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Sake Classifications

The quality of sake is graded based on how much the rice has been milled before brewing and the amount of alcohol used. The general rule is, the greater the percentage of the rice milled before brewing, the better the quality of sake.

The Ingredients

Sake is made from rice, yeast, water and Koji, a type of mold spore called Aspergillus Oryzae. They are cultivated with the rice and secretes several enzymes that break down the starches into sugars which can then be fermented by yeast cells, giving off carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Pure distilled alcohol is added in copious amounts to greatly increase the yield of lower quality sake called ‘Futsu-shu’ or “Table Sake”. Yet, not all sake is made with the same quality of ingredients.

In the sake hierarchy, the top six classes of sake are known as ‘Tokutei Meishoshu’ (特定名称酒), meaning “Special Designation Sake’ are made using special ‘Sake Rice’ of which there are hundreds of types, each cultivated to provide a unique flavor profile. The most famous type is called Yamada Nishiki also known as ‘The king of sake rice’.

 

The ‘Tokutei Meishoshu’

Also known as the peak of a sake brewer’s art, the six categories in ascending order consist of:

 

Junmai-shu and Honjozo-shu

These are made with rice that has been polished to remove at least the outer 30% of the original size of the grains. This means that each grain of rice is only 70% or less of its original size.

 

 

Junmai Ginjo-shu and Ginjo-shu

These are made with rice that has been polished to remove at least the outer 40% of the original size of the grains. This means that each grain of rice is only 60% or less of its original size. 

 

Junmai Daiginjo-shu and Daiginjo-shu

Making up less than 5% of all sake produced, these are made with rice that has been polished to remove at least the outer 50% of the original size of the grains. This means that each grain of rice is only 50% or less of its original size. 

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