The classification of sakés

The National Tax Agency of Japan 国税庁 divides sakés into two broad categories: the FUTSUSHU (普通酒) and the TOKUTEI MEISHOSHU (特定名称酒). The Agency divides the latter into two sub-categories: JUNMAISHU (純 米酒) and HONJOZOSHU (本 醸 造酒).

 

The FUTSUSHU (普通 酒)

First, there are the so-called ordinary sakés, the FUTSUSHU. These are the sakes that are not classified among TOKUTEI MEISHOSHU (特定 名称 酒). It is the equivalent of the table wine. And just because it's an unclassified sakés doesn't mean it's not delicious!

 

The TOKUTEI MEISHOSHU (特定名称酒)

To be classified among the TOKUTEI MEISHOSHU which represents less than 30% of all Nihonshu production,

  • Its rice must be from Shuzokotekimai 酒造好適 (sake rice recognized by the Japanese tax agency) of first quality (Ittô 一等), from special quality (Tokutô 特等) or higher special quality (Tokujo 特上);

  • The weight of the Komekoji 米麹 (rice inoculated with Koji) should represent at least 15% of the total weight of the rice used to make the sake;

  • No additives can be used;

  • For Honjozo, the weight of pure distilled alcohol added should not exceed 10% of that of the rice. And this alcohol must be of agricultural origin.

These so-called premium quality sakés are reclassified according to their degree of polishing (Seimaibuai 精米歩合) and whether or not distilled alcohol is added at the end of the fermentation process.

We thus obtain eight classes distributed among the JUNMAISHU (純米酒) and the HONJOZOSHU (本醸造酒):

TOKUTEI MEISHOSHU (特定名称酒) CLASSIFICTION TABLE

Seimaibuai 精 米 歩 合
Polishing degree

Not determined

70% or less

Water, rice, koji and yeast,

without added alcohol

Water, rice, koji and yeast,

with added alcohol

Water, rice, koji and yeast,

more than the required amount of distilled alcohol and / or
addition of other ingredients

1) Junmaishu

5) Honjozoshu

Futsushu

Ingredients

60% or less

2) Tokubetsu Junmai

3) Junmai Ginjo

6) Tokubetsu Honjozo

7) Ginjo

50% or less

4) Junmai Daiginjo

8) Daiginjo

1. The JUNMAISHU (純 米酒)

As ingredients, the Junmaishu has water, rice, koji and yeast. There is no addition of alcohol. The Seimaibuai is not regulated.

The term JUNMAISHU (純 米酒) is a generic term that includes the next three classes.

 

2. The TOKUBETSU JUNMAISHU (特別 純 米酒)

The Junmaishu have only water, rice, koji and yeast as ingredients. There is no addition of alcohol. As with GINJO, Seimaibuai (精 米 歩 合) must be 60% or less; the rice must have lost at least 40% of its mass during polishing.

It's a special category and that's exactly what TOKUBETSU stands for.
Brewers name some saké TOKUBETSU (special) rather than GINJO because it is not necessarily made to develop the particular fruity and floral aroma of GINJO. Other brewers name their sake TOKUBETSU to create a wider range of products because they sell, for example, JUNMAI GINJO with a 40% Seimaibuai and JUNMAI DAIGINJO with a 25% Seimaibuai. They add a less expensive GINJO named TOKUBETSU to their list of products.

TOKUBETSU JUNMAISHU can also refer to a saké made with only one variety of rice without the Seimaibuai being less than 60%, but in this case, the label must clearly mention the variety of rice and its use at 100%.

 

3. The JUNMAI GINJO (純 米 吟 醸)

JUNMAI GINJO's only ingredients are water, rice, koji and yeast. There is no addition of alcohol. The Seimaibuai must be 60% or less; the rice must have lost at least 40% of its mass during polishing.

 

4. The JUNMAI DAIGINJO (純 米 大 吟 醸)

JUNMAI DAIGINJO's only ingredients are water, rice, koji and yeast. There is no addition of alcohol. The Seimaibuai must be 50% or less; the rice must have lost at least 50% of its mass during polishing.

 

5. The HONJOZOSHU (本 醸 造酒)

HONJOZOSHU are made from water, rice, koji, yeast, and pure distilled alcohol is added to balance the taste after fermentation. The Seimaibuai must be 70% or less; the rice must have lost at least 30% of its mass during polishing.

The term HONJOZOSHU (本 醸 造酒) is a generic that includes the next three classes.

 

6. The TOKUBETSU HONJOZOSHU (特別 本 醸 造酒)

The Tokubetsu HONJOZOSHU are made from water, rice, koji, yeast, and pure distilled alcohol is added to balance the taste after fermentation. As with GINJO, Seimaibuai must be 60% or less; the rice must have lost at least 40% of its mass during polishing.

It's a special category and that's exactly what TOKUBETSU stands for.
Brewers name certain sakés TOKUBETSU (special) whose Seimaibuai is less than 60%, but which is not developed to develop the particular fruity and floral aroma of GINJO. Other brewers name their sake TOKUBETSU to create a wider product line because they offer, for example, a GINJO with a 40% polishing rates and a DAIGINJO with a 25% Seimaibuai. They add a less expensive GINJO named TOKUBETSU to their list of products.

TOKUBETSU HONJOZOSHU can also refer to a saké made with only one variety of rice without the Seimaibuai being less than 60%, but in this case, the label must clearly mention the variety of rice and its use at 100%.

 

7. The GINJO (吟 醸)

The GINJO are made from water, rice, koji and yeast. After fermentation, there is addition of pure distilled alcohol to enhance the taste. The Seimaibuai must be 60% or less; the rice must have lost at least 40% of its mass during polishing.

 

8. The DAIGINJO (大 吟 醸)

The DAIGINJO are made from water, rice, koji and yeast. After fermentation, pure distilled alcohol is added to balance the taste . The Seimaibuai must be 50% or less; the rice must have lost at least 50% of its mass during polishing.