This is intended to be a living document, and we will be adding terms to it as our sake selection grows. If there’s a sake term that is confusing you, or if there is a concept in sake making that you’d like us to explain, send your requests and questions to us at email@example.com.
Bodaimoto - aka “Mizumoto”. This is one of the oldest archaic and nearly-forgotten ways of going about starter-mash-making. Although most of the sake industry has completely abandoned it, some intrepid souls have resurrected or adapted these techniques and are now making sake in this way. Basically, bodaimoto involves generating lactic acid from an open vat of rice soaking in water. Once the water is acidic enough, it can get added to a starter mash. This method is risky and if not done carefully, can introduce unwanted wild yeast and other microbes into the sake.
Kimoto - Kimoto is a super old way of making sake. It involves a ton of labor, keeping a constant barrage of long wooden poles mixing up the starter mash, while allowing airborne lactic-acid bacteria to acidify the starter mash naturally. Some adventurous and masochistic proud breweries still carry on this tradition because they appreciate the complex and nuanced sake that comes out of it. Kimoto sake can be sturdy, complex, robust, salty, gamey, and savory. They tend to not be as bold as Yamahai, another natural-lactic-acid method, although this is just a generalization.
Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo - These are styles that get made from the most refined, highly-polished sake rice. Brewers will then often build on the potential of these finely polished grains by fermenting them at low temperatures with special yeasts that maximize aromatics. Sake bearing these terms must be made with rice that is polished to at least 50% of its original size. These types of sake tend to be more expensive because polishing to these levels requires an amazing amount of time and attention. Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo styles tend to be silky, floral, and fruity.
Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo - These are styles of sake that are brewed with highly polished rice and using techniques that draw specific textures, flavors, and aromas from that polished rice. Some of these techniques can include low-temperature fermentation and using specific yeasts.
No matter the techniques employed, all sake that gets labelled either Ginjo or Junmai Ginjo needs to be made from rice that is at least 60% of its original grain size, after polishing. In general Ginjo and Junmai Ginjo tend to be soft, fruity and aromatic.
Honjozo - Honjozo sake is made by the technique of adding a small bit of brewer’s alcohol to a finished batch of sake, before it’s pressed and filtered. This addition will draw out extra alcohol-soluble flavors and aromas from the rice, while lightening the body and texture. The amount of alcohol added is so small that it doesn’t effectively increase the sake’s alcohol content. These sake tend to have less dense flavor profiles and are super easy drinking. You might call a Honjozo a “sessionable” sake. That’s not to say they lack character or are overly subtle, but rather the whole body and profile kind of gets lifted up. If your sake bottle says “Ginjo” or “Daiginjo” without the word “Junmai” in front of it, it is made in this style - as well. For sake labelled Honjozo, the rice must be milled to at least 70% of its original size.
Junmai - Sake labelled with the word Junmai must only be made with rice, koji, water, and yeast. Junmai sake has no legally designated minimum milling ratio.
Nama, aka “Raw” or “Unpasteurized”. These are sake that undergo no pasteurization after brewing. Sake can be highly volatile and prone to unwanted flavor changes, re-fermenting, or other problems well after it has been bottled. To prevent this, brewers can pasteurize the sake. Pasteurization is a quick heating and cooling of the sake that deactivates any enzymes that might cause problems. However, carefully handled and well-crafted sake that skips pasteurization is totally a thing. Pasteurization can take away some of the livelier flavors and textures of fresh-brewed sake, so many breweries will make small batches in the unpasteurized style, to show these expressions. A lot of these batches are so small that the sake becomes rare, and disappear quickly every year. Some breweries make extra special Spring releases of unpasteurized sake. There are also some breweries that only release unpasteurized sake. Nama sake can be intensely aromatic, with notes of bubblegum, banana, and yeast. On the palate, Nama can have a telltale liveliness, or sometimes spritziness.
Nama-chozo, Nama-zume aka “Half-raw” - There’s a sweet spot for pasteurization in the sake world that a large number of craft breweries utilize: pasteurizing just once, instead of the industry-standard two times. There’s varying techniques and a whole lot to discuss about when and how these one-time pasteurizations happen, but the overall result is worth noting. It can be the best of both worlds: brighter, fresher flavors and textures, without the volatility and risk of spoilage.
Nigori - Otherwise known as “cloudy”. They can be somewhere between hazy and opaque. They get their milky, cloudy appearance from a small amount of rice solids that remain after pressing and filtering. These solids (or “lees”) can come from using coarse filtration, or can be directly added to clear-filtered sake. Nigori is generally fruity, coco-nutty, creamy, and thick. But that’s not a rule. There are funky and earthy ones as well. Some are sweet, some are dry.
Omachi - Omachi is a type of sake rice. It is considered to be the grandfather of all sake rice. Before wild Omachi rice plants were found and used in sake brewing, sake would be made with the same types of rice that get grown for eating. Omachi, it turned out, was not a very good table rice, but the sake that it made was fantastic. Omachi is still prized in sake brewing for it’s soft textures and fruit notes that it lends itself to.
Polishing/Milling - It’s basically how white rice gets made from brown rice, but in sake they don’t turn the machine off as soon as the rice is white. It’s sometimes common for the mill to keep on milling until the rice is even half of the size it used to be. The amount the rice gets polished has a huge impact on the sake that comes out of it.
Taru/Taru-zake - aka “Cedar Sake”. Cedar sake is simply sake that has been aged in cedar casks for a short time. Some of these can be intensely full of cedar aroma, while others have light cedar aromas. At Fulamingo we tend to prefer the ones that are lightly cedar-y.
At one point in history, before glass bottles became the established thing that sake comes in, sake was stored and sold in cedar casks. Then, as the industry went towards bottling, cedar sake all but disappeared. Some brewers missed getting to enjoy the cedar flavor, and brought about the practice of letting sake rest for a short period in cedar casks, before bottling.
Tokubetsu Junmai & Tokubetsu Honjozo - “Tokubetsu” basically means “special”. The rice in Tokubetsu sake needs to be milled to at least 70% of its original size. Otherwise, what else that is required legally for a sake to be labelled Tokubetsu is a bit vague. It might be that the Tokubetsu sake uses a certain type of rice that gets listed on the label. It might be that a special yeast gets used, or that the brewer utilizes a special technique. It can vary from sake to sake. In the most ordinary of circumstances, the Tokubetsu-special-ness might simply just mean that the rice gets a little extra polish beyond 70%.
Usu-Nigori - aka “hazy”. (see Nigori) These types are similar to Nigori sake, but not quite as thick or cloudy. They tend to drink more similarly to clear sake, with just a slight addition of ricey texture.
Yamada Nishiki - Yamada Nishiki is a type of sake rice that gets a lot of deserved praise. It is often called the “King of Sake Rice”. From a technical standpoint, what makes Yamada Nishiki so special is that it can be milled to high degrees without breaking or cracking, and that it’s sturdy structure allows brewers a lot of flexibility in how they handle it, and ultimately what sake they make with it. Sake made with Yamada Nishiki rice can be widely varied because of its flexibility for brewing. One hallmark of Yamada Nishiki sakes tends to be that they have significant depth of flavor and well-defined structures.
Yamahai - Yamahai sake is made by allowing lactic acid to form naturally in the starter mash. Sake making starts with an acidic starter mash that is the breeding ground for the yeast that will sustain the brewing. This mash is crucial in determining how the rest of the brewing goes, and if you get it wrong, the batch is toast. Modern starters simply have lactic acid added to them at the start. Doing it the older, Yamahai way is much riskier. The natural-lactic-method of Yamahai has some interesting resemblances to Lambic-beer brewing, and can result in sake that are funky, meaty, yeasty, mushroomy, savory and complex. Generally speaking, Yamahai style tends to produce these characteristics with more intensity than other old-school ways of doing starters, such as Kimoto or Bodaimoto.