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Gigantic Sake post

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Who would like an in depth discussion about sake? I'll start by summarizing some of what I know:


Sake production is incredibly complex with so many factors, so I'll just say that in case anyone didn't know, it is a fermented beverage. It is probably a nightmare trying to control outbreaks of bacteria & wild yeasts! Each kura has many 'proprietary' aspects. The process is very unique - It is called 'multiple parallel fermentation.' The sake rice is different than the rice used for meals, & the outer shell of the rice is milled away to reveal a starchy center. The outer portion contains proteins, fats & minerals that are detrimental to the brewing process. After the rice is milled, washed and steamed, a mold called 'koji' creates enzymes to break down the starch into sugar. The saccarification and fermentation by yeast take place concurrently. Then the sake is pressed, and in some cases carbon filtered & pasteurized.


Some terms


Kura - sake brewery

Yamahai sake -production term - no lactic acid allows for some wild yeasts -similar to Lambic beers

Sokujo-moto - method for most modern sake - lactic acid is added to the yeast starter

Nigorizake - cloudy, sweet/tart sake - very coarse filtering. Serve chilled/Refrigerate

Genshu sake - similar to 'barrel proof' No water is added to pring the percentage down to standard 15-ish%

Namazake - unpasteurized sake - can 'go bad' -keep refrigerated! Has a very fresh lively taste

Seimaibuai - term for degree of rice milled away



There are 2 general types of sake, Junmaishu, and Honjozo. Well 3, if you count 'futsu-shu' aka 'table sake.'

With sake, futsu is not as bad as drinking La Fee though...



is pure rice sake - only water, rice, & koji are used in the production (similar to German Beer Purity Law).

Fuller more rounded flavor. Great with meals.



Honjozo sake has some pure distilled alcohol added, which is to certain flavor objectives as it pulls out certain components soluble in alcohol. There are fragrant, lighter more 'drinkable.' This is the kind of sake that benefits from being heated up - more on that later.


Both Junmai & Hinjozo sake are about 15% alc. and have 70 percent of the original grain of rice.


Ginjoshu - premium sake

Has a seimaibuai of at least 60. This is a very light, fragrant, floral sake. Those trying it for the first time have said it reminds them of Reisling wine.


Daiginjoshu - ultra premium - 50-35 of the original grain of rice remains.


Of course a lot more goes into a ginjo or daiginjo, but from a 'legal' POV that is the only designation. Daiginjo sake can be quite expensive, however Gekkeikan sake makes a nice one called 'Horin' for only $30.00. Although Gekkeikan is a huge commercial entity, the largest in the world of sake I believe, they are quite capable of making a refined product. The Horin is from Japan, not from Gekkeikan USA. I don't think that Sake made on US soil is inferior, but I think there is something about the Japanese dedication and tradition that makes sake that is actually from Japan much more desirable to me.


Until about 30 or so years ago, Ginjoshu, apparently, was nothing more than a novelty brewed for special circumstances and such. I suppose this 'small batch' type of sake crafting, became popular just as a demand for all 'affordable luxury' product lines for alcoholic beverages did. This Ginjo sake world is very modern and somewhat opposed to a long tradition of dry, even sake being the archetype. Just to clarify, the reason for all this rice milling is to eliminate things that will contribute to a 'rough' flavor.


Ginjo/Daiginjo alone assume added alcohol without the prefix of 'Junmai.'


'Tokubetsu' Honjozo sake is very nice as well, I've only had a few of these. This sake has a seimaibuai of 60 along with the touch of distilled alcohol added. I recently did a side by side comparison of Murai Family Nebuta Honjozo and their Tokubetsu Honjozo. There was a stark contrast between the two small bottles we drank - and I was worried about having one bottle, than the other rather than, one sip of one, one sip of the other... (the logistics of heating made that inconvenient.) I enjoyed both very much, heated lukewarm, and also relatively hot. Much like Ginjo sake, the tokubetsu was much more floral, and preferable, assuming one is in the mood for that. I preferred the tokubetsu lightly chilled.


Note: Tokubetsu can apply to Honjozo or Junmai indicating a special rice or brewing method.


To warm the sake, I take my sake set out - ochoko - are the little cups, the tokkuri is the pitcher. What I do is, microwave a Pyrex bowl 75% full of water until boiling, and then I place the tokkuri in the bowl, taking it out at different intervals depending on how hot I want it. Similar to Belgian beer, which tastes different cold, lightly chilled, and room temp.. different degrees of heating produce different nuances. DON'T put the sake in some decanter and microwave the sake itself!!!


Other sake vessels: Guinomi - larger cups, like Japanese tea cups. Sakezuki - ceremonial (like for weddings) saucer-like cup. Masu - traditional 'box' for drinking sake. 1 masu is a unit of measurement for rice to this day.


Sake tasting: General Japanese terms

Karakuchi (karai)- dry tasting sake

Amakuchi (Amai)- Sweet sake

Tanrei - light and refined

(Tanrei karakuchi - light, dry sake super popular in Japan)

There are of course a ton more everyday tasting terms in Japanese but, I never speak to anyone that I can practice using them...


About Nihonshu-do aka SMV 'Sake Meter Value:' I personally don't have much faith in this method of shopping for/judging sake. The sake community is split on this. This system in my opinion is not applicable to today's Japanese sake - it has become too complex and outgrown the system. But basically, a +3 is about neutral to dry, and higher number have increased sweetness. Acidity: a higher acidity generally makes a sweeter sake taste more dry and vice-versa. Alcohol content can affect 'perceived acidity.' Amino acids: lower tends to be lighter, higher generally indicates heavier & earthier.


I've had only about 40 or so different types of sake, so I can't tell you if there are (as I'm sure there are!) different trends in the different prefectures in Japan (similar to Islay, Highland, Lowland, Speyside, etc. scotch). I haven't come across any blogs or publications that outline any such trends or styles, so if anyone knows, clue me in!


Storing: Sake can actually change in a matter of a day or two after opening. I usually buy smaller bottles when I can, espec. the good stuff, or plan to open them with some guests to help you. If you are used to having sake and have a good sense of it, you will notice that there is the most subtle loss of the original 'brightness' after a bottle stays open in the fridge for a day. Also, I never 'save' a bottle of sake for more than 6 months. Its not the case that having a open bottle for more than 3 days or a closed bottle for over 6 mos. to a year would be a disaster, but it would not be the best flavor possible. If you spend a lot of money on refined beverages like I do, you'll want to adhere closely to guidelines to get the most for your money. Chiyo No Sono sells their Daiginjo in a small 300ml? bottle for $25. Great way to taste a fresh daiginjo without breaking the bank.


Well, I think that's all I want to say on general sake, lets move on to examples and impressions!


Absolute Favorite:


Sato No Homare (Junmai Ginjo): 'Pride of the Village (English translated name of this brew - some have that on the bottle, others don't).' If you see this sold anywhere.. buy it! It has the most pleasant, complex floral aroma I have ever tasted in sake. The taste matches the aroma & doesn't disappoint. Sublime.

Very crisp and fruity.


Other great ones:


Dewazakara 'Oka' (J.G.) They actually sell small bottles of this at Drink Up NY - highly recommended. Very similar to Pride of the village

A close 2nd favorite.


Chiyo No Sono - Sacred Power (JG) Rounded classic sake taste. Also a Junmai Ginjo but nothing like the very floral/fruity others previously mentioned. light-medium mouthfeel


Rhiaku (JG) 'Wandering Poet' - very nice fruity/tart/citrus notes in this one.


Nanbu Bijin (JG) 'Southern Beauty' Another example of a more traditional sake without a lot of floral notes. This one is very rich, heavy mouthfeel, creamy.


Otokoyama 'Man's Mountain'(T. Junmai) I found this in my Allentown W&S store -there's a great review of it here http://www.urbansake.com/junmai/mans-mountain-hoowa.html


Kira (means killer!) (Honjozo) - strong taste, alcohol noticeable great hot!

Akitabare 'Spring Snow' - Drink up NY also has this - its a Nama Honjozo! One of the most interesting ones I've ever had! Very tasty! Keep refrigerated!

Get it!


Share some of your tasting impressions, comments and questions with me! I know at least one person on this forum is interested...

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That's an interesting article. I'm not a huge Sake fan but I've had a few that I've quite enjoyed. I was also lucky enough to pick one of these up when I lived in Okinawa Japan. It's distilled and not brewed but it is also made from rice. As for the Namazake I can vouch for that going bad because my parents let me try a bottle that was in the refrigerator after having been open for months, UGH! Sake has a special place in my heart though because it's the first alcohol I've ever had. I had it for New Years with my Japanese Exchange family a long time ago. I think I have some pictures of my chubby ass drinking the stuff somewhere. I'll have to see if I can find them.


'Habu Sake


Habu sake, despite its name, is actually not a type of sake. Instead, it is what is known as an awamori. Though both alcoholic drinks come from rice, awamori is created through distillation, rather than brewing. This type of drink is unique to its place of origin: Okinawa, Japan.


Even among the different types of awamori, habu sake is a very special drink. It is made using the venom of the highly poisonous habu snake. The snake is said to have strong medicinal properties. For instance, some believe that it is good for back problems, arthritis, and removing toxins from the body.


The alcohol within habu sake neutralizes the poison of the snake. In addition to this, many different herbs are added to increase health benefits. While individuals generally purchase a bottle with just the mixture, more expensive bottles will also include the snake. ' -From SakeUSA.com


Here's another article on it.


Okinawan Habu Saki



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That is so cool! Thanks for the pics and article! it must have been great going to Japan, I would love to travel there as well. The instructors at my karate dojo, went to Okinawa recently to the world headquarters... I know they had Awamori, so i'll have to ask them if they had Habu Sake with the snake! (and if they actually drank it!) Did you happen to drink any yourself, or did you buy it just as a souvenir/conversation piece? I think I would have to do it as long as its the brand that doesn't 'reek.' I've had Shochu before ('Japanese Vodka') which, when distilled from rice is similar to Awamori...


Nice stein & hookah by the way. I got an awesome stein when i went to Germany myself.

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I'm partial to the pure rice sake's myself. I've tried several daiginjo's and I just think the citrus and floral notes obfuscate the soul of the drink, which to me is the rice. So I'd prefer the "Mirror of Truth" over the ones you mentioned from DUNY. Different strokes for different folks.


I've also yet to meet a sake that I preferred heated over chilled.

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I'm partial to the pure rice sake's myself. I've tried several daiginjo's and I just think the citrus and floral notes obfuscate the soul of the drink, which to me is the rice.


Right on... You're with the majority of Japanese traditionalists, not the San Fransisco trendy Americans haha. I like 'em all, so...


You should try Chiyo No Sono if you see it anywhere. Kira sake is pretty much the only one I prefer warmed (that I've had thus far)


Kira (usually wrapped in translucent white paper)

& of course slightly below average everyday sake is good warmed - hides the imperfections & smooths it out...

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I'll have to give some of those brands you mentioned a try. Do you know where in Oki the dojo was? I've really been itching to get into Kendo, as I've always found the sport very interesting. Kendo and Ju Jitsu would be fun hobbies to keep me entertained and in shape. As for having tried the Habu Sake, I have not. I really want to but I can't bring myself to open the bottle and mainly use it as a conversation piece. I may buy myself a snakeless bottle to try one day, perhaps when I visit again in the future.

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I checked with my instructors today - they didn't drink the snake-awamori either, just the regular kind, but they did see it at the local markets... Not sure where the dojo is in Okinawa - its the Isshin-Ryu headquarters (small place). I am very interested in Kendo myself - I've seen a guy do some Kendo kata at one of our benefit tournaments and it was great. I have a bokken I swing around, but I am mostly focused on the bo, which is part of my style. I just started learning it in January.


In a year or two they'll probably go back to Japan, & I'm sure by then I will be able to go as well. I think I'll buy 2 bottles of Habu Saki - one for display, and one to drink for the strong medicinal properties! :thumbup:

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I've only had three brands/types of saki. The first tasted like it belonged/came from an old German V-2 Rocket. The most recent two, a nigori(sp?) and another that was picked out as a complete opposite to the first was quite nice. Both of those brands were very tasty and rather different. The supplier of both tastings picked the unfiltered as a slight tip of the hat towards similarities of a louched glass of absinthe. The second was one of the smoothest alcohols I've ever sipped, it was quite nice. I'll post the name of the maker and brand soon, but it was quite nice at room temperature, but I prefer most if not all my drinks cold or chilled.

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Oh yea man, Nigori sake is definitely nice & smooth-sweet too. You gotta have those chilled as well. I would also recommend refrigeration for it once opened. Every now and then though you get a stale one that tastes like pepto-bismol... yuck!

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Greatly informative opening post, Neorebel! :thumbup:


After reading this I can't really contribute much. I've only had about a quarter of the brands you've had, but haven't kept track of the brands, honestly. I've bought 2 so far from DUNY, and after checking back on their sake page I found them to be "festival of the Stars" which was quite an experience being sparkling (I wasn't that fond of the dryness/bubbly aspects in combination), and the Miyasaka Yawaraka Junmai, which is one of my favourites so far. I've added the Dewazakura to my Wishlist, thanks for the suggestion!


The other brands have been from a local shoppe that carries some brands DUNY does not have, the budget Gekkaiken (sp) which I thought was rubbish, and a brand a friend brought back from Japan. The brands I've gotten locally I can't identify, as they are entirely in Japanese with the exception of a SakeOne brand. Again, I'd like to give more detail, but the time in between brands was enough that I can't recall much.


I'm going to get a few bottles this summer, and a bottle of shochu with my next DUNY order next month. I'm thinking the "Mountain Guardian" brand for my first taste.


Neorebel, what shochu have you had? I'd be happy to order one you have not yet tried and report back.

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I've only ever had the 3 different Shochu varieties for sale at DUNY. (well, and one unknown type of rice shochu at a Japanese restaurant)


Satoh Shochu (750ml) clear1x1.gif Toyonaga "Land of Plenty" Shochu (750ml) clear1x1.gif Yama No Mori "Mountain Guardian" Shochu (750ml)


I actually enjoyed all of those. I had them in a tall glass filled with small ice cubes. What kinds have you had? Ever have Awamori?


Can you take pictures of the Japanese bottles?


As far as having tried a decent numbers of brands, I guess I'm lucky to have found (after extensive searching!) 2 different stores within a few hours away from my house that carry 'real' sake. Over time I ended up buying practically every kind they carry. It's hard to find online places as well - espec. since NJ does not allow 'direct wine shipping.' DUNY has been the best so far, along with 'Shopper's Vineyard' but, I've never ordered from the latter...

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Guess I'm no help! :3869-sadbanana: Any tasting notes off the top of your head on the different shochu brands?


Sorry, but you're talking to someone who gets over a hundred bottles a year! :) I toss 90% of my bottles, and that includes absinthe, though I will have my empty Mansinthe bottle on eBay one of these days, as it was one of the first 1,000 ever produced. I know my buddy has at least one empty on his empty display rack, though, which is one we went 50/50 on a few months ago. Next time I'm over there, I'll snap a photo of that one, as it was a brand not carried at DUNY.


From this point on, I'm going to take photos and brief tasting notes on all my sake purchases. Up until now, I only did so with absinthe, gin, and organic spirits.


Man, it makes me want to place my next order tonight, but my wish list is large so it will take a few days to decide!


So this gigantic sake thread is just for anything sake, right? I'll post my tasting notes/score here when I get my next shipment and decide to crack it open...

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I can definitely post some tasting impressions about the Shochu. I still have 95% of all 3 bottles... I ordered them somewhat recently and on only one occasion did I break them out to serve. Off hand I don't really know what criteria makes a good shochu, but like I said, I really liked them. When I have some more, I will take down some flavors i detect and make other comments about the mouthfeel, etc.


I actually buy a lot per year as well, in bulk, so I always have a decent selection of full bottles and I save (too many of) the empty bottles as well. Sometimes I recycle them after taking some photos so I know what I've had. I have notes for some things, mostly beer & absinthe... but I have a pretty good recollection of a lot of things, again more so with beers. I have impressed some of my friends by being able to identify Belgian beers during blind tasting.


Definitely post Shochu as well as sake impressions on this topic as well!

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There is a decent sake selection in Los Angeles, more so in restaurants than in stores, but I've tried maybe a dozen so far from various prefrectures and of various styles. The one's that stand out in my mind include:


A second vote for Dewazakura Oka (Ginjo from Yamagata) - Just as the tasting notes on the bottle imply: floral nose, smooth remarkable taste with a hint of pear. The label also says this is a "favorite of the ladies" ;)


Tamanohikari (a Junmai Daiginjo from Kyoto) - Well balanced nose and taste, though I haven't had it recently enough to offer tasting notes.


Unknown Brand (a Nigari, maybe a Nama [unpasteurized]) - the cheapest sake on the menu at the Terried Sake House (great food too) - but my personal favorite. Sweet, a hint of bitterness, pure and thick. Mmmm. The store bought nigari I've found thus far hasn't come close...


Gekkeikan Black & Gold (Junmai Ginjo) - One of the best values on the U.S. market. Good chilled or hot, smooth tasting but without pronounced ester in the nose that plauge most cheaper sakes.


Kikusui "Chrysanthemum Water" (Junmai Ginjo from Niigata) - Very complex nose, while the taste is clean but unremarkable.

Edited by augustgarage

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Thanks for posting! The west coast really has it all doesn't it.. Absinthe, Sake... I'm more than a little jealous. There's not so many great Japanese restaurants that serve good sake in my area - I've got to drive pretty far. No hip urban trends make their way into the woods of northern Jersey...I'd like to visit CA & spend some time over there at some point in my life.


I agree about the Gekkeikan Black & Gold, as well as the Horin - both more bang for the buck than with most things. I think I've seen that Kikusui for sale somewhere too- if I come across it and the price is low I'll check it out just for that nose you're talkin' about

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