Like wine there are categories of sake. But instead of breaking out in
terms of different varietals of grapes such as Chardonnay or Cabernet,
sake is broken down in terms of how much each grain of sake brewing
rice is milled. Thus, categories of sake are established by
polishing/milling percentages irrespective of the rice varietal. So
never mind that there are roughly 70 different sake brewing rice types
including the very famous Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Miyamnishiki,
and Omachi. Instead, think in terms of how much each grain of rice is
removed from the outside husk in the attempt to get at the starchy
core inside of each grain the brewing rice.
True Sake does not carry any sake that has not been polished/milled at
least 30% with 70% of each grain remaining. This threshold is the
so-called Junmai line.
Secondly, there is a practice in Japan that calls for the adding of
small amounts of distilled alcohol to the brewing process, which
amongst other results brings out different flavors, aromas, and
textures in the sake. The reasons for this are purely up to the
breweries desires and discretions and these types of sakes create new
categories also based on milling percentages.
One of the most important terms in the sake lexicon is Junmai, and as
we just stated this term means the milling percentage of each grain of
rice no less than 30% with 70% of each grain remaining. But Junmai
also means the absence of any distilled alcohol. Thus when you see the
word Junmai Ginjo you will deduce that this sake is made from rice and
water only and has been polished 40% with 60% of each grain
And in case you are wondering, there is very little chance that you
could differentiate between a sake that has a bit of distilled alcohol
in it and one that does not. Some purists argue against added alcohol.
But I say sake is a different thing to different people, and there is
no right or wrong as long as rice and water are the vast majority of
The Japanese word Seimaibuai (say-my-boo-eye) is the most poignant
word that you will need to know to order your sake by grade/category.
Seimaibuai is the actual term for how much a grain of brewing rice is
polished or milled. For example a Seimaibuai of 50% means that each
grain of rice that makes up that particular sake has been milled or
polished 50% leaving a remaining value of 50% (Dai Ginjo grade
sake). Likewise a sake that has a value of 60% means that each grain
of rice was polished or milled 40% and this constitutes a Ginjo
So when connecting the two key words Junmai and Seimaibuai, you will
be able to distinguish the various commonly accepted grades of sake.
Junmai meaning the absence of distilled alcohol and Seimaibuai meaning
the milling value for each sake. It is far easier than all this
verbiage leads one to believe.