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Guide to Junmai Ginjo & Ginjo sake

December 1, 2013

Browse (Junmai) ginjo on our sake shop

Junmai Ginjo and ginjo are both made with rice polished rice to remove at least 40% of the outer layer of the grain (reminder of sake classifications). It accounts for only 3% of all sake produced, and is celebrated for its pronounced fruity flavours and fragrance.


The defining characteristic of this class of sake is the fabulous fruity and floral scents. Common scents include apple, melon, pear, strawberry, banana, lychee, and citrus fruits. Flavours are generally light and delicate , they can also be highly nuanced but not as much as the more refined (junmai) daiginjo class.

Junmai ginjo (made without added alcohol) is generally deeper in flavour with a slightly more muted nose than it’s ginjo counterpart, which tends to emphasis the fruity notes and produces a lighter, more delicate sake.

Blue Dragon Label Silent Forest Label
 Blue Dragon – Delicious, fresh, fruity & light Silent Forest –  rich honey, melon & dried apricot; good cold & warm


Konishi Silver Label
Konishi Silver – Gold Medal winning sake. Light, delicate, refreshing with lower alcohol



You have more leeway with ginjo and junmai ginjo than you do with their more milled daiginjo brothers. The more fruity types generally are best drunk colder but you can experiment at warmer temperatures with others. Silent Forest, for example, is fabulous at 30-35°C.


This category of sake can be drunk on its own but also goes very well with food. Junmai ginjo tend to have more umami tasting amino acids than (junmai) daiginjo so pair well with fuller flavours. A fabulous grilled steak is a good example; although, unless they have ample acidity they will not benefit from the addition of a creamy Bearnaise sauce!

Konishi Silver is a great match for meaty seafood (scallops, etc.), Silent Forest is fabulous with salty foods, creamy cheeses or meats, and Blue Label pairs well with hard cheeses and stews.

Guide to Junmai Daiginjo & Daiginjo sake

December 1, 2013

Browse (junmai) daiginjo in our sake shop

Both junmai daiginjo and daiginjo are made with highly polished rice from which at least 50% of the outer layer of the grain has been removed (reminder of sake classifications). It accounts for the top 3% of all sake produced, and represents the pinnacle of the brewers’ craft.


Building on the wonderful fruity and floral scents you get with (junmai) ginjo sake, at this level (the zenith of sake brewing), the brewer is aiming for delicate sophistication and nuanced, layered flavours. One of the real joys of the (junmai) daiginjo category is sitting back, taking your time and discovering a new fragrance or flavour with each raise of the glass: bliss!

Junmai daiginjo (made without added alcohol) is generally deeper in flavour with a slightly more muted nose than its daiginjo counterpart, which tends to emphasis the fruity notes and produces a lighter, more nuanced sake.

Pearl Label Black Face Label Rare Brew Label
Pearl – a silky & elegant, finely sparkling sake Black Face – flavourful & exciting Rare Brew – clear, dry & refreshing
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Tatenokawa 50 Seiryu Label Tatenokawa 33 Label Tatenokawa 18 Label
Tatenokawa 50 “Stream” – fruity, expressive & crisp Tatenokawa 33 “Brook” – elegant & expressive fruit flavours Tatenokawa 18 “Spring” – ultra premium, superbly fruity


Snow Blossom 720ml label White Dragon Label White Dragon Label
Snow Blossom – fresh & zesty fruit salad White Dragon – smooth sipping umami fruits Special White Dragon – sweet, complex & fragrant
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Konishi Gold Label
Konishi Gold – fruity aroma with light flavour; for wine lovers


Both daiginjo and junmai daiginjo are best drunk cold. Their delicate flavours and scents become unbalanced and overwhelming if allowed to warm.


Due to their delicate and nuanced characteristics, (junmai) daiginjo can be fabulous enjoyed on their own, perhaps to unwind at the end of the day or before a meal as an apéritif.

There are, however, some that have enough acidity & structure – such as Hayashi Honten’s Black Face – to go superbly with clean tasting, oilier dishes such as fatty sashimi/sushi or paté. Yamatogawa Shuzo’s Snow Blossom has slightly more alcohol and so will work similarly.  White Dragon goes especially well with creamy flavours (e.g. mayonnaise), deep fried foods and a bit of chilli!

Other styles of sake

December 1, 2013

There are many different methods in which to brew sake, which can result in plenty of other styles of sake, supplementary to the main types. Some of the brewing methods are deeply complicated, and some a secret known only to the toji (Master Brewer) of the brewery; however, the main types can be brewed in a number of different ‘styles’. These ‘styles’ greatly affect the sake’s characteristics and can transform a mild-mannered junmai, for example, into a full-bodied heavyweight using one ‘style’ or into a light and fruity tipple if brewed in another.

Rather than give a detailed description of each and every other style of sake this post will serve as a general reference with further blog posts providing additional detail.


Namazake is unpasteurised sake (nama meaning ‘raw’ or ‘fresh’). Sake usually goes through a two-step pasteurisation process to stop fermentation, stabilise the brew and increase longevity, namazake does not. This results in a brew which is fresh, lively and zingy in character with ripe fruit flavours – such as banana, apples and watermelon – and notes of freshly cut grass or wood. Due to it’s fresh and fruity profile it is very popular in the West; however, due to its unpasteurised nature it must be kept refrigerated at all times to stop it from spoiling. Fresh, ripe, fruity, zesty and refreshing are the watchwords here.

Mountain Stream Snow Blossom
 Mountain Stream – layered, complex, fresh & young Snow Blossom – super fresh & zesty with fruit salad flavours


Kimoto and yamahai are two of the oldest styles of sake brewing. The nature of the brewing process allows airborne organisms (wild yeasts, fungi, bacteria, etc.) to enter the brew at a very early stage. Before all these organisms die off naturally, as part of the brewing process, they have an opportunity to leave their mark. This results in wilder, gamier, fuller and often rougher-edged flavours that are exciting and intriguing. Often yamahai has bigger gamy, rich and wild flavours than kimoto, with more pronounced acidity.

Black Samurai
Black Samurai – rich & full bodied with buckets of umami


Bodaimoto is, to my knowledge, the oldest style of brewing method still used today; its roots extend back to the 14th century. Like both the kimoto and yamahai techniques wild organisms have time to make their mark, thus sake made with the bodaimoto technique is similarly funky and wild in character but, due to the particulars of the technique, also tends to result in sake with a slightly sour quality that brilliantly offsets and mellows the gamier and rougher notes.

Rocky Mountain Misty Mountain Mountain Stream
Rocky Mountain – rustic, raw & earthy Misty Mountain – cloudy, zesty & exciting Mountain Stream – layered, complex, fresh & young


Koshu or aged sake is becoming increasingly popular in the West. It represents a tiny, tiny percentage of all the sake produced and so can be highly sought after. Generally, sake is not designed to be aged and the methods employed to do so vary wildly; thus, koshu‘s flavours and characteristics also vary wildly. In general, when aged, sake tends to become heavier, mustier, more acidic and the flavours more concentrated and rounded. Aged sake is often likened to sherry in its flavour profiles and generally savoured on its own, after a meal.

Golden Amber Aperitif
Golden Amber – superb 12-year aged sake with beguiling notes of toffee & oak Aperitif – aged 8 years, similar to an oaked, sweet sherry


Nigori-zake is ‘cloudy’ sake or, more specifically, sake with some rice lees (particles of rice) left in when bottled. On the whole, nigori-zake is less refined, fuller and thicker textured – due to the suspended lees – than its filtered counterparts. Usu-nigori is a type of nigori-zake that has only a very small amount of lees remaining in suspension. Usu-nigori results in a much more subtle brew but still retains the funkier, thicker flavours associated with nigori-zake.

Misty Mountain
Misty Mountain – cloudy, zesty & exciting

Our sparkling sake is also an usu-nigori (see below)


There are a number of less well known styles of sake, some of which are available in the UK.

Sparkling sake is usually low in alcohol and, as the name suggests, sparkling!

Pearl Label
Pearl – silky & elegant, finely sparkling sake

Taruzake is sake that has been stored in a wooden cask of Japanese cedar. The sake draws out the flavours of the wood and gives a fresh, lively and often peppery cedar flavour that tends to drown out any other flavours the sake may have! Traditionally drunk at New Year this sake is a lot of fun but lacks subtlety.

Kijoushu is a ‘fortified’ sake where some of the water used in the brewing process is substituted for already brewed sake. It is a rich, desert-like beverage that is often aged too. Kijoushu can be deliciously alluring but only a handful of breweries make it so it’s difficult to get hold of (and expensive!)

There are others but they are quite niche and their peculiarities rather specific! If you’re really interested, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to fill you in.

Guide to Futsushu sake

December 1, 2013

Browse futsushu in our sake shop.

Futsushu sake is the most popular type of sake in Japan, it accounts for about 75% of all sake produced (reminder of sake classifications), it is the equivalent of an everyday ‘table wine’. Abroad, futsushu is often overlooked in favour of the more polished ‘special designation’ sake. This is a mistake! Whilst there are some pretty rough and ready futsushu out there (because it is not as tightly regulated as ‘special designation’ sake) there are also some fabulous, easy drinking and inexpensive ones too. We highly recommend you experiment and try them out for yourself!


As there are so many different futsushu it is difficult to generalise. However, since the rice used to make this style of sake is (generally) not highly polished, we can say that both the fragrance and flavour are likely to emphasise the the rice and the koji notes.

Cheap and nasty futsushu will be unbalanced, unsubtle, taste strongly alcoholic and might be a bit of a chore to drink! By contrast, good quality futsushu is deliciously flavourful, smooth yet rich and incredibly easy to drink.


Ancient Mountain Signature Brew
 Ancient Mountain – great warm on winter days!  Signature Brew – dry, simple & smooth. A good session sake!


Tengu Sake has two fabulous futsushu in its range. Signature Brew enjoys a nose of banana and melon (quite unusual for a futsushu) followed by the more expected cereal, rice and caramel flavours. It is dry, rich and smooth; highly drinkable!
Ancient Mountain is a wonderfully warming sake, good for those cold winter days! It has notes of sweet cereal, soy and mushrooms on the nose and then smooth & creamy rice flavours that melt in the mouth. Both are fantastic everyday sake that never fail to make you smile!


If there was any type of sake that best suits being heated, futsushu is it. If well made the flavours will open up, mellow and harmonise resulting in a sake that is an absolute joy to drink. That’s not to say that futsushu cannot be enjoyed at room temperature too; however, generally speaking, you might mute the flavour and thereby be missing out if you drank it any colder.

Both Signature Brew and Ancient Mountain can be enjoyed from room temperature all the way up to 50-55°C.


As futsushu has quite a robust flavour profile it is wise to pair it with foods that have fuller flavours. Both of Tengu Sake’s futsushu have sweet notes to their flavours and so pair well with sweeter sauces: BBQ ribs, yakitori, etc. Rice and mushroom notes can find friendly foods too – a mushroom risotto pairs especially well with Ancient Mountain.

Guide to Junmai & Honjozo sake

December 1, 2013

Browse junmai & honjozo in our sake shop.

Junmai & Honjozo sakes are generally made with rice polished to remove at least 30% of the outer layer of the grain (reminder of sake classifications) although junmai can be less polished. They account for about 18% of all sake produced, and tend to have a richer and fuller flavour profile than ginjo sake. They are also more tolerant of being heated and therefore, generally, can be enjoyed across a wider temperature range.


Junmai sake is usually full of character and has rich, earthy and umami flavours in abundance. The body tends to be bit heavier and fuller than other types, and the acidity is generally more pronounced. Unlike the more refined ginjo classes, one thing you tend not to get is a big, floral/fruity bouquet; rather, earthy notes that highlight the flavours and qualities of the rice are the norm.

Due to the addition of a little bit of brewers alcohol, honjozo sake is usually smoother, lighter and dryer with a more pronounced bouquet and less ricey elements than junmai.

Both types are designed for easy drinking and are wonderful when enjoyed at a leisurely pace over a long evening, either with or without food and are delicious over a range of temperatures.


Rocky Mountain Misty Mountain Special Red Dragon Waning Moon Black Samurai
 Rocky Mountain – rustic, raw & earthy  Misty Mountain – cloudy, zesty & exciting  Special Red Dragon – eweet rice & bamboo notes  Waning Moon – easy drinking with good umami  Black Samurai – rich with buckets of umami


Heavenly Brew Heavenly Brew Sky Conqueror
 Autumn Leaves – warming with caramel & creamed rice Heavenly Brew – smooth, crisp & bone dry Sky Conqueror – peppery, zesty & dry; versatile


One of the joys of drinking junmai and honjozo is the ability to enjoy these fabulously drinkable sake at a variety of temperatures. Experimenting by trying to find the various ‘sweet spots’ is half the fun! Tengu Sake always provides recommendations with each sake. The junmai Morning Dew, for example is smooth and mellow at 40-45°C but dry and crisp straight from the fridge.


Both junmai & honjozo are gifted all-rounders. They are great session tipples: great for sharing with friends or relaxing at the end of the day. They also pair fabulously with a good range of foods. The richness and high umami content of junmai makes them particularly good with slow-cooked foods such as roasts or stews or with other textured and umami-rich dishes like cured meats, tomato dishes, cheeses, etc. (please see our page on food pairing to discover more).  A sake with a lot of umami and a particularly rich, deep flavour is Rocky Mountain, which works perfectly with blue cheese, for example.

Honjozo, being lighter, tends to pair with flavours that are not as rich and thick and it can be a great match with Chinese or Thai food that has a little bit of a kick. Sky Conqueror from Hayashi Honten is a good example as its peppery and zesty qualities match well. On the other hand Yamatogawa’s Autumn Leaves is richer, creamy and textured so works well with patés and other richer meat dishes.  Honjozo sakes are also, generally, a good match with sushi.