Japanese sake is divided into two categories: ‘tokutei meishou shu,’ or specifically-named sake and ‘futsu shu,’ for ordinary sake
Specifically-named sake is subdivided into three types: ‘junmai-shu’ whose ingredients are rice, yeast and water. In ‘honjouzou-shu’ and ginjou-shu,’ distilled alcohol is used. Differences between ‘honjouzou-shu’ and ‘ginjou-shu’ lie in the standards in several aspects of its producing process, such as rice milling percentages and whether it is fermented slowly at low temperatures or not. The specifically-named sake is further classified into eight kinds, based on requirements such as ingredients, percentage of rice milling, percentage of koji rice and flavor, and so on.
One requirement, for instance, is the rice milling percentage. Rice milling below 50% is designated as ‘dai-ginjo shu,’ below 70%, ‘hon-jouzou shu,’ 60% or lower, or if its’ process is special; it is called ‘tokubetsu-junmai shu,’ and ‘tokubetsu hon-jouzou shu’. The rice milling percentage doesn’t apply to ‘jun-mai shu’.
Japanese sake is made of rice as an ingredient and it can be appreciated both hot and cold, which is globally rare. Another charm of Japanese sake lies in the fact that you can enjoy the change of flavor at different temperatures.
It may be a quite Japanese thing to give some chic names to sake based on its serving temperatures. When it comes to warming up sake at around 30 degrees, it is called ‘hinata kan’ (basking in the sun), at around 35 degrees, ‘hitohada kan’ (body temperature), around 40 degrees, ‘nuru kan’ (lukewarm), around 50 degrees, ‘atsu kan’ (hot), above 55 degrees, ‘tobikiri kan’ (super-hot), when it is cold, around 5 degrees, ‘yuki bie’ (cold as snow), around at 10 degrees ‘hana bie’ (cold weather at cherry blossom viewing) and around 15 degrees ‘ryou bie’ (refreshingly cool). Why don’t you amuse yourself by giving a try to appreciate the transformation of its flavors and tastes when the temperature changes?
What changes the taste of sake also lies in what kind of cup you are drinking from. In terms of shapes, there are several types: flat, cylinder, mid-sized, small-sized. In addition to these, the shape of the edge of the cup where your lips touch also varies: widening outward, narrowing inward, square-shaped, and more. If you would like to appreciate the fragrance of ‘ginjo shu’ kind of sake, it is generally recommended that you use a cup with an outward spreading edge. Some say that since the angle of your head and mouth is affected by the shape of the cup, the taste you feel depends on which part of your lips touches the sake. And also, the material of the cup changes how you taste sake, a cup made of earthenware, copper, tin or glass, each provides subtly different tastes. Thus, Japanese sake allows you to enjoy comparing different taste of the same sake in different sake cups. And here is another delight: you can taste local sake using traditional handcrafted cups from a specific area. Here is a list of some famous handicraft styles: ‘Tsui shu’ or elaborately-coated red lacquerーware from Murakami, repoussé copper-ware in Sanjo, lacquer-ware in Niigata, ‘Anchi yaki’ (Anchi earthenware) in Agano, ‘Mimyoui yaki’ (Mimyoui earthenware) in Sado, and so on.
The most distinguishing characteristic of Japanese sake is the enhancing of the good flavor of food. This feature covers a wide variety of dishes over all, despite of some kinds of sake particularly go well with certain kinds of food. What is more, since the technique and pride of Echigo brewers are applied fully in the making of sake in Niigata, you could find a number of many ordinary sake and ‘honjouzou shu’ at a high cost.
With food from the land and sea and the countryside, Niigata is a treasure house of food with abundant seasonal tastes, ranging from fish and shellfish such as ‘Nodoguro’ (Black-throat Seaperch), ‘Nanban-ebi’ (northern shrimp) ‘Iwagaki’ (oyster), to meat such as ‘Echigo mochi buta’ (pork), edible chrysanthemum, green soybeans, various kinds of vegetables like egg plants, and mountain greens. A big charm of Niigata lies in appreciating seasonal local dishes using these fresh ingredients, along with local sake.