Sake 101
Ep.2  “How Should I Choose Sake?”

Aya and Tomoko (Tomo), total beginners when it comes to sake,

are here to learn from Saki (sake sommelier & journalist) how to enjoy sake.
If you feel like you’re a newbie too and don’t know where to start, you’ve found the right page!
Tomoko was feeling confident she could find the perfect sake for her after last episode, so she stopped by at her local sake shop.  

Edited by TOMOKO
Translated by Olivia Myrick

– At a sake shop –


Look at all their selection! Can’t wait to take a bottle home with me!

– 10min later –

Honjozo? Ginjo? Junmai? What? I don’t understand any of this…

~Next Day~

Seriously!? So, you just left without buying anything?

I felt so lost! There was sake from so many different breweries, and each brewery had a handful of different product lines, and within those product lines there were variations and seasonal specials. Who wouldn’t get lost. Besides, I don’t even understand all the sake terminology.
Guys, I don’t think I’m ready for sake…

Damn, that sounds stressful.
Saki, don’t you have some simple guideline for us, like which sake is the best to get from each brewery?

Sorry guys, the answer is NO.

Darn it!

Each brewery and the style of sake they’re good at it is different, so it’s difficult for me to say things like “Oh you should get yamahai at this brewery and junmai-ginjo at that brewery” without tasting it myself.

OK, so I got that there is no definitive guideline. What are some tips that might help us then?

First would be to ask anyone at the sake shop.
You can ask like “What do you recommend in the Kaze no Mori series (product line) from Yucho-Shuzo (brewery)?”, for example. If they can’t answer, it’s probably not the best sake shop for beginners.

So ask the professionals.

Or anyone who’s had it before! Recommendations from sake books/magazines are great to check too.
Aya, weren’t you reading one the other day? I think they had Kaze no Mori Akitsuho Junmai from Yucho-shuzo on there.

Yeah I remember that one!

I’d say try getting that one then. And if you like it, you might like some of the other recommendations on the book as well, especially if they suggest a different style from the same product line.

What if you don’t have any breweries or brands on mind to start with?

Then you can try looking for styles that you might like. You don’t have to cover all the styles if you feel overwhelmed, but Tomoko, I think you would enjoy junmai sake that is not ginjo because these tend to have more umami flavor. And for you Aya, I think you would like junmai-ginjo and junmai-daiginjo because they are very smooth and easy to drink.

I’m starting feel better about choosing sake.

But what difference can styles like ginjo vs. junmai-ginjo make when it’s from the same product line of the same brewery?

I get how you feel, but trust me, difference in style means they make it totally differently. For example, junmai means it is made with only water, rice, yeast, and koji fungus. In other words, it has no sweetners or distilled alcohol mixed in. Ginjo means they used rice that is highly polished and refined, and daiginjo just means they polished the rice even more. Nama means the sake is unpasteurized. Kimoto and yamahai means they’ve used more traditional methods of brewing.

I had no idea those terminologies had so much meanings behind them.

Think about the people making the sake. Why would they go through all the effort of changing ingredients or brewing methods if that wouldn’t make a difference in the taste?

You’re right. That must be a lot of work.

And don’t forget, the taste of sake can change by the year it was made, how it was stored, and even by the person drinking it.

Wow that’s cool. So there’s lots of sake out there I can taste and they could all taste so different.
I haven’t seen that much variety on the sake menus at the restaurants I go to though.

Restaurants like making sure the sake they have will pair well with the food they make, so yeah there tends to be less choices.
What we talked about today is mostly to help you guys shop at sake shops, whether its local or online.

So what should I do if I just want to taste all the different styles of sake from the same product line or brewery? Should I go visit the brewery?

You could do that, but not all breweries have tastings and even if they did it’s unlikely they will let you try every single one. Besides, it’s gonna be a lot of work if you go visit a brewery every time you want to try something.

Right, I remember you saying there’s about 1500 breweries all over Japan.

Some sake shops do offer tasting, but it’s more likely that you won’t get to taste anything before purchase. So the best way to guess what it tastes like is by asking people who’ve had it before. If not sure how to pick sake you like, best way is to keep trying what people recommend to you, and you’ll start to see a trend in the kinds of sake you enjoy.
I know how overwhelming it can feel at first, but you can always start somewhere, and you can keep narrowing down your choices till you find the sake you really do enjoy.

In summary

– Ask people at the sake shop!

– Follow recommendations in sake books/magazines!

– Try what was recommended and learn what you like!you like!