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Sweet or Dry Sake? How to know?

Sweet or Dry Sake

What does Sake Meter Value (SMV) mean?

Nihonshu-do (日本酒度) or Sake Meter Value (SMV) is the way to measure the density of Japanese sake. They can be heavy or light and are compared with water.

In Japanese sake world, the specified temperature for water is set at 4°C and they’ve set to 15°C for sake, probably because in Japan, the room temperature is around this temperature.  

A high SMV means that the sake’s weight at a specified temperature is lighter than the water at this specified temperature. If you have a low SMV, your sake is heavier.

Understanding sake’s weight 

Sake has a different amount of sugar so its weight will vary.
To understand better sake’s weight, we will split in four parts the different process for making sake:

  • Steaming the rice
  • Koji changes the rice’s starch into sugar
  • Kobo (yeast) turns the sugar into alcohol
  • Squeezing the liquid from the fermented rice

Depending on how much the starch in rice is converted into alcohol, the weight of the sake will change, as well as the SMV. Sugar is heavy while alcohol is light.
Thus, sake with a lot of sugar will be heavy and will result in a negative SMV.
Sake with a lot of alcohol content gets lighter and the SMV will result in a positive number.

Therefore, it is also the barometer for gauging the sweetness or dryness of the sake.

If your SMV has a positive number, it will be considered dry (辛口 – karakuchi). On the other hand, the less the SMV is (-), the sweeter the sake will be (甘口 – amakuchi). The median value of the SMV is +3. 

SMV and Acidity Level of Sake

From Sweet to Dry and Acidity Level of Sake

Understand another factor in Sake: the acidity level

Another important indicator to remember is the acidity of the sake.  Japanese sake contains different acids and these will greatly affect the taste of the sake.
However, in Sake language, dry sake or sweet sake differs from the vocabulary used for grape wine. 
When drinking sake with a high acidity level, your tongue will get high stimulation and get a drier feeling. Sake with a lower acidity level can be considered sweet, however, sweet flavor (甘口) is not referring to the sweetness of any fruits, sweetness in sake means it is mellow and has an umami flavor. 

An example of an extremely sweet sake

Nagayao means Prince of Nagaya and refers to a famous prince in Nara period about 1300 years ago. This sake from Nara is using a recipe that recreates the flavor of a millenium sake.

It is an extremely sweet sake (-46), and has a very deep umami taste that we could almost feel like some soy sauce flavor in after taste. 

The way to drink this sake has to be on the rocks. It is a way that the rich people in Nara period would enjoy their premium sake (remember, there was no fridge at the time). It has a golden color and a unique taste. 

Nagayao – Yamatsuru

An example of a very dry sake

Onigoroshi is a very dry sake (+15) and has an acidity level of 1.6.
Oni means demon in Japanese and Koroshi (or Goroshi) means to kill. This sake will surely kill your demons inside you! 
This Tokubetsu Junmai sake has a subtle sweetness and umami flavor that comes in after taste. Drier sakes are very suitable to drink with raw fish (sashimi). 

Onigoroshi – Momotaro

The Nihonshu

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

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