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How to read a Sake Label?

how to read sake labels

Do you need help in identifying your bottle of sake?

A sake label is just as important as a wine label, you will see a lot of information that will tell you what kind of sake you should expect from (apart from its design).
If you cannot read Japanese, it may be difficult to understand the quality of the sake but with our complete guide below, you will never misread a sake label anymore.

Note: Labels can vary from one to another, so your label might not have all the information written below.

Bring up your sake bottle and let’s check together!

collection_of_sake

Collection of sake from Hyogo prefecture

How would you identify these two bottles?

1. The name of the sake is usually located at the center of the front label, it is often stylish and using complex characters, even for Japanese. So sometimes they would also add a hiragana in small character to help people reading it correctly. 
Here you can see the characters 久礼 and in the hiragana くれ

2. The classification of the sake is the most important thing you need to know about the kind of sake you want to buy.
You have different grades for sakes but it doesn’t mean they are better or not, it is just the taste you would expect from the rice polishing ratio and other factors. 

On the left bottle, we can see 純米大吟醸 and on the right you can read 純米吟醸酒.
The first one is a super-premium grade sake with a rice polishing ratio of up to 50% while the latter is a premium grade with a rice polishing ratio of up to 60%. The taste is very different. This junmai daiginjo has a more pronounced aroma while the junmai ginjo is a little bit more subtle. 

Identification of the back side

backside_kure_sake
  1. 純米吟醸酒 is the sake grade and 久礼 is the name of the sake.
  2. Short introduction of the sake brewery.
  3. – 原材料名 (ingredients): 米 (国産) Rice (local) ・米麹 (国産米 ) Koji (local rice)
    – 精米歩合 (rice polishing rate): 50%
    – 日本酒度 (sake degree): +5
    – アルコール分 (alc. vol.): 17度 (17 degrees)
    – 内容量 (net. vol.): 720ml (24.3 oz)
  4. 装造年月 (production date): 2021.01月 means 2021 of January (02月 for February and so on).
    Note that sake doesn’t have an expiry date.
  5. 品目 (alcohol type): 清酒 (sake/nihonshu)
  6. Brewery’s name and address
  7. Best to keep it at room temperature or in the fridge
  8. Do not consume alcohol if you are below 20 years old (by Japanese law)

Premium sake without adding distilled alcohol

The table below is the most expensive category of sake you will find in Japan.

Ginjo zukuri is the name for processing low rice polishing ratio and fermenting at a low temperature to create a characteristic fragrance.

KanjiRomajiSpecifications
純米大吟醸酒Junmai Daiginjo ShuSuper-premium grade of Sake. No distilled alcohol added.
Ginjo zukuri method, characteristic flavor, best clarity. Rice polishing ratio up to 50%.
純米吟醸酒Junmai Ginjo ShuPremium grade of Sake. No distilled alcohol added.
Ginjo zukuri method, characteristic flavor, high clarity. Rice polishing ratio up to 60%.
純米酒Junmai ShuSavory Sake grade. No distilled alcohol added. Rice polishing ratio unspecified.

Junpei – Junmai Ginjo

Premium sake with distilled alcohol added

Mixing distilled alcohol (also called Jozo-alcohol) during the sake brewing process may sound bad but there is a reason behind it.  Jozo-alcohol doesn’t have much taste and makes the sake more refreshing and dry, creating a smooth and light finish. Also, the fragrant elements of the sake dissolve better in alcohol than water, so the aroma will last longer. Most of the daiginjo who participate in the Annual Sake Awards add a little amount of distilled alcohol to their sake. As the alcohol content gets higher, the risk of growing harmful microbes like lactic acid bacterium gets lower.

Ipponzuri Daiginjo – New Sake Awards – Gold Medal (2014 & 2015)

KanjiRomajiSpecifications
大吟醸酒Daiginjo ShuSuper-premium grade of Sake. Distilled alcohol added.
Ginjo zukuri method, characteristic flavor, best clarity. Rice polishing ratio up to 50%.
吟醸酒Ginjo ShuPremium grade of Sake. Distilled alcohol added.
Ginjo zukuri method, characteristic flavor, high clarity. Rice polishing ratio up to 60%.
本醸造Honjozo ShuClean Sake grade. Distilled alcohol added. Rice polishing ratio less than 70%.

There are also special productions of sake such as tokubetsu junmai shu (特別純米酒), fresh sake (生酒), or nigori-zake (濁り酒). We will talk about them in another blog article. Hope you’ve enjoyed the reading!

kiki-zake (利き酒) also called sake tasting

The Nihonshu

Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Please drink responsibly.

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