugar has been added to the sake, just rice, water, yeast, and koji. It is synonymous with junmaishu (純米酒) and is used to differentiate between pure rice and non-pure rice sakes. The rice used has to be polished to at least 70%.
Kanzukuri (寒造り) is a term used to refer to sake made during the winter. Sake is, traditionally, of a higher quality when made during the winter as it is easier to control the temperature and the growth of contaminating bacteria is slowed.
Kasu (粕) refers to the lees, or residue, left behind after the fermenting mixture has been pressed and filtered. Kasu can be used to make pickles and shochu. It also commonly used as an ingredient in many dishes.
Kasubuai (粕歩合) refers to the ratio of residue left after the moromi has been pressed. Some sake breweries press less to achieve smoother and gentler tastes, meaning that they have a higher kasubuai.
Kijoshu (貴醸酒), meaning a precious brew, may be likened to sherry or port and has sweeter, thicker results. Instead of adding more water in the brewing process, more sake is added, giving it its sweeter taste and reputation as a dessert sake.
This is used to refer to sake created using the traditional and painstaking kimoto (生酛) brewing method. It includes the arduous task of grinding the starter mash into a paste and while rare today, it was commonplace for 300 years of sake’s history.
Kinpaku-iri (金箔入り) refers to sake that contains gold leaf. While the appearance is striking, its addition doesn’t greatly alter the sake’s flavor.
Kinshojushoshu (金賞受賞酒) or "gold prize-winning sake" refers to sake that has been awarded a gold prize at one of Japan’s prestigious sake judging competitions.
Kiriko (切子) is the term used to describe Japanese cut glass, which can be used to make utensils for drinking sake. Notable examples include Edo kiriko and Satsuma kiriko.
Koji is steamed rice that has koji mold spores, or koji-kin, cultivated into it. This is what makes the sake production process possible. It creates enzymes that break the rice’s starches down into sugars, which are then fermented by the yeast to produce alcohol. Koji is crucial for sake production and is treated with a special reverence in the process.
Koshu (古酒) is aged sake. Sake doesn’t typically have a reputation for ageing particularly well, but koshu can be aged for decades, giving it a sweetened honeyed flavor and yellowish hue.
Kuchikamizake (口噛み酒) or "mouth-chewed sake" is, like bijinshu, a term for sake made by using human saliva to initiate fermentation. It is sour and cloudy white in color. Rice is chewed and then spat into a container, where the enzymes in the saliva start to break down the starch in the rice to produce alcohol. It is no longer a common method for sake production.
A kura (蔵) is a warehouse or cellar, but in the sake world it means a brewery. These are also known as sakagura (酒蔵).
A masu (升) was originally a square wooden box used to measure rice in feudal Japan. One masu was seen as how much rice was needed to feed a person for a day and was also the standard unit for serving sake. They are still commonly used to serve sake and it is common practice for restaurants to show their generosity by placing a cup in a masu and overfilling both.
A moromi (諸味) is the fermenting mash of rice, water, koji, and yeast used to make sake. It can also be used to refer to unrefined sake.
Muroka (無濾過) means unfiltered, and in the context of sake, it refers to sake that hasn’t been carbon filtered. The filtration process can occasionally remove interesting flavors, meaning that muroka sake has something of an untamed reputation. Unlike nigorizake, it is clear due to the removal of residue.
Muroka-nama-genshu (無濾過生原酒) is a style of sake that has three particular qualities that give it its powerful and distinctive flavor, literally meaning unfiltered, unpasteurized, and undiluted sake. These tend to be higher in alcohol content, packing a punch that gives it a fresh and wild feel. Like all namazake, this sake should be kept chilled.
Namachozo (生貯) is a term that’s used to refer to sake that is pasteurized (heat treated) only once, prior to bottling. For reference, regular sake is usually pasteurized twice. It is ideally served around springtime and should be kept refrigerated. It has lively and vibrant flavors, but is still somewhat gentler than the completely unpasteurized namazake.
Nigori (濁り), also known as nigorizake (濁り酒), refers to cloudy sake. It is created by filtering the sake with a broader mesh, allowing for fine rice particles that are usually removed to permeate with the sake and create a cloudy liquor. Mild in flavor, nigori is sweet and perfect for a dessert drink. It is served chilled and needs to be shaken before serving.
Nihonshu (日本酒) means “Japanese liquor” and is another word for “sake” commonly used in Japan to avoid confusion with the other meanings of the word “sake”, which also just means “liquor”. Also known as rice wine in the West, nihonshu is, like wine, fermented. It should not be confused with “shochu”, which is distilled, like brandy. Also like wine, nihonshu is incredibly diverse in flavor and experience. It is Japan’s national beverage and is of immense cultural importance, with the brewers, toji, being regarded as artists.
Like wines, sake varies greatly in sweetness. Nihonshu-do (日本酒度) is also known as the Sake Meter Value and is used to measure how sweet or dry a sake is by measuring its amount of residual sugar and alcohol. A -4 nihonshu-do value means that it is rather sweet while a +10 value is very dry
O-choko (お猪口), or choko without the Japanese honorific "o", are small cylindrical ceramic cups commonly used for drinking sake. They vary in size and style and can be objects of outstanding beauty.
The rice polishing ratio, or seimaibuai (精米歩合) in Japanese, is the percentage of rice that remains after the husk of the brown rice has been polished off. Note that all rice is brown before its husk is removed. A lower rice polishing ratio means a more refined and premium product.
Sakazuki (盃) is a term used to describe flat saucer-like ceremonial cups used to drink sake. They are commonly used at weddings and other important occasions, such as tea ceremonies.
A shuki (酒器) or sake set is made up of a flask and cups used to serve sake. They are commonly ceramic, but wood, glass, and plastic shuki are also sometimes used.
Shuppinshu (出品酒) or "exhibition sake" is not for general market release. Sake brewers create shuppinshu to exhibit their wares and enter competitions. The result is experimental innovation at the cutting-edge of the sake world.
A relatively recent innovation and weaker than other types of sake, sparkling sake is renowned for its light and sweet flavors. This is due in part to its secondary layer of fermentation. Just like champagne, it’s perfect for special occasions.
Taruzake (樽酒) refers to sake aged in wooden barrels or bottled in wooden casks using cryptomeria wood (also known as Japanese cedar). The wood naturally instils a distinctive, earthy aroma and flavor into the sake so premium sake is rarely used. Casks are traditionally tapped to mark important events.
A tobin (斗瓶) is an 18-liter flask-shaped glass container. Tobingakoi (斗瓶囲い) is sake pressed into a tobin. The brewer then selects the best sake from the batch for shipping.
A tokkuri (徳利) is a flask used to serve sake in a sake set. They are traditionally bulbous in shape with narrow necks and made from ceramic, metal or glass. If the sake being enjoyed is served hot, then the tokkuri placed in hot water. They can come in a variety of shapes and can be objects of staggering beauty.
Tokubetsu (特別) or “special” sake is usually classified as either tokubetsu junmaishu or tokubetsu honjozoshu. In these cases, the sake production follows the same methods used in regular junmaishu or honjozoshu production, but a special method is used somewhere in the process. Normally, the rice is polished to 60% or lower.
Umami (旨味) is recognized as the fifth category of taste and is used to describe a full, well-rounded flavor. It is used in sake to describe the tastes of different brews, with drier, light sakes being described as having little umami while rich sakes are described as having a lot more umami. It is related to preference and not quality.
Yeast is added to the koji (steamed rice and mold mix) along with water to ferment the sugars and eventually create a mash, known as a moromi (諸味). The type of yeast used can affect the sake’s aroma and flavor.
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