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Sake FAQ

Table of Contents

What Are The Different Types of Sake?

Yes; in fact there are many types. While the basic ingredients of sake are always the same—rice, water, koji (mold) and sake yeast—the way the rice is polished and fermented creates the unique characteristics of each of the different types. Below are brief descriptions of each type.

First of all, sake is divided into two main categories which are ‘basic sake’ and ‘premium sake (Tokutei Meisho-shu).’

Within the premium sake, sake is further classified into 8 categories, based on rice polishing ratio and use of brewer’s alcohol.

Ingredients: Water, Rice, Koji, and Yeast

Sake Type Rice Polishing Ratio
Junmai 70%~
Tokubetsu Junmai 60%~
Junmai Ginjo 60%~
Junmai Daiginjo 50%~


Ingredients: Water, Rice, Koji, Yeast, and Neutral Distilled Alcohol

Sake Type Rice Polishing Ratio
Honjozo 70%~
Tokubetsu Honjozo 60%~
Ginjo 60%~
Daiginjo 50%~


In addition to these basic sake categories, there are many noteworthy terms, and/or legally recognized prodcutin method which are used to describe individual sake in details on each label.

Takara Sake USA is devoted to brew premium Junmai sake of the highest quality in industry.


The word Junmai means ‘pure rice’. It is sake composed of rice, water, koji (mold), and sake yeast; no other ingredients are added such as brewer’s alcohol.

Therefore, the word Junmai is used repeatedly in order to classify more specific types of premium sake such as “Junmai,” “Tokubetsu Junmai,” “Junmai Ginjo,” and “Junmai Daiginjo” based on the grade of rice polihing ratio.

  • Junmai: rice polishing ratio is 70% (or less) – rice is polished down to 70% of its original weight (Seimaido: 70).
  • Tokubetsu Junmai: rice polishing ratio is 60%
  • Junmai Ginjo: rice polishing ratio is 60%
  • Junmai Daiginjo: rice polishing ratio is 50%

All those Junmai type sake are completely different not only for its brewing process but also with its distinguished characteristics. But all are pure sake, made with only rice, water, koji, and yeast, thus Junmai type sake.


Junmai Sake – such as our flagship product, Sho Chiku Bai Classic Junmai

When we talk about simply Junmai sake, we are reffering to this category of sake. It has a full-bodied character with rich and complex flavors. The process of Junmai sake- making, mastered by the end of the 17th century, is the foundation of all sake production and continues to contemporary times. Rice for this type of sake is polished down to 70% of its original weight (Seimaido: 70). That means more protein, lipids, vitamins and minerals form rice grains are remaining in a brew which contribute to have more body, more acidity and more umami. Junmai sake is great to be served at room temperature or warmed. When warmed, the texture and flavor build, bringing out more intense umami.

Honjozo-type sake is not produced in the United States.

Honjozo sake is brewed from rice, water, koji, and yeast (just like junmai sake,) but brewer’s alcohol is added to achieve deisired characteristics. Just like the rice polishing ratio, the addition of brewer’s alcohol are another criteria for classification of premium sake.

  • Honjozo: rice polishing ratio 70%, brewer’s alcohol is added
  • Tokubetsu Honjozo: rice polishing ratio 60%, special production method, brewer’s alcohol is added
  • Ginjo: rice polishing ratio 60%, brewer;s alcohol is added
  • Daiginjo: rice polishing ratio 50%, brewer’s alcohol is added

*The weight of the brewer’s alcohol must not exceed 10% of the weight of the white rice used in making the sake.


Alcohol is added to this type of sake during the brewing process; the added alcohol cannot exceed 25% of the total alcohol in the finished product. Because of the fortification of this sake with alcohol, it is not called a Junmai, or ‘pure rice’, type of sake. Due to the fact that any fortified sake would be taxed with much higher rate than Junmai type sake,   This sake’s character and taste is similar to that of the Junmai type, but usually it has lighter body and clean taste. It pairs well with a wide range of foods. As a result, Honjozo is a popular choice of sake both in restaurants and homes; additionally, it is affordably priced. Honjozo-type sake should be served at room temperature or warmed.

Ginjo is brewed by using highly polished rice and a special type of yeast. The sake is lighter and has a clean, delicate, fruity flavor with a lingering sweetness, and a distinct floral bouquet, called ‘Ginjoka.’  Ginjo type sake production method was created in the mid-20th century. Rice for Ginjo-type sake is polished down to 60% or less of its original weight (Seimaido: 60). When you see “Junmai Ginjo” on the label of a bottle of sake it refers to Ginjo-type sake made purely with rice, water, koji, and yeast. If the sake is made with added alcohol you will not see the word Junmai in front of GinjoGinjo-type sake should be served at room temperature or chilled.

DaiGinjo (Great/Large Ginjo)-type sake is Ginjo-type sake with rice polished to a very high degree. The rice in DaiGinjo-type sake is polished down to 50% or less of its original weight (Seimaido: 50). In order to polish rice to this extremely small volume, only shuzokotekimai (the specific varieties of rice suited for sake making) is used. This most labor-intensive and hence expensive sake shows off with an exquisite floral bouquet, Ginjoka, and a rich flavor. When you see a sake labeled Junmai DaiGinjo it refers to DaiGinjo-type sake made purely with rice. If sake is made with added alcohol you will not see the word Junmai in front of DaiGinjoDaiGinjo-type sake should be served at room temperature or chilled.

Nama means “fresh or raw.” This draft-style sake is partially pasteurized or unpasteurized. It has a young, fruity taste and a refreshing aroma. Junmai-type Nama or Ginjo-type Nama can be made. Nama sake is typically served chilled to preserve its young, refreshing character. Nama sake is perishsble, and has shorter shelf life than pasteurized sake. Nama-type sake should be served chilled.

  • Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama Junmai (Nama)
    This ginjo grade sake is brewed using certified organic rice and is purified not by heat pasteurization but through micro-filtration. The micro-filtration process allows sake to retain many of original flavors. 

Nigori-type sake is unfiltered or partially/coarsely filtered sake, so that some rice solids are bottled along with the sake.  This is a way sake has been crafted for most of its 2,000-year history. This sake has a milky white appearance and a bold, sweet taste. Junmai-type Nigori or Ginjo-type Nigori can be made. Nigori-type sake should be served chilled.

Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Silky Mild, the first nigori sake produced in USA, was lereased on 1984 from its Berkeley, CA brewry. It is still America’s favorite Nigori sake. Takara Sake USA still holds the largest share of the Nigori sake market in the United States.

Also, Takara Sake USA is expanding possibility of unfiltered premium sake with natural fruit flavors under YUKI Nigori brand: 


Genshu is sake containing its original alcohol content, undiluted with water. After fermentation and filtration, sake normally contains an alcohol content of around 17 to 20%, and, for the commercial market, is usually diluted with water to 12- 16%. Genshu is higher in alcohol; bold, full-bodied and rich.

Kimoto-type sake is considered to be the precursor of Junmai-type sake making, employing a process in which airborne lactobacillus is used to promote the natural growth of healthy yeast. However, because of the potential of exposure of the yeast to damaging microorganisms in the air, the process transitioned into the safer Yamahai system. Sake produced in this style has a deep, complex, and rich taste, which makes the Kimoto-type a great food pairing sake. Junmai Kimoto-type sake should be served at room temperature or warmed.

Before glass bottles were introduced, sake was transported in wooden barrels (Taru). Today, because the usage of barrels can cause bacterial growth, barrels are used only on celebratory occasions, such as at weddings and grand openings of stores/businesses, when a ritual called Kagamibiraki , or “breaking-a-barrel” is observed.  Taruzake-type sake retains a fresh, woody taste and bouquet. Taruzake-type sake can be served chilled to warmed.

Sake Making Process

The sake fermentation process is called multiple parallel fermentation. The fermentation of starch to sugar and the fermentation of sugar to alcohol occur simultaneously in a single batch. In wine making, sugar already exists in the juice of the grapes, so only yeast is added for the fermentation. In beer making, starch is first converted to sugar and subsequently yeast is added. In both wine and beer making the fermentation process is linear.

Although sake is often translated as “Japanese rice wine,” sake is a category of its own in the alcohol beverage world. By contrasting the difference in production method with other familiar alcoholic beverage such as wine and beer, one might begin to understand its uniquness.   


Wine: Single Fermentation
Wine is made from grape juice, which contain fermentable sugars already, so wine yeast can turn it into alcohol readily (fermentation). Therefore, varietal of grape as a raw material contribute greatly for finished products such as its color, aromas, flavors, tannins and levels of acids.


Beer: Single Multiple Fermentation
Like sake, beer is made from cereal grains with solid starch. But, while sake can only be made from rice, beer can be brewed from many different grains or combination of grains. First, for beer, unpolished grains are allowed to malt in order to create enzymes to break starch into sugar (saccharification) before fermentation. Then, beer yeast is added for fermentation. In addition. almost always hops or other flavoring materials are added.


Sake: Multiple Parallel Fermentation
Sake is brewed from polished rice. Three other ingredients are water, a microbe called koji and yeast. In main mash, koji enzymes are working to break down rice starch into sugar (saccharification), at the same time, sake yeast are consuming those sugar into alcohol (fermentation). Saccharification and fermentation happen simultaneously in a main mash for sake, and that is very unique method of production for sake. 

It lasts 3 to 4 weeks. It varies according to the types of sake being produced. Normally, the Ginjo type sake that is produced at a lower temperature takes a longer fermentation time.

No. Today at Takara Sake USA’s, production is continuous throughout the year. This system is called Shiki-Jozo (four seasons brewing).

Historically speaking, sake was produced once a year with newly harvested rice in fall, or more as long as rice was safely stored and was available to brew.

Normally, sake goes through heating process called pasteurization twice. During pasteurization, sake is heated at 140°F-150°F for a short duration, which stops fermentation and also eliminates bacteria. Therefore, the sake gains shelf life without adding the sulfites which are added in the wine-making process.

Depends on what type of characteristic of sake is desired as a final product, method of pasteurization is adjusted or differentiated.

Wooden barrels are no longer used. They were used until the early 20th century but were found to cause the growth of harmful bacteria. In modern sake making, wooden barrels have been replaced by the use of stainless-steel tanks.

You can visit our Tasting Room and Sake Museum at Berkeley, CA where we display traditional antique tools used for sake production including large wooden barrels from 19th century Japan. 

It is made possible by sake’s unique multiple parallel fermentation method that allows growth of stronger sake yeast. Sake can reach an alcohol level of 17% to 20% during fermentation and it is diluted later with water to more consumerable final alcohol level around 15%.

In contrast, wine yeast produced in wine making dies at around an alcohol level of 13%. In beer making, beer yeast dies even earlier, at an alcohol level of 4-5%.

Sake Ingredients

Koji is a microbes that promotes the saccharification of starch in rice.

It is a type of mold (fungus) spore that is spread over and then mixed with the steamed rice, and the left for two days to propagate on and into the rice kernels.  Once the mold is fully grown the rice called Koji rice is ready to produce an enzyme that will enable it to convert rice starch into sugar.

There are three major koji types used in Japan which are:

  • Yellow Koji (Aspergillus oryzae)
  • Black Koji (Aspergillus awamori)
  • White Koji (Aspergillus kawachi)

Yellow Koji is the one mainly used for production of sake, soy sauce, and miso.

Koji is a special fungus that is native to rice, called “Aspergillus oryzae”, which has been historically used in sake making.

Koji is normally obtained from Japanese suppliers who traditionally specialize in its production. The history of the Koji-making business in Japanese sake production is unique, with roots dating back to the 13th century.

Yeast is a microorganism that converts sugar to alcohol.

Sake produced in America uses mainly California medium grain rice while sake made in Japan uses Japanese short grain rice. The medium grain, labeled “Calrose” is a hybrid rice and has been created by combining California long grain and Japanese short grain rice, which was brought to America from Japan more than 100 years ago. Both Calrose and short grain rice is grown mainly in the Sacramento Valley, California. 

In Japan, of course, there are many varietals of rice all over the country; the majority is short grain. However, in addition to the varieties of rice grown for eating, a special sake-making rice varietal, shuzokotekimai, the best suited rice for sake making, was developed in the 20th century. Some of the famous varietals of shuzokotekimai are known as Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Omachi, Miyama-Nishiki, and Shinriki.

Yes, it’s basically the same; both Calrose (a medium-grain varietal that is a hybrid of Japanese short grain and California long grain rice) and Japanese short grain varietals are commonly used in U.S.A. Historically, the great rice-producing regions (all regions of Japan with the exception of southern Japan, including Okinawa island) are also known as excellent sake producing regions.

The best suited rice varietals for sake making, shuzokotekimai, are a ‘new’ development in the history of sake making, created 85 years ago. These new type of rice have much larger kernels and a larger starch core than standard rice varieties. The shuzokotekimai varietals also have soft core (called shinpaku) that plays an important role in Koji rice making. Because of these relatively new varietals, which make possible highly polished rice kernels, premium sakes such as DaiGinjo and Junmai-type sakes became possible. Nevertheless, it is important to note that great sake is made not only as a result of extra premium rice varieties, but as a result of good sake making techniques. For example, Takara Sake’s Sho Chiku Bai Classic, produced using Calrose rice, received the Gold Award in the category of Junmai Sake at the 2011 US Sake Appraisal. It is a good example of the coupling of California-grown rice, which has developed into an excellent regional rice meeting the high standards of sake making, and superior sake making techniques.

It involves a special milling process that removes the outer layer of the rice kernel in order to remove the proteins, minerals and fat contained in the rice, and expose the starch at the center of the kernel. Removing everything from the rice kernel but the starch preserves the purity of the flavor and also, by exposing more starch; benefits starch into sugar (glucose) fermentation.

The polishing (Seimai) is done by a special polishing machine developed in 20th century. It polishes (or shaves) rice very gently without causing cracking or breaking the rice kernels. The rice kernels are dropped on a spinning grind disc, where, after a brief shaving (polishing) process, they drop to a lower level without rubbing or scraping against other kernels. The shaved kernels are continuously brought to the top of the grind disc, repeating this process until a specified degree of polishing is attained. This gentle and exacting process is time consuming; for example, in order to polish rice down to 50% of the original kernel size for Takara Premium Ginjo sake, it will take up to 10 hours.

Generally yes, as more wastage of rice and the labor-intensive nature of high polishing will increase the production cost. However, the degree of polishing alone does not determine which sake types are premium. Therefore, generally speaking, the Ginjo (and DaiGinjo) group created in 20th century can be more expensive than sakes from the Junmai group, established in the 19th century. However, the quality and character of these two groups of sake have the same degree of difference as white and red wine. Please refer to the  “pairing with foods.”

Seimaido is rice polishing ratio.

Seimaido refers to the degree of seimai (polishing) that a rice kernel has undergone. The number in % indicates the final weight of the rice kernel after polishing when compared with its unpolished, original weight.

eg. Seimado: Rice Polishing Ratio 70%  => Means 30% of outer layer of rice grains are polished away and 70% of original rice weight is remained.

Outer surface of the rice grain contains a lot of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals while center or core of the grain is concentrated in pure starch.

Depends on what type of final sake is desired, brewer would choose what polishing ratio of rice to use for brew. For example:

  • If brewer desired rich, full-bodied, savory sake, he/she would choose seimaido 70% rice and might make Junmai sake.  
  • If brewer desired light, floral, fruity sake, he/she would choose seimaido 50% rice and might make Junmai Daiginjo sake.

Tasting and Pairing​

A general rule is that all types of sake can be enjoyed chilled, but warming sake has certain restrictions; for example, Ginjo and DaiGinjo-type sakes should not be warmed. Below are specific guidelines for the two fundamental categories of sake, from which other types stem:

  • Junmai-type and Tokubetsu-Junmai sakes: Serve at room temperature to warm
  • Ginjo-type and DaiGinjo type sakes: Serve chilled to room temperature

(Note: Whether warming or chilling sake, avoid extremes: do not over heat or over chill. Sake’s delicate bouquet, aroma and soft body are easily affected by serving temperatures. 

First boil water in a pot and when boiled, remove it from the heat.  Fill a ceramic sake carafe (tokkuri) or a small, narrow-necked glass bottle with sake and dip it into the hot water for a few minutes, until it is warm but not hot (a temperature of about 105˚F).  Do not overheat the sake, and never boil it. Also, do not put the entire bottle into hot water; sake should be warmed only once before drinking.

Microwaving is not recommended. Gradual, even warming is necessary in order to preserve sake’s delicate flavor.  It is also safer to use the method of warming sake in a pot of hot water.  In a microwave oven the narrow neck of a sake carafe (tokkuri) or glass bottle can build pressure at high temperatures, posing the risk of injury to the user.

To begin with, any alcoholic beverage drunk in excess will have harmful effects on the body, and drinking in moderation and responsibly is one of the keys to health maintenance. That said, sake does contain significant amounts of amino acids, and some of these amino acids are known to fight certain diseases.

Generally speaking, the rule of pairing of sake with foods can be best explored by considering the characteristics of the two fundamental sake types.

Junmai -type sake: With its full and complex flavors, enhanced by warming, Junmai-type sake is ideal with a wide variety of food, from delicate sushi to rich meat dishes. Different serving temperatures of the sake can also be tried, from slightly chilled to room temperature.

Ginjo type sake: Ginjo sake, produced with highly polished rice, has a clean and delicate flavor with a lingering sweetness. It is an excellent sipping drink, pairs well with light appetizers, and is sometimes enjoyed as a dessert wine. However, drinking Ginjo-type sake with dishes prepared with soy sauce or misoshould be avoided. The rich Umami taste of these products will interfere with delicate Ginjo taste.

Storing Sake

Sake Storage Tips

  • Cap tightly.
  • Keep it cool.
  • Keep it upright.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to light (sunlight or artificial).
  • Drink it young.
  1. Unopened: After bottling, Sho Chiku Bai Sake has a one-year shelf life. Sake is sensitive to heat, light, and oxidation. Therefore, leave capped and store upright in a cool, dark place. Avoid extreme temperature fluctuations and prolonged exposure to light.
  2. Opened: Sake contains no added preservatives. To store unfinished sake, cap tightly, refrigerate, and enjoy within a few days of opening.


Special Care: A shorter storage period is recommended for our junmai daiginjo, junmai ginjo, and flavored sake products such as:

  • Sho Chiku Bai Junmai Daiginjo Sake – limited edition
  • Sho Chiku Bai REI Junmai Daiginjo Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai Premium Ginjo Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai Takara Sierra Cold Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai SHO Junmai Ginjo Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama Sake
  • Hana Flavored Sake
  • Yuki Flavored Nigori Sake
  1. Unopened: We recommend these products be stored upright, refrigerated, and consumed within a few weeks of the date of purchase.
  2. Opened: Once opened, cap tightly, refrigerate, and consume within a few days.

No, it does not age. Sake generally should be drunk while it is still young – within a year of its production or less.

Store sake in a dark and cool place, much the same way in which you would store wine. Following is our recommodation in details.


Sake Storage Tips

  • Cap tightly.
  • Keep it cool.
  • Keep it upright.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to light (sunlight or artificial).
  • Drink it young.
  1. Unopened: After bottling, Sho Chiku Bai Sake has a one-year shelf life. Sake is sensitive to heat, light, and oxidation. Therefore, leave capped and store upright in a cool, dark place. Avoid extreme temperature fluctuations and prolonged exposure to light.
  2. Opened: Sake contains no added preservatives. To store unfinished sake, cap tightly, refrigerate, and enjoy within a few days of opening.


Special Care: A shorter storage period is recommended for our junmai daiginjo, junmai ginjo, and flavored sake products such as:

  • Sho Chiku Bai Junmai Daiginjo Sake – limited edition
  • Sho Chiku Bai REI Junmai Daiginjo Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai Premium Ginjo Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai Takara Sierra Cold Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai SHO Junmai Ginjo Sake
  • Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama Sake
  • Hana Flavored Sake
  • Yuki Flavored Nigori Sake
  1. Unopened: We recommend these products be stored upright, refrigerated, and consumed within a few weeks of the date of purchase.
  2. Opened: Once opened, cap tightly, refrigerate, and consume within a few days.

In keeping with industry practices for beer and wine, we do not put the bottling date and/or expiration date on the bottles, although wines do include the vintage year. Because the handling process of sake bottles varies according to distributors, storage, transportation, retailers and consumers, no precise expiration date can be given.


No, it’s a distilled drink made of either a single grain, mixed grains or vegetables. Shochu made with mixed grains is called Korui Shochu. Its multiple distillations gives it its clean taste. Honkaku Shochu is made by a single distillation, and thus it retains the flavor of its original ingredients, such as rice, barley, buckwheat, or sweet potatoes. These two premium types of Shochu, are produced for the most part on Kyushu island in southern Japan. (see our Shochu selections)

No, it’s a distilled drink made of grains, originating in Korea and used as cocktail base in some areas of America. It is found particularly in restaurants and bars not having state hard liquor licenses.


Hon-Mirin: Hon-Mirin is made with sweet rice, koji mold, and shochu (distilled sake). Other ingredients such as sweeteners (corn syrup, glucose, malt sugar), amino acids, and sake kasu (lees) may be also used.

Mirin: The main difference between Mirin and Hon-Mirin is the usage of sakeinstead of shochu in Mirin. The ingredients of Takara Mirin include sake (made with rice, water, koji mold, and yeast), glucose, and corn syrup (No High Fructose Corn Syrup is used in Takara Mirin.)

How do Hon-Mirin and Mirin work with foods?
Hon-Mirin and Mirin are gourmet seasoning sakes. They are used to enhance the natural flavors and richness of food, as well as augment its body and texture.

Mirin-Fu: Mirin-Fu is a Mirin-like seasoning product which contains no alcohol, and can enhance to a degree food flavors and texture.

Ingredients and Health

Takara USA Products Calories



Sho Chiku Bai Classic 30 NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai Extra Dry TBA NO YES
Takara Sierra Cold TBA NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai Premium Ginjo 30 NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai REI Ginjo Draft 30 NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai Nama 30 NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama 30 NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Silky Mild 35 NO YES
Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Crème de Sake 35 NO YES
Hana Flavored Sake (Raspberry, Fuji Apple, Lychee, White Peach)  30 NO YES
Takara Plum TBA YES YES
Kinsen Plum TBA YES YES
Koshu Plum 40 NO YES
Can Chu-Hi JPOP (Grapefruit) 19 NO NO
Can Chu-Hi  JPOP (White Peach) 20 NO NO
Takara Mirin (Gourmet Seasoning Sake) 70 NO YES

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