Sake Glossary

Sake that tastes sweeter than neutral.
Sweetness. One of the five flavours known as go-mi.
A sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from koji, rice and water, which is saccharified but not fermented.
The sake that is obtained from the first pressing of the fermentation mixture sometimes sold separately under this name.
Sake to which brewer’s alcohol has been added; non-junmaishu.
Piping hot sake.
Choko (o-choko)【猪口(お猪口)】
Small ceramic cups from which sake is drunk, often used in conjunction with a small ceramic flask called a tokkuri.
Sake made from rice polished to less than 50% of its original size, fermented at low temperatures.
A large box (usually wooden), used for pressing moromi and separating lees from the fresh sake.
Literally translated as ‘regular sake’, this term is given to sake that does not fall into one of the special designations such as junmaishu orhonjozoshu.
Unpolished rice; brown rice.
Sake made from unpolished rice.
Undiluted sake. While most sake has water added to bring the alcohol content down from around 20% to around 16%, some does not have water added, and is known as genshu.
A term used to describe the refined aromas of ginjoshu.
Sake made from rice polished to less than 60% of its original size, fermented at low temperatures.
The five representative flavours that are sometimes used as a framework for assessing sake: sanmi, amami, karami, shibumi and nigami.
Literally translated as ‘synthetic refined sake’, this term refers to beverages that attempt to replicate sake without rice. These were most popular when rice was scarce after World War II, but can still be found today.
A vessel from which sake is drunk, usually larger than an o-choko.
The sake pasteurization process.
This means ‘aged smell’, and refers to the aroma produced when sake matures. It can have a negative connotation, suggesting that the drink is deteriorating rather than maturing.
Literally translated as ‘fin sake’, this is sake that has the grilled fin of a blowfish added to provide a distinctive flavour.
Sake that has been pasteurized only once, as opposed to twice in the case of most sake. It is usually ready for drinking in the autumn of each year.
Hiya (hiyazake)【冷(冷酒)】
Sake that is served at below room temperature. Also referred to as reishu.
Sake made from rice, koji, water, and a little alcohol.
A measure usually considered to be one serving of sake, equal to approximately 180 milliliters, roughly one masu’s worth of sake.
A measure equal to 1.8 liters, or ten go, roughly ten masu of sake.
A 1.8-litre bottle of sake.
A measure equal to eighteen litres, or ten times the volume of issho.
An eighteen-litre bottle, equal in volume to ten isshobin; freshly pressed sake is often allowed to settle in this kind of vessel.
An informal drinking establishment, found commonly in Japan, which offers a selection of small Japanese dishes to accompany sake.
A term that came into fashion in the 1970s that literally means ‘local sake’, but whose exact meaning is often somewhat vague. Often refers to sake that has been produced in a smaller brewery using local ingredients.
Steamed rice; the rice-steaming process.
The sake-pressing process.
Sake made only from rice, koji, and water. This is pure sake.
Steamed rice which is added to the fermenting moromi.
Kan (o-kan, kanzake)【燗(お燗、燗酒)】
A general term for warmed sake.
The Japanese equivalent of ‘cheers!’
The practice of brewing sake only during the winter months. Although some larger breweries now work all year round, the majority still maintains this practice, which began during the Edo period.
The smell or fragrance of sake.
Sake that tastes dryer than usual.
Dryness or spiciness. One of the five flavours known as go-mi.
Called ‘lees’ in English, this is the name given to the unwanted residue left behind after the fermented sake mixture has been pressed.
This is a sweet and heavy sake made by replacing some of the water with sake during production, somewhat similar to the making of port wine.
This means sake tasting in general, but often refers to the appreciation ofsake at professional sake tasting events.
Literally meaning ‘live moto’, this term refers to a yeast starter that has been made using an old fashioned, laborious and time-consuming method, the yamahai method being one example of this.
This means ‘gold prize sake’, and refers to a sake that has been awarded a gold prize in the annual zenkoku shinshu kanpyokai, or National New Sake Appraisal Competition.
Rice cultivated with kojikin; used in every stage of sake production.
A mould, the Latin name for which is Aspergillus oryzae, used in sakeproduction to break down starches in steamed rice into fermentable sugars.
Originally a measure of rice equal to one thousand masu, or about 380 kilogrammes, for sake, a measure equal to one hundred isshobin, or about 180 litres.
A large vat, traditionally wooden, in which rice for sake brewing is steamed.
Literally ‘old sake’, meaning sake that has aged or matured.
The flavour and impression just as the sake hits the tongue and palate.
Sake brewery.
Sake brewery worker(s).
Kyubetsu seido【級別制度】
The obsolete (abandoned in April 1989) sake classification system assigning a tokkyu 特級 (top class), ikkyu 一級 (first class), or nikyu 二級 (second class) ranking, along with requisite tax increases to the price of a bottle of sake.
A small wooden box traditionally used for measuring rice and drinkingsake.
The name given to water found in the Nada district of Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, which is said to be particularly suited to sake brewing.
The name given to the fermentation mixture of rice, water, koji and moto.
Also known as shubo, the yeast starter. A mixture of rice, koji, yeast, and water in which an extremely high concentration of yeast cells is cultivated. See also shubo.
The rice-steaming step of sake production. See also jomai.
Unpasteurized sake.
Bitterness. One of the five flavours known as go-mi.
Most sake is pressed after fermentation to remove the remains of the rice, which is known as kasu or lees. In the case of nigorizake or ‘cloudy sake’, some of these remnants are left in, or added back to the mixture, to impart a cloudy appearance.
Known as ‘sake metre value’ in English, this is a number used to indicate how sweet or dry a sake is, and is calculated by measuring the density of a particular sake in relation to water. Most sake on sale has a nihonshudo of between -3 and +10, with a higher value indicating a dryer sake.
Colloquial expression for a ‘drinking eatablishment.’
The talc-like powder that is the outer portion of polished rice kernels.
Sake warmed to lukewarm temperatures.
See choko.
Like nigorizake, orizake contains rice particles left over from the fermentation process. The distinguishing feature of orizake is that this sediment is usually finer than that found in nigorizake.
The sake filtering process, undertaken when sake has been sitting for 10 days.
Another word used to refer to a sake brewery.42Glossary43
The term given to strains of rice used in sake production. These are officially designated as sakamai, and share a number of characteristics favourable to sake brewing, such as having unwanted fats and impurities concentrated on the outside of the grain, so that they can be easily milled away.
A liquor shop that sells sake.
A vessel from which sake is drunk, typically shallower and wider than an o-choko or guinomi.
Acidity. One of the five flavours known as go-mi.
Sandan shikomi【三段仕込】
The most widely applied method of adding rice, koji, and water to the moromi, a three-stage process.
Literally meaning ‘triple sake’, this term originated during World War II, when due to rice shortages a method of producing sake whereby triple the amount of drink could be yielded from the same amount of rice. Nowadays, the term is used more generally to denote poor quality sake with a large amount of added alcohol or additives.
Rice polishing.
The degree to which rice has been polished; this number, expressed as a percentage, refers to the amount of grain that remains after rice has been polished. For example, a 35% seimaibuai means that the rice has been polished so that it is only 35% of its original size, and that 65% of it has been turned into nuka.
The machine used to polish rice for sake.
This is the legal name for sake, literally meaning ‘refined sake’. This term, or the term nihonshu, must appear by law on all bottles of sake.
The rice-washing step in sake brewing.
Astringency. One of the five flavours known as go-mi.
The hard, white centre comprised of starch found in good sake-brewing rice.
The rice-soaking step of the sake brewing process.
Literally meaning ‘new sake’, the term generally refers to the sake that has just been produced in the previous brewing year, such as that judged each spring in the zenkoku shinshu kanpyokai or National New Sake Appraisal Competition.
This term literally means ‘droplets’, and refers to the soft and refinedsake that results when the moromi is not pressed in the usual manner, but placed in bags that are hung up and allowed to drip, in a time consuming and laborious process.
Another popular alcoholic beverage in Japan, shochu is a clear spirit distilled from one of a variety of ingredients, most commonly wheat. It is mainly produced in Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands of Japan, and in common with sake uses koji during the fermentation process.
Yeast starter, also known as moto. This is a mixture of rice, koji, and water with an extremely high concentration of yeast cells. (See alsomoto.)
This is the formal term for sakamai or sake rice, but is often used to denote rice that is of a higher quality.
A ball of needles of the cryptomeria or Japanese Cypress tree, traditionally used as the symbol of a sake brewery or outlet.
A drinking establishment where customers stand and drink at a counter.
Tanrei Karakuchi【淡麗辛口】
A phrase often used when describing a sake. Tanrei approximates to light and crisp, while karakuchi means dry.
Sake that has been stored or aged for a period of time in a cedar keg, so that the woody flavour of the keg is imparted to the sake.
Tokutei meishoshu【特定名称酒】
A collective term referring to honjozoshu 本醸造酒, junmaishu 純米酒, and ginjoshu 吟醸酒.
The head brewer of a brewery.
Literally ‘frozen sake’, this term refers to sake which has been frozen, and is sometimes drunk partially frozen, in a slushy state.
A small ceramic flask from which sake is decanted, usually into small cups called o-choko.
Increasingly recognized as one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, salty, sour and bitter, umami is often translated as savouriness, meatiness or deliciousness, and is imparted by certain amino acids found in sake and a number of other food and drink products.
Although the word literally means ‘plum sake’, umeshu is in fact made by steeping green plums in the clear Japanese spirit shochu.
This is the term given to sake where lactic acid is allowed develop spontaneously in the moto yeast fewmentation stage. It requires much skill and patience to follow that traditional technique.
A bottle holding 720 milliliters, or four go.