There is a lot of Japanese terminology surrounding the types of sake, which can be daunting for the uninitiated. Here at Tengu Sake we try to make things as simple as possible. Basic sake classification is surprisingly simple, especially when compared with the classification methods for wine, etc. Although Japanese sake can be classified by rice/yeast type and geographical provenance, the most overarching classifications are (1) how “polished” (milled) the rice grains used to make the sake are, and (2) whether a tiny amount of “brewers alcohol” (distilled alcohol) has been added to pronounce the sake’s characteristics (increase fragrance, flavour, etc.) The first classification results in the three types: daiginjo, ginjo and honjozo; for the second, the word junmai indicates that no alcohol has been added (incidentally, this does not increase the alcohol %). The diagram below explains the classifications further (click to enlarge)
Premium sake (tokutei meishoushu) accounts for only a quarter of all the sake made in Japan, it regarded as the best of the best. There is a lot a variety within premium sake:
Futsushu accounts for 75% of all the sake produced in Japan and is often overshadowed by its premium brothers and therefore overlooked in the West; however good futsushu is fabulous, reasonably priced and versatile. Find out more in our Futsushu guide.
There are other styles of sake which require some explanation – nigori, sparkling aged & flavoured sakes, for example. You can find an explanation of other styles of sake on this blog post.