Sake Terminology

Bijinshu “Beautiful Girl.” This “improvement” of the sake making process involved only using young virgin girls to chew the rice in order to start fermentation.
Bodai Moto “Monk’s sake.” A term used for the time period when temple-brewed sake was at its peak.
ChoryoA brewery located in Koryo-cho town to the north-west of Nara which is said to be the birthplace of Sake.
Chotei no sake“Court produced sake.” A reference to the time period around 689 AD where the imperial court began to brew sake for consumption. Many technical advances came from this time period as the court’s endless resources allowed for extensive research into the art of brewing.
Dai GinjoPrized as the top of Japanese sake, Daiginjo has a very light, fragrant, fruity and subtle taste. It is brewed with rice whose each grain has been polished away by 50-65%, and the various brewing processes are handled with greater care and attention.
FutsushuCommonly known as “table sake,” futsushu typically means any non-premium brew.
GenshuNormally brewers will dilute sake to bring its natural alcohol percentage of 18-20% down to a more manageable 14-6%. The term Genshu is used to label sakes that have not gone through this dilution process.
GinjoSake brewed with rice whose each grain has been polished away by 40-50%. Like Daiginjo, the flavour of Ginjo is light, fragrant and even complex.
Ginjo ShuHigh quality sake made with either Junmai or Honjozo. Rice is polished at least 40%.
HonjozoA type of sake brewed with rice, filtered water, Koji mold and yeast. The grain of rice is polished by more than 30%. A small amount of alcohol is added in the final fermentation process. Dry and smooth, usually lighter and more fragrant than Junmai Sake.
IzakayaA Japanese drinking restaurant that offers traditional fare accompanied with sake. Typically popular with the business crowd seeking that “much needed post-work drink.”
JizakeRoughly translated into “Local sake.” Equivalent, and as overused, as the term “micro-brewery” in the United States.
JunmaiA type of sake brewed only with rice, filtered water, and Koji mold, Junmai sake is in general full-bodied and slightly acidic. Junmai is the first of the premium sake grades, in which the rice used to brew the sake is generally milled to at least 70% of its original size
Junmai Dai GinjoHighest quality sake made with pure rice sake and rice polished more than 50%.
Junmai GinjoA category of sake that has a milling rate of at least 40% for each rice grain, meaning that only 60% of the exterior grain remains.
Junmai ShuSake made with pure rice.
KanpaiTranslated into “Empty Cup!” or “Cheers!” A very important word indeed.
Kan-zukuriThe term used for the winter brewing season.
KimotoA method of creating a “moto” or yeast starter by following the traditional brewing steps. Still used today for certain brews.
Koji Mold (Koji-Kin)Type of mold used in the sake making process. Koji mold is essential to breaking down the starches into sugars which can be fermented to make alcohol.
Kuchikama no Sake A rudimentary form of sake brewing roughly translated to “mouth brewed sake.” One of the first methods of initiating the fermentation process in rice was to use the enzymes commonly found in the mouth.
KuraSimply means a sake brewery. Also known as a sakagura.
KurabitoOne who works within a sake brewery.
MasuA traditional square wooden box used to drink sake. Now these are typically reserved for ceremonial purposes and no longer the preferred receptacle for drinking sake.
Minzoku no SakeA reference to the communal period when sake making involved an entire village.
Moromi“The Main Mash.” A vital step in the brewing process of sake where all the ingredients are added together and the fermentation begins.
MotoA way to “jump start” the fermentation process. The moto is a combination of yeast, rice, water, and lactic acid.
Nama Sake (Zake)Type of sake that is unpasteurized: it has live yeast cells and bacteria from the brewing process. This sake must be refrigerated and like most “live” products, they are best consumed fresh. It has a more fresh and lively taste.
NigoriNigori or nigorizake is an unfilered variety of sake. Typically cloudy with a sediment that settles at the bottom of the bottle.
Nihonshu“Wine of Japan.” The official name for what the Western world calls “sake.”
NihonshudoSee Sake Meter Value.
OchokoSmall cup used to drink sake. It is similar to a shot glass.
OmachiThe first designated sakamai (sake rice), and the “parent” strain of many other sakamai
Saka MaiSake making rice that is used for brewing sake. This rice variety has a larger kernel and contains less protein than table rice.
Sakaya no Sake The formal term for a brewery.
Sakaya A wide ranging term that can be used to describe either a shop that sells sake OR a brewery.
Sake Meter Value (SMV)To decide whether each sake is dry or sweet, the Sake Meter Value (SMV), or in Japanese the Nihonshu-do,is used for measurement. The SMV measures the density of sake compared to water. The higher the positive number is, the drier the sake becomes, and the lower the negative number is, the sweeter the sake gets.
SeimaibuaiThis refers to a polishing or milling percentage rate of the rice grains. The percentage figure means the amount of the rice kernel that is left after polishing. Seimaibual 40% indicates that 60% of the surface is polished away.
Seishu The legal term for Nihonshu.
Shizuku A time consuming method of pressing sake that involved hanging the moromi in cloth bags and allowing gravity to separate the fluid from the rest of the mash. Results in very soft and refined brews.
Shochu (Soju)A Japanese distilled alcohol made from sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, rice and a variety of other raw ingredients. It is similar to vodka, and has a higher alcohol content.
Shuzo brewery
Sparkling SakeA lightly carbonated version of sake, normally sold in smaller 300ml bottles.
Taruzake (Taru)Sake that’s been aged in a (usually) cedar barrel
Terrior A French term used mostly when talking about wine. It means the special characteristics of the soil, water, and climate in a given area that affects the taste of the wine.
TojiThe Japanese term for brewmaster.
TokkuriPitcher used to pour sake.
Tokubetsu A “special” designation for either Junmai or Honjozo brews.
YamadanishikiThis is a highly acclaimed sake making rice. It is often called the king of sake making rice. It has well-balanced quality of minerals and nutritions that is most suitable for brewing the premium sake. In fact, many sake breweries use Yamadanishiki to brew Ginjo sake. Some critics even say that it is necessary to use this rice variety to win the sake competition.
YamahaiMethod of brewing in which lactic acid is NOT added to the yeast starter, instead allowing wild bacteria to come into contact with the batch and work some magic before the necessary lactic acid develops naturally
YoshinosugiA very specific variety of Japanese cedar, deemed the absolute best material for making traditional wooden sake casks