Koji-kin mold. The name of the mold spores sprinkled onto sake rice before it’s mixed with yeast.
Shinpaku. The starchy core of a rice grain—the best part for making sake. Rice intended for sake is milled, or “polished,” to remove part of the less desirable outer grain. The most expensive, smoothest-tasting, and most revered sakes contain the highest percentage of shinpaku. Sake Grades Shinpaku.
Daiginjo. At least 50 percent of the rice grains used for this is milled away.
Futsuu-shu. The rough stuff—sake’s equivalent of table wine. It’s rarely imported to the US.
Genshu. Undiluted sake. These bottles generally contain 18 to 20 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to the typical 15 or 16 percent.
Ginjo. At least 40 percent of the rice grains used for this type of sake is milled away, resulting in a smoother sake.
Honjozo. All sakes contain rice, yeast, water, and koji-kin. Honjozo-grade sakes can also contain up to 3 percent distilled brewer’s spirit, said to bring out flavors and aromas.
Junmai. The word means “pure,” and these sakes can contain no additives—only the four basic ingredients.
Super daiginjo. An unofficial (not government-regulated) designation for super-premium sakes in which 60 to 95 percent of the rice is polished away in the milling process.
Tokubetsu. Means “special” and applies to a honjozo or junmai that the brewer found particularly noteworthy, usually for its aromatic qualities.
Koshu. Aged sakes, which account for less than 1 percent of sakes produced.
Nama. Designates an unpasteurized sake—almost always a genshu. These sakes should always be kept cold.
Nigori. The roughly filtered sake that appears cloudy and is often familiar to Americans.
Great Sake-Producing Regions
Fukushima. A varied climate means this northern prefecture can create a wide array of sakes ranging from sweet to dry. Since the 2011 tsunami, many breweries have struggled to get back into the export market.
Ibaraki. Just south of Fukushima, Ibaraki makes soft (thanks to soft water), sweet sakes with little acidity.
Niigata. Look for small snowflake stickers on bottles from this wintry Sea of Japan prefecture known for clean, dry sakes. Niigata produces the most approachable sakes for Americans.
Shizuoka. A Pacific Coast region that produces light, fragrant sakes.