Traditional Culture of Japan - Portal site of traditional crafts and culture

The four types of sake: jukushu, junshu, kunshu, and sōshu

 

There are around 1,600 breweries in Japan making sake, and it is said that they produce some 40–50,000 kinds of sake.

 

Even within the same brand, if different rice is used, the taste is different. Also, depending on the degree to which the rice is polished (indicated by the seimai buai, the percentage of the rice-grain weight remaining after milling), the aroma can be greatly affected. Depending also upon aging, the flavor will vary.

 

Taking all this into account, we can say that sake is produced in a diverse range of varieties.

 

Jukushu, junshu, kunshu, and sōshu
The many varieties of sake can be broadly divided into four types: jukushu, junshu, kunshu, and sōshu.

 

These four types are distinguished in terms of aroma (strong or weak) and flavor (strong or light), as shown in the following diagram.

 

 

Each of the four types goes well with certain kinds of food, and has a recommended drinking temperature. By being aware of these points when drinking sake, you may find that you make new discoveries of taste.

 

Jukushu
Sake that has been set aside and aged for some years is called jukushu. The terms koshu and hizōshu also refer to jukushu.

 

Sake is typically clear, but jukushu, having been aged for three years or more, may turn pale yellow or light brown. This occurs when the constituents of the sake are oxidized and broken down in the aging process.

 

This sake is full in flavor and has some bitterness. It has a distinctive dense taste. It goes best with rich, strongly-flavored foods.

 

Junshu
Junshu is made according to an ancient method, and while it does not have a much of a fruity fragrance, it does have a rich, subdued aroma.

 

In cultivating a large quantity of yeast culture, lactic acid bacteria are typically introduced. However, there is a production method where these lactic acid bacteria are allowed to proliferate. Among the varieties of sake that are made by this method are the kimoto and yamahai varieties. Because the yeast culture is grown naturally, a robust sake is the result.

 

With this type of sake, warming it before drinking brings out the flavorsomeness. It is suited to drinking together with foods made with dairy products, and also goes well with meals that have a strong aroma and are strongly flavored.

 

Kunshu
The kunshu varieties of sake are those made from rice that has been polished to remove a relatively large proportion of the outer part of the grain, such as ginjō-shu and daiginjō-shu. These varieties are recognized by the fruit and herb fragrances in its clean aroma.

 

Because it lacks any bitterness or other strong flavor, it is refreshing to drink. However, because it is a highly fragrant sake, it is not suited to drinking together with strongly flavored dishes. It goes best with seafood, and other ingredients that are served simply as they are, without a great deal of preparation.

 

Sōshu
This is a refreshing type of sake that has a soft mouth-feel. Among the varieties of this type are namazake and honjōzō-shu. These have a light flavor and not much aroma.

 

As sōshu has very few acidic or bitter elements, drinking it cold in summer is refreshing. It can be consumed with a wide variety of foods such as white fish, vegetable dishes, and steamed dishes. However, it tends not to go so well with fatty foods.

 

As we have seen, each of the four types of sake has its own characteristics. And it is not only Japanese food — sake also goes well with French cuisine and Chinese dishes, for example, and serving a well-chosen sake to go with these foods can enhance the enjoyment of the dining experience.

 

It’s worth noting that, depending on the method of production, aroma and flavor can vary. That is, even using exactly the same ingredients, one can produce either jukushu or kunshu.


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