There are two basic types of sake: Futsū-shu (普通酒?, Ordinary sake) and Tokutei meishō-shu (特定名称酒?, special-designation sake). Futsū-shu is the equivalent of table wine and accounts for the majority of sake produced. Tokutei meishō-shu refers to premium sakes distinguished by the degree to which the rice has been polished and the added percentage of brewer's alcohol or the absence of such additives. There are eight varieties of special-designation sake.
Types of Sake
Styles of Sake
This is pure rice Sake made from rice, water and Koji. This Sake must have a minimum Seimai Buai of 70%. No other additives may be used. (Jun means pure – Mai means rice -- Shu means Sake).
This is pure rice Sake with a small amount of brewer’s alcohol (ethanol) added to the fermentation. The alcohol must be added during fermentation and is limited to 25% of the total alcohol by volume. It must also have a Seimai Buai of at least 70%. This style of Sake is lighter and more fragrant than Junmai-shu.
Gin means “careful selection” and Jo means “ferment” or a carefully select brew. The careful selection refers to the Seimai Buai which must be at least 60%, therefore 40% of the outer rice was polished away. Usually, if the Sake is just labeled as Ginjo, it is Honjozoin style whereas the pure rice Sake will be labeled as Junmai Ginjo.
Sake labeled as Daiginjo, which means “Great Ginjo,” must have a Seimai Buai of at least 50%. Typically, if the bottle is labeled Daiginjo, it is Honjozo style where as the pure rice Sake will be labeled as Junmai Daiginjo.
This means Special in Japanese. Just what is special about the Sake may be hard to determine other than it is more expensive. It may be a lower Seimai Buai, or special yeast or selected rice, but whatever it means, it was handled with extra special care.
Namazake (生酒) is sake that has not been pasteurized. It requires refrigerated storage and has a shorter shelf-life than pasteurized sake.
Genshu (原酒) is undiluted sake. Most sake is diluted with water after brewing to lower the alcohol content from 18-20% down to 14-16%, but genshu is not.
Muroka (無濾過) means unfiltered. It refers to sake that has not been carbon filtered, but which has been pressed and separated from the lees, and thus is clear, not cloudy. Carbon filtration can remove desirable flavors and odors as well as bad ones, thus muroka sake has stronger flavors than filtered varieties.
Nigorizake (濁り酒) is cloudy sake. The sake is passed through a loose mesh to separate it from the mash. It is not filtered thereafter and there is much rice sediment in the bottle. Before serving, the bottle is shaken to mix the sediment and turn the sake white or cloudy.
Seishu (清酒), "clear/clean sake", is the Japanese legal definition of sake and refers to sake in which the solids have been strained out, leaving clear liquid. Thus nigorizake and doburoku (see below) are not seishu and therefore are not actually sake under Japanese law. However, nigorizake can receive the seishu status by being strained clear and having the lees put back in afterward.
Koshu (古酒) is "aged sake". Most sake does not age well, but this specially made type can age for decades, turning yellow and acquiring a honeyed flavor.
Taruzake (樽酒) is sake aged in wooden barrels or bottled in wooden casks. The wood used is Cryptomeria (杉, sugi), which is also inaccurately known as Japanese cedar. Sake casks are often tapped ceremonially for the opening of buildings, businesses, parties, etc. Because the wood imparts a strong flavor, premium sake is rarely used for this type.
Shiboritate (搾立て), "freshly pressed", refers to sake that has been shipped without the traditional six-month aging/maturation period. The result is usually a more acidic, "greener" sake.
Fukurozuri (袋吊り) is a method of separating sake from the lees without external pressure by hanging the mash in bags and allowing the liquid to drip out under its own weight. Sake produced this way is sometimes called shizukuzake (雫酒), meaning "drip sake".
Tobingakoi (斗瓶囲い) is sake pressed into 18-liter bottles ("tobin") with the brewer selecting the best sake of the batch for shipping.
Amazake (甘酒) is a traditional sweet, low-alcoholic Japanese drink made from fermented rice.
Doburoku (濁酒) is the classic home-brew style of sake (although home brewing is illegal in Japan). It is created by simply adding kōjimold to steamed rice and water and letting the mixture ferment. The resulting sake is somewhat like a chunkier version of nigorizake.
Jizake (地酒) is locally brewed sake, the equivalent of microbrewing beer.
Kuroshu (黒酒) is sake made from unpolished rice (i.e., brown rice), and is more like Chinese rice wine.
Teiseihaku-shu (低精白酒) is sake with a deliberately high rice-polishing ratio. It is generally held that the lower the rice polishing ratio (the percent weight after polishing), the better the potential of the sake. However, beginning around 2005, teiseihaku-shu has been produced as a specialty sake made with high rice-polishing ratios, usually around 80%, to produce sake with the characteristic flavor of rice itself.