Sake Glossary

If you are still a little confused by the terminology of sake, take a look at our comprehensive glossary, containing all you need to help you familiarise yourself with the rich and diverse world of sake.

Sake that tastes sweeter than neutral.

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.

Aru-ten【アル添 】
Sake to which brewer’s alcohol has been added; non-junmaishu.

Atsukan【熱燗】 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.

Literally translated as ‘regular sake’, this term is given to sake that does not fall into one of the special designations such as junmaishu or honjozoshu.

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 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.

Hirezake【ひれ酒 】
Literally translated as ‘fin sake’, this is sake that has the grilled fin of a blowfish added to provide a distinctive flavour.

Hiya (hiyazake)【冷(冷酒)】
Sake that is served at below room temperature. Also referred to as reishu.

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.

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.

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.

The sake-pressing process.

Sake made only from rice, koji, and water. This is pure sake.

Kan (o-kan, kanzake)【燗(お燗、燗酒)】 A general term for warmed sake.

The Japanese equivalent of ‘cheers!’

Kanzukuri【 寒 造り】
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.

Kaori【 香り】
The smell or fragrance of sake.

Sake that tastes dryer than usual.

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.

Kikizake【きき酒 】
This means sake tasting in general, but often refers to the appreciation of sake at professional sake tasting events.

Kimoto【生 】
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.

Kobo【酵母】 Yeast.

Koji【 麹 】
Rice cultivated with kojikin; used in every stage of sake production.

A mould, the Latin name for which is Aspergillus oryzae, used in sake production to break down starches in steamed rice into fermentable sugars.

Literally ‘old sake’, meaning sake that has aged or matured.

Kura【蔵】 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 drinking sake.

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.

Namazake【生酒】 Unpasteurized sake.

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.

The talc-like powder that is the outer portion of polished rice kernels.

Sake warmed to lukewarm temperatures.

O-choko【お猪口】 See choko.

The sake filtering process, undertaken when sake has been sitting for 10 days.

Another word used to refer to a sake brewery.

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.

Seimai【精米】 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.

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.

The hard, white centre comprised of starch found in good sake-brewing rice.

Literally meaning ‘new sake’, the term generally refers to the sake that has just been produced in the previous brewing year.

This term literally means ‘droplets’, and refers to the soft and refined sake 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 also moto.)

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.

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.

The head brewer of a brewery.

A small ceramic flask from which sake is decanted, usually into small cups called o-choko.

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.

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.