|Fish & Seafood Kombu & Seaweed Beans & TofuRice & Rice Products Noodles & MoreFruit, Nuts & Seeds Vegetables Mushrooms Spices & Condiments Sake & ShochuTea
Three essential elements go into sake: rice, water and koji (malted rice). Since water comprises 80% of the sake, local breweries pride themselves on the quality of their water. Each brewery (currently, about 1,800 across Japan; a number that is unfortunately on the decline) features its local brew, or jizake, and it is a unique pleasure to sample regional specialties while traveling. For instance, the next time you are in Japan, you might want to try creamy, milky white nigori sake (unfiltered sake), which is served at country-style restaurants.
There are five different grades of sake, all determined by the brewing method and quality of ingredients. Especially important is the level of seimei, the process of polishing the outer layers of rice. The protein and fats contained in the outer layers reduce the quality of the end result, and thus, the best types of sake are made with rice that has been reduced to 50% or more of its size.
Buying and Storing Sake
Futsu means regular, and is made with rice polished up to 70% of its size. The type of rice used for regular sake is not of high quality.
Honjozo uses rice that is polished so that no more than 70% of the grain remains. Also, a small amount of brewer’s alcohol is added. If only rice, water and kozo is used, it is called Junmai.
Ginjo uses rice that is polished to 60%, and is brewed slowly, under low temperatures during the fermentation process. Again, for Junmai-ginjo, no alcohol is added.
Daiginjo (“dai” means big) uses only the white, opaque starchy middle of the rice, which occurs at 50% of its original size. This results in a refreshing and delicate flavor.
Special Daiginjo uses rice that is polished to 40%, resulting in grains that are almost round. This type of sake is considered the crowning glory of the sake makers, and is sent to sake competitions.