Sake, or Japanese rice wine, has been a drink of choice in eastern countries since at least the third century AD. Looking at a Japanese sake menu or choosing between varieties at the store can be a daunting task. With so many different options, it can be hard to decide which is right for the occasion or the meal you hope to pair it with. Read on to compare four different popular styles that are available.
The junmai-shu style of sake is one of two premium categories of the drink (the other is honjozo-shu, explained below). Junmai-shu is made of only rice, yeast, water and koji. In essence, junmai-shu is considered the purest of sakes, without any alcohol added to the drink once it has fermented. Many brands also boast rice polished to 70 percent seimaibuai, giving the drink a fuller and richer flavor*1. However, they are known for being slightly less fragrant than some of their counterparts. This robust sake pairs well with smoky and earthy flavors, making it a great addition to heavier styles of Japanese cooking.
If you’re looking for a style of sake that is slightly less robust but every bit as tasty, try ginjo-shu. Milled to 60 percent (as opposed to junmai-shu’s 70 percent) seimaibuai, ginjo shu has a more refined, delicate and light flavor. It also uses special yeasts to add a unique taste to the profile. Because this sake is best served cold, it makes it an optimal selection for the warm summer months. In addition to this, ginjo-shu is a great choice for cooking. Using it in a recipe will add a fruity and aromatic taste to the dish.
Similar to junmai-shu, honjozo-shu sake is considered a top-shelf, pure style of rice wine. However, unlike the other premium variety, a small bit of alcohol is added to honjozo-shu sake. This gives it a bit more fragrance, as well as a lighter and smoother flavor. It also makes the sake more stable after opening, meaning it will last a bit longer than its premium sake counterpart. Highly quaffable and best served warm, honjozo-shu is the right choice for a long, cool evening with friends.
Big and elegant, daiginjyo-shu sake is the bottle you choose for a particularly special occasion. This style is brewed very carefully in smaller tanks, a testament to the brewer’s talent. It is milled to 50 percent, giving it a light and fruity flavor that pleases the palate and balances well with many different styles of Japanese cooking. Delicate and precise, many consider this style of sake to be the pinnacle of the craft. This means you should be sure to save it for just the right event!
With many variations on brewing style, alcohol additions and milling, each type of sake has something unique to offer. Whether you’re looking for a premium indulgence, like daiginjyo-shu or a light and cool sake like ginjo-shu, there is a style on this list to fit any occasion.
*1: 70 percent rule does not exist currently as it was demolished in 2004.