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Ginjo Sake: The Best of Japanese Sake

Tom Inoue

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What is ginjo sake and what’s so special about it?

Ginjo is probably the most important thing you should know especially when you’re exploring the sake world. A lot of sake fanatics love and enjoy it. And if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re definitely missing out.

This article will guide you though the wonderful world of ginjo and how to enjoy it best.

Ginjo is Top Quality Sake

Ginjo is a category of premium sake designated by the Japanese government.
It comprises only 14.5% of the entire sake market by volume according to the National Tax Agency in Japan.

ginjo market share

Ginjo sake uses rice grains polished to less than 60% of its original size. Slower fermentation periods at lower temperatures create a sophisticated, high quality drink.

Fruity Aroma and Lighter Taste

sake and cherry blossom

Ginjo sake is more aromatic and lighter in taste than other types of sake. Its general description is as follows:
Aroma – Fruity, similar to apple, melon, or banana
Taste – Light, clear and refreshing. Smooth in texture, and has a good aftertaste.

In the sake industry in Japan, there is an annual National New Sake Appraising and Deliberating Fair in spring, for breweries to compete and show off their brewing skills. Ginjo sake is the sake to beat. And since the criterion includes aroma and clarity of taste, ginjo is a strong candidate in both areas.

If you prefer richer sake, ginjo may not be of your choice. But the quality of taste is guaranteed.

Four Types of Ginjo

Ginjo has four subcategories of sake: ginjo, daiginjo, junmai ginjo, and junmai daiginjo. That makes the term “ginjo” confusing. Keep in mind that the word ginjo can be used to refer collectively to all four subcategories or to a specific type of sake.

To understand better, let’s look at rice polishing ratio and distilled alcohol content.

Rice polishing ratio

rice polishing ratio

Rice polishing ratio describes how much the rice bran is milled. The bran contains proteins and fat, which add savory tones when consumed as table rice. But in sake, it tends to add unfavorable flavors, so it is polished off. The more polished the rice is, the clearer the taste of sake.

Ginjo and junmai ginjo use rice polished to at least 60% of the original grain. In case of daiginjo and junmai daiginjo, it is further polished to 50% of the original grain size. In Japanese, “daiginjo” means “superior ginjo“, hence a higher quality brew is always expected.

Two types of sake by ingredients

junmai and honjozo types' ingredients

Largely, there are two types of sake: junmai-type and honjozo-type. The difference between the two is whether breweries add distilled alcohol or not, in addition to rice, koji, and water.

Honjozo-types: honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo
Junmai-types: junmai, junmai ginjo, junmai daiginjo

premium sake classification table

Adding a small amount of alcohol extracts fragrant components from the fermenting mash. This should be less than 10% of the rice by volume. However, ABV (alcohol by volume) is the same for both honjozo and junmai types since breweries adjust it to 15-16% before shipping anyway.

As a result of alcohol addition, honjozo-types become more aromatic than junmai-types, while junmai-types have a richer taste.

Differences in Flavor
differences of flavors between junmai nad honjozo

Ginjo Method

As mentioned above, ginjo was made to honor and showcase the skills of sake breweries through competitions. Ginjo is the most prized product and has the highest quality that the brewery can produce.

Compared to other types of sake, ginjo is made differently. The characteristics are shown below.

  1. Uses highly polished rice (< 60%)
    Highly polished rice makes sake taste and looks clearer.
  2. Uses ‘Tsuki-haze’-type of koji.

    two koji rices, so-haze and tsuki-haze

    Image Credit:https://umio.net

    Left: So-haze type koji.
    Right: Dotted (Tsuki-haze) type koji
    Tsuki-haze or the dotted type of koji mold stems deeply into the rice and adds to the clarity of the resulting brew.

  3. Fermentation takes place at lower temperatures and at longer periods of time.
    Generally speaking, breweries ferment ginjo sake at 50℉ (10℃) for 30 days, which is twice as long compared to other types. Only at this challenging environment can yeasts produce fragrant components (isoamyl acetate and ethyl caproate) so that you enjoy a fruity aroma.

The steps in making ginjo need extensive quality managements. Details of the methods are often not disclosed, since these are fruits of the brewery’s experience, wisdom, and technique.

Award-wining Ginjo Sake

At International Wine Challenge 2016, many ginjo sakes got throphies. Here I listed some of them.

Ginjo

Dewazakura Oka Ginjo, 2016
by Dewazakura Sake Brewery Co Ltd.

Dewazakura Oka Ginjo, 2016

Image Credit:http://www.dewazakura.co.jp/

Tasting notes by IWC:

Excellent aromatic nose with a hint of rice porridge. Perfumed with lime and apple, pickled ginger with strawberry jam and yuzu. Hit of sweetness on the palate and balanced acidity with medium body.

Price: 1,404 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

Daiginjo

Mutsu-Hassen Daiginjo, 2016
by: Hachinohe Shuzo Co., Ltd.

Mutsu-Hassen daiginjo, 2016

Image Credit:http://www.mutsu8000.com/

Tasting notes by IWC:

This sake has an exotic fruit profile with pineapple and jackfruit on the nose. Good expression and weight on the palate, intense and clean with minty hints on the finish.

Price: 3,564 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

Aiyu Daiginjo, 2016
by Aiyu Shuzo Co Ltd.

Aiyu daiginjo, 2016

Image Credit:http://www.aiyu-sake.jp

Tasting notes by IWC:

Cherry, golden delicious apple, cotton candy notes with hints of sweet mango, clean with a long focused finish.

Price: 4,190 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

Sanzen Daiginjo, 2016
by Kikuchi Shuzo Co Ltd.
Tasting notes by IWC:

Deep and complex nose with lovely texture and weight on the palate. Refreshing acidity and richness with mango and peach tropical fruit. A good Sake!

Price: 2,916 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

Junmai Daiginjo

Taiheizan Junmai Daiginjo Yushin, 2016
by Kodama Brewing Co Ltd.

Taiheizan junmai daiginjo Yushin, 2016

Image Credit:https://shop.kodamajozo.jp

Tasting notes by IWC:

Pretty white peach aromas. Very delicate sweetness. A balanced, comprehensive sake.

Price: 3,024 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

Amanoto Junmai Daiginjo 35, 2016
by Asamai Shuzo Co.,Ltd.

Amanoto Junmai Daiginjo 35, 2016

Image Credit:http://amanoto.co.jp

Tasting notes by IWC:

Dried lime, black pepper, custard, banana, melon, lively finish, nice bitterness to complement food.

Price: 3,600 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

Kinsuzume 40%, 2016
by Horie Brewing Co.,Ltd.
Tasting notes by IWC:

Complex nose that is expressive and savoury with fresh cream and pear and banana. Sweet with balanced acidity, soft textured.

Price: 4,320 JPY(720ml, in Japan)

How to Drink Ginjo?

Ginjo is aromatic and has clear taste than other premium or non-premium sake. And it can be enjoyed at room temperature or chilled (41-50℉, or 5-10℃). So it is recommended to drink without heating it at least once for each bottle. But this does not necessarily mean you should not heat ginjo. Some ginjo sake are good for heating, too. By heating, its freshness and aroma may be lost, but the taste could be milder and smoother. Ginjo without strong aroma would be better drinking hot than that with strong aroma.

There are some ginjo sakes that aims to drink hot, too.

kuzuryu from kokuryu brewery

This sake, Kuzuryu Daiginjo, from Kokuryu brewery is designed to have clear and dry taste with body, in order to be good at hot temperature.

Another example is Junmai Daiginjo Chirori by Haneda brewery. This sake has the taste of delicious rice and finish clearly.

Food Pairing

You can enjoy ginjo-type sake by itself. It’s aroma and clear taste is will give you a pleasant moment on mouth.
When you pair ginjo with food, aroma and body becomes important and difficult factors. The aroma may not be compatible with that of food, and the taste of food may overpower the delicate ginjo flavor.

So, to find a best match, seek light, refreshing, simple, or natural taste. Adding citrus flavor may also be a good idea, because the fruity aroma of ginjo can matches with that of citrus.

Example dishes:
Vegetable sauté
Green / seafood salad
Fish marinade

pairing food with ginjo sake

Online store selling ginjo sake

Find junmai sake in any of these online stores.

Sake Social –junmai ginjo & ginjo (U.S.)
Sake Social –junmai daiginjo & daiinjo (U.S.)

True Sake –ginjo & junmai ginjo (U.S.)
True Sake –daiginjo & junmai daiginjo (U.S.)

Jizake Center –junmai daiginjo(U.S.)
Jizake Center –junmai ginjo(U.S.)

Sakaya –ginjo & junmai ginjo (U.S.)
Sakaya –daiginjo & junmai daiginjo (U.S.)

Total Wine –junmai daiginjo (U.S.)
Total Wine –ginjo & junmai ginjo (U.S.)

Japan Center –junmai daiginjo(U.K.)
Japan Center –junmai ginjo (U.K.)

Japan Food Hall –junmai ginjo (U.K.)
Japan Food Hall –junmai daiginjo (U.K.)

Ueno Gourmet –junmai daiginjo (U.K., Germany, Switzerland)
Ueno Gourmet –daiginjo (U.K., Germany, Switzerland)
Ueno Gourmet –junmai ginjo (U.K., Germany, Switzerland)
Ueno Gourmet –ginjo (U.K., Germany, Switzerland)

Amazon U.K. –junmai ginjo & ginjo (delivery available for other countries)
Amazon U.K. –junmai daiginjo & daiginjo (delivery available for other countries)

Sake Shop –junmai daiginjo & daiginjo (Australia)

Sake Inn –junmai daiginjo (Australia)
Sake Inn –junmai ginjo (Australia)

Koji Sake –junmai daiginjo (Hong Kong)
Koji Sake –junmai ginjo (Hong Kong)
Koji Sake –daiginjo (Hong Kong)
Koji Sake –ginjo (Hong Kong)

Whistler Wine and Spirits Pte –junmai daiginjo (Singapore)
Whistler Wine and Spirits Pte –daiginjo (Singapore)
Whistler Wine and Spirits Pte –junmai ginjo (Singapore)
Whistler Wine and Spirits Pte –ginjo (Singapore)

baccousonline (Thailand)

How to Find Ginjo Sake

If you are faced with a Japanese-only label, look for the following characters:

daiginjo in Kanji characteres

labels of ginjo sake

Left: ginjo
Right: daiginjo

There are various sakes out in the market, and we won’t be surprised if you find it a bit overwhelming. We recommend starting out with ginjo sake since its quality is always guaranteed.

Find the ginjo label on a bottle and start enjoying the fruity and refreshing taste of this sake!

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