Jul 17, 2009

Four Types of Sake

Before, I posted the article titled "Complicated Sake Name" at my blog site. In the article, I expressed my opinion that sake naming conventions that are currently used, including the tokuteimeisho (special designation sake name) system, are difficult to understand for general consumers, and suggested that other simpler names be used for classifying sake.

Sake Service Institute (SSI) has proposed a sake classification system, which is easy to understand even for general consumers. Details of this classification system are provided at the SSI site, which is unfortunately only in Japanese.

According to this classification system, sake is divided into four categories: kunshu (fragrant type), soshu (light and smooth type), junshu (rich type), and jukushu (aged type). In addition, this system determines the type of specific sake not according to the ingredients or brewing method of the sake but based on human's sensory evaluation of it. Of course, everything has good points and bad points. For example, it may be difficult to determine the type of a junmai ginjo namazake whether as a kunshu or as a soshu. However I think this system is convenient because it is easy to understand for general consumers.

For example, you are told that some specific sake is soshu, you easily guess it tastes light and smooth without needing to know terms like junmaishu or namachozoshu. Thus, under this classification system, Sawanoi Junmai Namachozoshu Suzushizake (the picture on the left) can be called a soshu, while Kasen Junmaishu Tamagawa-josui (right) can be a junshu.

When introducing specific sake to people who are not familiar with sake, you may feel difficulty in conveying the meaning of difficult sake terms including junmai, junmai-ginjo, etc. However, if this classification system is used, you even need not explain the meanings of such words. If Japanese sake brewers want to expand their market worldwide, I think the use of this classification system is encouraged.

The Web site I mentioned above also provides information regarding what foods can be paired well with each type of sake, what cups or glasses match each type, and what temperature each type can best be enjoyed at. Since, unfortunately, it is written in Japanese, I feel I must provide an English explanation of this stuff in the future. English-speaking readers, please give me a little bit of time to do this.

I have no intention to favor SSI, but since I hope that sake will be loved by more people, I would like to understand this type classification system and use every opportunity to explain about it to my sake drinking friends.

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