Updated: Oct 4, 2019
For such an amazing beverage, Sake often flies under the radar for most people. We want to help fix that with a bit of Sake 101! Are we ready, class? Let's dive in!
Sake is a fermented beverage made from 3 ingredients: rice, water, and koji.
The first two you've probably heard of - but what in the world is koji? Koji is also called Aspergillus oryzae - it's type of mold that is used to break down the starch of the rice. This is super important as it allows the yeast access to the sugars to begin fermentation and convert the sugar to alcohol. (Side fact: koji also used in the fermentation of soy sauce!)
How sake is made
The rice that is used to make sake has to be polished first to remove the outer layers of the grain in order to expose more starch.
The amount of grain that is polished away is called the rice polish ratio (RPR). The RPR indicates how much of the grain remains - not how much was polished away. So, an RPR of 70% means that 30% was polished away and 70% remains. Likewise, an RPR of 40% means that 60% was polished away and 40% remains. The lower the RPR, the more rice is polished away - the fresher, lighter, and more delicate the sake generally tastes.
How to read a Sake label
There are a few label terms be aware of:
1.) Junmai - pure rice sake brewed only using rice, water and koji. There is no other additives like sugar or alcohol. In addition, Junmai does not have a formal RPR requirement like the sake types below.
2.) Honjozo - brewed using a very small amount of distilled alcohol to bring out flavours and aromas. The sake needs to be 70% RPR or less, meaning 30% of the rice grain was polished away.
3.) Ginjo - a sake of 60% RPR or less, meaning 40% of the rice grain was polished away. If no additional alcohol was added while brewing, then it is a Junmai Ginjo.
4.) Daiginjo - a sake of 50% RPR or less, meaning 50% of the rice grain was polished away. If no additional alcohol was added while brewing, then it is a Junmai Daiginjo.
Now that you can read a label, stop by in store to ask for recommendations! Enjoy!