Sake

Sake is synonomous with Japan and refers to rice wine, but is often used as a generic term applied to alcoholic beverages.  There are well over 2500 sake breweries in Japan, making the study of nihonshua pure rice wine.
The Japanese spelling is にほんしゅ. The Kanji for this word is 日本酒
very barrels of sake interesting.  Sake is commonly associated with Japanese culture, and began as kuchikami no sake, meaning sake made by spitting chewed steamed rice into a tub.  The resulting thick mass, had little alcohol content.1  Today’s method for making sake dates back to the 7th century and because of it’s use of the fundamental ingredient, rice, is the drink of choice for festivals, special occassions and ceremonies.  A connoisseur of sake is known as a tsūa connoisseur.
The Japanese spelling is つう. The Kanji for this word is 通
.  sake is made by milling rice and polishing the resulting kernels before being boiled and fermented.  A malt called kōjimold made from malted rice.
The Japanese spelling is こうじ. The Kanji for this word is 麹
is mixed with steamed rice, water and yeast to produce moto, which is the resulting mash used to make sake.  Additional steamed rice, water and kōjimold made from malted rice.
The Japanese spelling is こうじ. The Kanji for this word is 麹
are added in 3 stages.  The fermenting mixture is called moromi and it is in this mixture that the kōjimold made from malted rice.
The Japanese spelling is こうじ. The Kanji for this word is 麹
is converting starch into sugar and the yeast is converting the sugar into alcohol.  Finally, the moromi is pressed in order to seperate the sake, which is consequently filtered, pasteurized and bottled.  The fermentation process produces between 12% and 17% alcohol by volume.  The degree to which the kernel is polished determines how refined the sake will become, as well as the water used.  Miyamizu, well water taken from the ground around Nishinomiya in Hyōgo prefecture, is ideal for making sake due to it’s balance of natural minerals.

tokkuri sake decanter

This is called a tokkuri, which is used as a decanter for hot sake.

This is called a tokkuri, which is a decanter of hot sake.
Grade Description
Futsūusual.
The Japanese spelling is ふつう. The Kanji for this word is 普通.
Usual sake which uses rice with less than 30% of the kernel removed.
Tokubetsuspecial.
The Japanese spelling is とくべつ. The Kanji for this word is 特別
Special sake which uses rice with 30% – 40% of the kernel removed.
Ginjōsake with 40-50% of the kernal removed.
The Japanese spelling is ぎんじょう. The Kanji for this word is 吟醸.
Sake which uses rice with 40% – 50% of the kernel removed.
Daiginjōsake with over 50% of the kernal removed.
The Japanese spelling is だいぎんじょう. The Kanji for this word is 大吟醸.
Sake which uses rice with over 50% of the kernel removed.

Among these grades, futsu sake is generally served warm or nurukansake served at room temperature.
The Japanese spelling is ぬるかん. The Kanji for this word is ぬる燗.
  Sake served hot, is called atsukansake served hot.
The Japanese spelling is あつかん. The Kanji for this word is 熱燗.
  Sweet tasting sake is called amakuchisweet tasting sake.
The Japanese spelling is あまくち. The Kanji for this word is 甘口.
, while dry tasting sake is called karakuchidry tasting sake.
The Japanese spelling is からくち The Kanji for this word is 辛口.
.  A numerical scale between -10 and +10 is used to identify the sweet versus the dry.  Known as the nihonshu do, this sake meter identifies the specific gravity of the sake, where a positive value indicates sweet, since sugar is lighter than water.  Additionally, the acidity or sando of the sake is a relevant factor too, since higher acidity correlates with a more dryer taste.  Various types of sake are made and described in the table below.

Type Description
Doburokuunrefined sake.
The Japanese spelling is どぶろく. The Kanji for this word is 濁酒.
A thick, soupy sake.
Genshusake diluted with water.
The Japanese spelling is げんしゅ. The Kanji for this word is 元酒
Sake diluted with water resulting in an alcoholic content of 15% to 17%.
Honjōzōsake containing distilled alcohol.
The Japanese spelling is ほんじょうぞうしゅ. The Kanji for this word is 本醸造酒.
Sake which has neutrally distilled alcohol (no more than 120 liters per metric ton of rice) added during the manufacturing process.  This step makes the sale of honjozo as a sake forbidden in the US.  Instead, it is sold as a spirit and taxed accordingly.
Jizakelocally brewed sake.
The Japanese spelling is じざけ. The Kanji for this word is 地酒.
Locally brewed sake.
Junmaia pure rice wine.
The Japanese spelling is しゅんまい. The Kanji for this word is 純米
Sake made from rice which has been milled to 70% or less of it’s original weight, kōjimold made from malted rice.
The Japanese spelling is こうじ. The Kanji for this word is 麹.
(a mold used to turn the rice starch into sugar), yeast and water.  It is literally pure sake made from rice.  Ki ipponsake produced entirely at one brewery.
The Japanese spelling is きいっぽん. The Kanji for this word is 生一本.
is a type of junmai whose process was completed at one brewery.
Koshuold sake.
The Japanese spelling is こしゅ. The Kanji for this word is 古酒.
Sake considered old.  Although sake doesn’t spoil, they have a shelf life of about a year to protect it’s taste and smell.  However, a good quality ginjō are aged for about 2-3 years to give it a distinctive mellow taste.  Hizōshu5 year old sake.
The Japanese spelling ひぞうしゅ. The Kanji for this word is 秘蔵酒.
is a sake that is aged at least 5 years.
Namazakesake that has not been pasteurized.
The Japanese spelling is なまざけ. The Kanji for this word is 生酒
Sake that has not been pasteurized and generally drank cool.
Taruzakesake aged in a wooden cask.
The Japanese spelling is たるざけ. The Kanji for this word is たる酒.
Sake that has been aged in a wooden cask; generally made of Japanese cedar called sugi.  Similar to cognac and whiskey, the wood adds flavor, color and fragrance to the sake.
Tosoa sweet sake
The Japanese spelling is とそ. The Kanji for this word is 屠蘇.
A sweet liquer drunk before the first meal of New Years.  It is made from sake or mirinsweet sake used as a seasoning in cooking.
The Japanese spelling is みりん. The Kanji for this word is 味醂.
that has been cooked with herbs and spices.

You can impress your Japanese hosts by using terms such as sawayaka to indicate how refreshing the sake you are drinking is.  Alternatively, to express how smoothly the sake goes down, say nodogoshi ga ii.  Kanpai!the word used to toast, when drinking.
かんぱい. The Kanji for this word is 乾杯.

Footnotes
1Mangajin, 4/93, pg. 10

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