Greetings Sake Lovers,
There will come a point along your sake tasting journey when you pause to ask yourself a question: am I doing this in the right order? The fact is that just like everything in life, the order in which you enjoy sake can be important.
Take for instance that age-old pairing of sake and sushi. If you eat strong flavored sushi first it is difficult to appreciate the lighter flavoured sushi afterwards. Thus, the correct order is light flavor sushi followed by stronger flavor sushi. Sushi is just one of many examples where this order works best.
Now before we delve into today’s article, it is worth mentioning, that if you like a little chaos in your tasting lineup sake can be enjoyed in any order. Caution should be taken particularly when pairing sake with food though, especially food and sake with varying levels of body and flavor.
The General Order
To elaborate further on the sushi pairing, you begin with egg, before moving on to white fish, red fish, finishing off with river fish like anago.
Should You Save the Best for Last?
The biggest problem with sake is the higher level of alcohol. This combined with its addictive nature makes it notoriously easy to get drunk on. If you wait until the end to try your favorite sake, chances are you might be too inebriated to really appreciate it so, although they say you should always save the best to last, perhaps starting with your favorite type of sake first is not such a bad idea. Even if your preferred type of sake is something with a strong flavor profile, you can reset the palate by drinking a large chaser of water.
How Much Can You Drink?
If you know you can drink quite a lot, without causing a nuisance to others, and the hangover from hell the next morning, why not run the sake-tasting gauntlet – from delicate, silky and light to rich, full-bodied and brimming with flavor.
You might start your tasting off in style with a premium or even super premium sake. These are sake which have been made with rice milled down to the core to remove off-flavors and idiosyncrasies and produce a more refined style. Look out for the words daiginjo and ginjo which are made with just 60% to 50% of the rice grain remaining. These tend to be more expensive because of the extra time and skill required to make them. Putting their price to one side, while not always the case, ginjo and daiginjo tends to have a lighter body and more delicate flavor profile. You may sometimes find sake in the less-premium categories that cross over into this territory and give the super premium guys a run for their money. At the end of the day, all sake is made with the same dedication and tender loving care, so why not experiment.
For those who aren’t quite ready to experiment, the recommended drinking order is daiginjo / junmai daiginjo → ginjo / junmai ginjo → special junmai / special authentically brewed → junmai / authentically brewed → normal sake. The logic behind this order is pretty much the same as that of the sushi example we gave at the start of this article: light to medium to heavy body / light flavors to strong (rich) flavors.
What If You are New to Sake?
If you are new to sake and not quite sure how much you can drink, or perhaps you know you have a low tolerance, fear not, let KURAND be your guide.
Taste Special Designation Sake
First, we recommend you taste your way through the tokutei meishoshu (special designation sake). This is the category for premium sake. Sake that falls into this category is assigned one of six grades under the liquor laws in Japan based on ingredients and something else called the polishing ratio. For premium sake, the brewer removes the outer layers of the rice grain to remove unwanted off-flavours and create a more refined product. The leftover portion is called the polishing ratio and is displayed as a percentage on the bottle. The various grades of premium sake and their polishing ratios can be seen in the chart below.
Note: Ever since the mid 90s, junmai can have any polishing ratio.
Premium sake can further be broken down into two bigger categories. Some premium sake has a little jozo (brewer’s) alcohol added after fermentation and before filtering. The addition is not increase alcohol strength, but to help enhance aromas and lower the body. The category which has had alcohol added is called the honjozo category; the first grade in this category is honjozo. The category which has not had any extra alcohol added is called the junmai category, the first grade of which is called junmai.
Honjozo vs Junmai
A great place to start is by comparing honjozo and junmai.
Honjozo and junmai really are polar opposites. You might liken this comparison to white and red wine. Indeed, sometimes wine and sake preferences match. If you like full-bodied reds, try junmai. If you like lighter whites, try honjozo. But do take this idea with a pinch of salt, because it doesn’t always quite work.
Just as red should follow white, the best order to taste honjozo and junmai is honjozo and then junmai.
Junmai vs Ginjo
Another really good taste comparison is junmai vs ginjo. Typical ginjo tend to have a very delicate, fruity and floral profile. Again, this couldn’t be any more different from junmai. In a sense, junmai represents the traditional flavor of sake; while ginjo represents modern-day sake. But, again, take this comparison with a pinch of salt, because the differences between the two have begun to blur.
If you fancy just working your way through the entire special designation spectrum, the recommended order is:
Daiginjo type/ sparkling type → ginjo type / authentically brewed type → junmai ginjo type → junmai type → yamahai / kimoto (sake brewing using natural yeast) → aged sake type
Tasting in Order of Prefectures
Another great way to taste sake is by prefecture. It is often said that Japanese sake made in cold regions has a light taste, whereas in the warmer climates of the south, the opposite is true.
The recommended order is as follows:
Sake from Tohoku (sake from a cold region) → Sake from Kanto Koshinetsu → Sake from Kinki / Chubu region → Sake from Kansai → Sake from Kyushu
Once again the logic behind this order is light to heavy.
In the second part of this article, we introduce more types of sake and in which order to drink them. To be continued……..
At KURAND our fridges showcase over 100 types of sake, so whatever order you choose to taste, you are sure to discover something to suit your preference. We look forward to welcoming you soon.