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World Spirits: Japanese Sake [Jan. 19th Fri.]
Thumbnail: Explore Japanese Sake - An Online Campus World Spirits Experience
  • 60 minutes lesson
  • The first 5 explorers per lesson
  • 2,200 yen per lesson for an unforgettable exploration

Lesson Preview

Student: Following on from Japanese cuisine, people from all over the world have a growing interest in Japanese sake. I like it as well. Several uncommon kanji terms are written on the labels of sake bottles, but I don’t understand them. Firstly, what does “清酒” (seishu) mean?

We Japanese Coach: It is another word for Japanese sake. If you simply say “sake,” this refers to Japanese sake. But it also refers to all alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine.

drinking japanese sake

Student: I also often see “純米酒” (junmaishu) written on the label. What does it mean?

We Japanese Coach: Many brands of sake are made by adding distilled alcohol to rice and malted rice. But this sake is made with only rice and malted rice. It generally has a rich taste.

Student: “本醸造酒” (Honjouzoushu) can also be seen written on the label. What does it mean?

Rice Analysis for Sake

We Japanese Coach: The kernel of the grain of rice used to make sake with contains umami (savory flavors). So, in order to make delicious sake, the husk of the grain, which impedes the umami flavor, is chipped away. Up to 30% of the grain is shaved off and this part is used to make what is defined as honjouzoushu.

Student: Some are labeled as “吟醸酒” (ginjoushu). What does this mean?

We Japanese Coach: This has more than 40% of the rice husk ground away and differs from the normal manufacturing method in that it is made at a low temperature. Sake known as “大吟醸酒” (daiginjoushu) is made from rice with more than 50% of the husk ground away, and “純米大吟醸酒” (junmai-daiginjoushu) is of the highest quality.

Student: Even so, isn’t it wasteful to shave off so much rice?

We Japanese Coach: The shaved portion is used as an ingredient in cookies, so it does not go to waste.

Student: How many sake brands are there?

We Japanese Coach: At present, that there are one thousand and some few hundred sake breweries nationwide, and the number of brands is said to be several times more than that. In order to produce delicious sake, it’s important to use rice suitable for making sake; there are about 30 different varieties.

Types of Sake
Illustration of man checking sake label

In addition, good water is indispensable, and the high quality of Japan’s supply is known throughout the world. Furthermore, sake brewers called “toji,” who are experts on rice, the properties of malted rice, and in brewing, have an important role to play in making delicious sake, by creating sweet, dry, and aromatic flavors.

Student: Depending on the brand, the taste of sake differs, but are there any other ways to improve its taste?

We Japanese Coach: Generally sake is delicious whether you chill it or serve it warm. The taste is subtly changed depending on the temperature. Typically it is served in a small ceramic cup called an “ochoko” and is drunk in small sips, taking one’s time. However, recently, to create a fashionable atmosphere, the number of people drinking it in wine glasses is increasing.

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