Many people’s first visit to KURAND SAKE MARKET is actually their first real experience with sake, so they are not yet familiar with some of the terms that appear on the bottle, some of which can be difficult to understand and memorize.
It’s a challenge faced by many of our writers who are not all necessarily inherent sake pros. Many hours of study and research has to be done before fingers even touch the keyboard.
As many of the terms are rarely used in daily life, it’s really only sake lovers, or people working in the sake industry, who ever have a need to learn them in the first place. Or is it?
While, it is still possible to enjoy sake without knowing a single one, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few of them and will certainly help you to navigate your way around choice on offer and more importantly, discern the quality levels.
In today’s article we will look at three of these terms.
All of the terms covered can usually be found on the label of the sake, or on the restaurant’s drink menu. With these terms, what you see is what you get. So, ordering sake based on them is a reliable way to find sake that is to your liking.
1. Junmai Daiginjo
Junmai means that the sake was made with just three ingredients: rice, water and koji. Daiginjo means that the outer layers of the rice have been removed (polished) until only 50% of the rice grain remains. Junmai Daiginjo is the special designation name for super premium sake. In fact, most sake from the famous brand “Dassai” are usually Junmai Daiginjo.
The taste of Junmai Daiginjo is as subtle and clear as water. The Daiginjo polishing process removes essential nutrients for the yeast which forces it to work harder. It is in these conditions, that some of the most amazing, fruity and floral aromas are produced. A slower fermentation with less acids all adds up to a much smoother, quaffable sake.
However, Junmai Daiginjo sake is a little more expensive than other styles because due to the high polishing ratio, more rice is required for the production process.
Junmai daiginjo is super premium sake. Why not treat yourself with a glass from time to time.
2. Muroka Nama Genshu
The fresh taste of muroka nama genshu hooks many first-time sake drinkers and leaves with them with the curiosity to try more.
Since the sake is still alive, it has a youthful taste at first, which develops and becomes more bold and complex as time goes on.
Muroka means that the sake is not filtered. Nama means that the sake is not heat-treated (unpasteurized), and genshu means that the sake is not diluted with water.
To adjust the alcohol content of the sake, most sake are filtered, heat-treated (pasteurized), and diluted during the brewing process, but the brewing process of muroka nama genshu skips all of these methods.
The down sides of muroka nama genshu is its heavy taste, and difficult preservation method as you need a fridge to store it. However, since muroka nama genshu is a fresh brewed sake, it is still an exclusive drink to try, as in the past only brewers can enjoy this type of sake.
Many visits to sake breweries will include an opportunity to taste sake fresh out of the tanks. It is a flavour that blows many people away. In most cases, the sake will be freshly brewed muroka nama genshu. Even some of KURAND’s writers will confess the same.
When ordering muroka nama genshu at a restaurant, pay attention to the conditions of storage. Since the microbes and organisms, which includes the yeast, are still alive in the bottle, the sake flavour will change quickly if the temperature is too high. Drink sake at a restaurant specializing in sake for the best experience.
3. Nihonshudo (SMV)
Nihonshudo, which is also known as the sake meter value (SMV), is a term used to describe the level of dryness and sweetness of the sake.
Nihonshudo is written in positive and negative numbers. The higher the positive number is, the drier the sake is, and the higher the negative number is, the sweeter the sake is (e.g.: if the Nihonshudo of a sake is +10, the sake has a dry taste, and if the Nihonshudo of a sake is -10, the sake has a sweet taste).
If you are new to sake, we strongly recommend the sake with negative Nihonshudo. Many people’s preconceptions about sake change after drinking these types of sake, some of which taste sweet just like a dessert wine!
However, if you love dry taste, you should definitely try sake with higher positive Nihonshudo!
※ Nihonshudo sometimes is not printed on the sake label
Bonus Term: Yamada Nishiki
Which brings us to the bonus term, which is actually a variety of sakamai (sake specific rice, special rice for brewing).
There are a lot of varieties of sakamai, but perhaps the most famous, the so-called “king of sakamai” is Yamada Nishiki. Whether or not the choice of rice actually plays that much of a role on the end flavour is a trickier question to answer. But the influence is certainly not as big as that of grapes in wine making.
Since the grain is big and easy to polish, Yamada Nishiki is a perfect ingredient for junmai daiginjo sake. In fact, most of sake from Dassai are made from Yamada Nishiki.
Hyogo prefecture produces the highest amount of Yamada Nishiki, but recently, other prefectures have started producing Yamada Nishiki too.
First Impressions are Key
As with anything, whether or not your experience with sake is short or long term, is all down to that first impression. If a sake impresses, it is sure to remain in your heart for a long time. Therefore, we strongly recommend you to avoid the cheap Izakaya bars. Storage is poorly managed which will affect the quality and the taste of the sake.
You can find many different types of sake at KURAND SAKE MARKET. The taste of sake changes depending on its types, brewing process, types of rice, and fermentation method. KURAND is all about providing you with the space to try lots of different types and find something to your liking. We look forward to welcoming you soon.