(Junmai Ginjo Shu & Ginjo Shu, Junmai Daiginjo-Shu & Daiginjo Shu)
Ok, we talked about sake classifications determined by the amount of rice polishing, also known as seimaibuai, Junmai means “Pure Rice” and any category with that word signifies that the sake is made with only rice, water, yeast and Koji, and Koji is a natural fungus that helps the yeast dissolve the rice to kickstart fermentation.
We also covered the first two levels of the sake category pyramid: Futsu, “Normal Sake,” and Junmai, and the more the rice has been milled, the cleaner, lighter and more delicate the flavor, as opposed to a full body, earthy and drier experience resulting from a sake with a high seimaibuai. Seimaibuai is a percentage representing the amount of the original rice grain that remains after polishing.
A refined, clean-cut, eloquent heir to their meaty, rugged ancestors, sake today continues to push the meaning of premium to new heights. I have come across sake with yeast that had been cultivated in space, sake with rice milled down to, or a seimaibuai, of 38% and sparkling sake made in le méthode champenoise, known as the traditional method of champagne making. The ingenuity goes on. If we were to go back in time and presented such sake, would the reaction be of disgust followed by a swift beheading or celebrated as sake god? Marty McFly would be the only one to answer that, so until then, let’s look into the remaining categories of sake: Junmai Ginjo Shu and Ginjo Shu, Junmai Daiginjo-Shu and Daiginjo Shu
Junmai Ginjo Shu and Ginjo Shu
Junmai Ginjo is the next level up from Junmai, where the seimaibuai is a minimum 60%. It can be as high as 51% Anything more would make the sake a Daiginjo, which we’ll discuss later. As any category with the word “Junmai” means that it is made with only four ingredients, whenever “Ginjo” is found within the classification, it refers to a premium level of production, with a higher polishing ratio and, in some cases, better ingredients.
So what’s Ginjo? Since the word Junmai is not found, similar to Futsu, distilled alcohol is added to enhance the fragrance and flavor. The difference between Futsu and Ginjo is, Futsu has copious amounts of pure alcohol distilled from rice added to low cost sake as opposed to the little that Ginjo requires, adding a little more color to the canvas.
Junmai Daiginjo-Shu and Daiginjo Shu
The top of the pyramid belongs to Daiginjo. The same concept is applied to the Daiginjo’s where the required polishing has to be at least 50%. Junmai Daiginjo is a sake with a seimaibuai of at least half of the grain’s original size, and it is made with only the four ingredients. Daiginjo is made with rice with the same polishing ratio, but has a little distillate added for extra finesse.
In conclusion, the top four levels, including Daiginjo and Junmai Daiginjo, of sake are collectively known as Ginjo sake.
Recalling a note I made in the previous newsletter, there is a big misconception that “quality” is determined by the polishing ratio. Although an efficient road map, at the end of the day, it is all about personal preference. This is certainly true when it comes to food pairing where Junmai will be more appropriate for particular dishes and sauces. Yes, Ginjo sake are more expensive, but that is due to simply the cost of making such sake. When the product is the result of discarding at least 40% of the raw material, cost is affected. All in all, whether Junmai or Daiginjo, it’s all UMAI! DELICIOUS!
Next up, and finally, everything else in between and beyond!
Kerry Tamura is a Chicago native, now LA resident, who so dearly misses 4am liquor licensed bars. 5am on Saturday’s. Reflecting and questioning his direction in life, which would quickly be distracted the moment alcohol was placed in his hands, destiny would have it where he was summoned by his mother to dig the family business out from the verge of bankruptcy as a result of the Great Recession, … and being the only bar in Chicago with no ESPN. From a ”home away from home” karaoke bar catering to Japanese expatriates and business travelers, came the emergence of Murasaki, the city’s only Japanese Sake Lounge. Thus started Kerry’s travels with sake. A ring a ding ding.