The new issue of the Massachusetts Beverage Business (December 2010) has an article about sake, as well as three related sidebars. Obviously, I was very interested in reading the articles, written by Gregg Glaser, and recently did so. The main article primarily dealt with U.S. sake importers and breweries with brief mentions of sake & food, and sake sales.
As an ardent advocate for sake, I am very concerned about accurate information being disseminated to both the trade and consumers. Erroneous information can take on a life of its own, being passed from distributors to wine retatilers and then consumers. So, I had some concerns about inaccurate and misleading sake information in one of the sidebars, Sake Classification. You can read the article and sidebars online, and the Sake Classification section is near the bottom of the article, just before the Sake Glossary.
Here are my primary concerns about the Sake Classification sidebar:
1. In the first paragraph, it states that “…sake is classified by the degree to which each individual grain of rice is polished…” This is accurate to a degree also fails in some respects. Though most premium sake is polished more than non-premium sake, it is not always the case. The key to premium vs non-premium sake is the amount and nature of the ingredients used. Premium sake is produced only from four (Junmai) or five (Honjozo). specific ingredients. Junmai is made from rice, water, koji-kin, and yeast while Honjozo also has some and distilled alcohol.
2. In the second paragraph, Daiginjo, it is said that some brewers mill away up to 70% of the rice. But, there are brewers that mill away even more, as much as 91%.
3. In the fourth paragraph, Junmai, it states a Junmai must have at least 30% of the husk removed but that is erroneous. As of January 2004, that minimum polishing requirement was eliminated so that a Junmai can have any degree of polishing.
4. In the fifth paragraph, Junmai, it states that a Junmai does not have distilled alcohol added to it, which is true but fails to tell the complete story. A Junmai can only be produced from rice, water, koji-kin and yeast. Just because a sake lacked distilled alcohol, it would not be considered a Junmai unless it also was made only from those four ingredients.
5. In the sixth paragraph, Honjozo, it states that "not many" and "perhaps none" Honjozo is imported into the U.S. The "perhaps none" is very misleading as Honjozo is definitely imported into the U.S., and by some of the importers and breweries mentioned in the main article.
6. In the seventh paragraph, Futsu-shu, it states that Futsu-shu are those sakes in which less than 30% of the rice has been polished away. That is not accurate, as I also mentioned how Junmai no longer has a minimum polishing requirement. In addition, there is Futsu-shu which has had more than 30% of their rice removed, such as the Minato Tsuchizaki Yamahai Futsu-Shu. This paragraph also states that you should not expect to find Futsu-shu for sale in the U.S. but it is definitely available, including in Massachusetts.