Sake is about 15% alcohol and it’s typically enjoyed during meals. There are several types of sake, divided into 2 big categories: junmai and non-junmai. Junmai means “pure rice” and it’s made with rice, yeast, koji mold*, and water. Non-junmai is made by adding distilled alcohol to the mix.
Another way to look at sake is by considering the milling of the rice. Milling or polishing the rice is essential to sake. Depending on the milling ratio, or rice polishing rate, there are:
Junmai Daiginjo 純米大吟醸 = 50% or less milling ratio
Junmai Ginjo 純米吟醸 = 60% or less milling ratio
Junmai 純米 = pure style sake with an unknown milling ratio
The other way to make sake is to add distilled alcohol to rice, koji, yeast and water.
Depending on the milling ratio, or rice polishing rate, there are:
Daiginjo 大吟醸 = 50% or less milling ratio
Ginjo 吟醸 = 60% or less milling ratio
Honjozo 本醸造 = 70% or less milling ratio
Futsu-shu 普通酒 = the milling ratio is unknown
(The percentage refers to how much of the rice grain is left after being polished)
*Koji is the spore responsible for the saccharification.
These are the main types of sake. Other important types are:
Tokubetsu Junmai 特別純米 and Tokubetsu Honjozo 特別本醸造. Tokubetsu in Japanese means special. There are several reasons why these sake are special and usually it has to do with the milling ratio or the type of rice used.
Dainginko and ginjo types of sake tend to be more delicate and usually have flower notes. Note that this is completely unrelated to sweetness or dryness.
As a rule of thumb, daiginjo and ginjo types are more elegant and pair nicely with light aromatic cuisines.
More types of sake:
Namazake = unpasteurized sake. Namazake tends to be lively & brash.
Nigori = cloudy sake. There are several kinds of nigori depending on how cloudy they are. The fermented mash is pressed through a a coarse-mesh filter.
Koshu or Choki Jukusei-shu = aged sake. It tends to have an amber color and a deeper flavor.
Sparkling sake = it often has a lower alcohol content.
Taruzake = aged or made in wood barrel. (quite rare)
Genshu = undiluted sake. Usually stronger than regular sake, it can be up to 20% alcohol content.