Tips to understand all Sake Grades: What is Junmai Daiginjo (純米大吟醸)?

Written by Yuta Shirahata

Dassai (獺祭), Dewazaku (出羽桜), Juyondai (十四代)...... There are thousands of Sake, and many amazing ones which are waiting for us to discover. However, it makes us confused when we buy Sake as well. In fact, Sake could be completely different, which depends on many factors such as the percentage of rice that is polished and whether it is made of only rice, which affects the taste. If I explain all of them now, I can write a book. Therefore in this article, I would like to share one of the tips by which you can understand better of Sake’s grades.

First, basically there are 8 types of Sake as listed below. 

Junmai type (Pure rice):

  • 純米大吟醸 (Junmai Daiginjo)
  • 純米吟醸 (Junmai Ginjo)
  • 特別純米 (Tokubetsu Junmai)
  • 純米 (Junmai)

Alcohol added type:

  • 大吟醸
  • 吟醸
  • 特別本醸造
  • 本醸造

The first factor by which we could categorize Sake is whether it is made of only rice or rice malt. If so, it is a Junmai type. If it has alcohol added into it, it is an alcohol added type.

After that, we can categorize them into more detailed types based on how much the rice is polished. In the manufacturing process, manufacturers would polish the rice since there are impurities on the surface. You can check the polishing rate on the label of the sake. If you see the word "精米歩合", it means how much they polished the rice. If the percentage is 40%, it means they removed 60% from the surface of the rice and 40% is left. Junmai type and alcohol added type are then categorized into different grade as the table showed below.



*Special Process: there is no specific process for this. If the process is different from others, the manufacturer can show this sake is in this category. For example, the sake is made by long-term low temperature fermentation.

Actually, there are still Sake that are not categorized to any of them on the list. They are called normal sake. For the taste of Sake, there are other factors that affect it, and I will explain it in another article. Just based on the grade in this article, if you choose Junmai type, you can taste the rice flavour more. Also, if you choose a sake with a lower rice polishing rate (精米歩合), you can enjoy Sake that has a richer taste (less impurity). I highly recommend Junmai Daiginjo (純米大吟醸) if you want to present Sake as a gift to an important person.


Cover photo from ©️ 山形県ホームページ

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