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Sake Types and Their Distinguishing Characteristics

Sake, also known as nihonshu, is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. There are several main types of sake that differ in ingredients, production method, and flavor profile.

Junmai-shu is made only from rice, koji (rice inoculated with aspergillus oryzae mold), and water. No additional alcohol or other additives are used. Junmai sakes tend to have a rich, umami flavor and range from dry to sweet. They showcase the essential flavors of the core ingredients.

Honjozo-shu contains a small amount of added brewers alcohol, typically less than 10% of the total volume. This helps lighten the flavor and accentuate the aromas. Honjozo sakes are somewhat lighter than junmai.

Ginjo-shu is made with rice grains that have been milled down to 60% or less of their original size. This gives ginjo sakes a lighter, more delicate body and fruity aromas. Most premium ginjos are junmai, containing only rice, koji, and water.

Daiginjo-shu is made with even more highly polished rice grains milled down to 50% or less of their original size. This produces a very refined sake with layered floral and fruity notes. Daiginjos have an elegant, complex taste.

Namazake is unpasteurized sake that retains fresh, vibrant flavors. However, it has a shorter shelf life and must be refrigerated. Namazake offers a taste closest to just-pressed sake.

Genshu are undiluted sakes with an alcohol content of 18% or higher. They offer robust flavors and aromas. Genshu sakes do not have water added before bottling.

Koshu are aged sakes, sometimes maturing for years. Aging can mellow the acids and tannins, producing a richer, smoother sake. Koshus provide nuanced flavors not found in young sakes.

Sparkling sake contains carbonation, either naturally occurring or added. The bubbles provide a light, refreshing taste. Sparkling sakes come in both junmai and honjozo styles.

This covers the major types of sake and what distinguishes them in terms of ingredients, milling percentage, alcohol content, aging, and carbonation. Exploring the range of sake styles and production methods shows the diversity of flavors possible in the traditional Japanese beverage.

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