This weekend I'm looking at survey results from online news site My Navi, first of all asking a sample of Japanese respondents how they choose sake. They were not doing it the way I thought they would be!

The article starts off explaining the "six types of sake", namely daiginjō, junmai daiginjō, ginjō, junmai ginjō, honjōzō and junmai, and the differences between them.

Then it dips into survey results, asking those who said they drink sake regularly and often drink outside the home (75 people).

  1. Flavour (dry, sweet, etc.) - 45 votes
  2. Label - 35 votes
  3. Recommendation from staff - 28 votes
  4. Region of manufacture - 26 votes
  5. Brewing method - 20 votes
  6. Aroma - 19 votes
  7. Recommendation from friends/acquaintances - 16 votes
  8. Choose something you drank before - 15 votes
  9. Brewery - 11 votes
  10. No particular method - 5 votes
  11. Other - 1 vote

So 60% of people went for flavour, but people often don't really understand how flavour is described. "Dry" in Japanese is 辛口 (karakuchi), which actually uses the character for "spicy". And a "sweet" sake doesn't necessarily taste like sugar. The article describes "dry" as sharp mouthfeel with a quick finish, and "sweet" as gentle mouthfeel and lingering. It also notes that recently "sweet" (甘口, amakuchi) is being replaced by umakuchi (旨口).

But if you want to choose a sake by how dry or sweet it is, how can you tell? There are two suggestions:

Nihonshudo

Also known as "sake meter value", nihonshudo (日本酒度, "sake degree") is represented by a positive or negative number indicating the level of residual sugar. So the higher the number, the sweeter the sake? No, confusingly it's the other way around - the more residual sugar, the lower the number and vice versa.

  • +6.0 or higher: very dry
  • +3.5 to +5.9: dry
  • +1.5 to +3.4: slightly dry
  • -1.4 to +1.4: average
  • -1.5 to -3.4: slightly sweet
  • -3.5 to -5.9: sweet
  • -6 or lower: very sweet
Acidity

Sando (酸度) is a measure of acidity which is sometimes put on labels. All kinds of acids are involved in sake production, from the lactic acids needed to establish the starter fermentation. This measurement is more obvious, the higher the number the more acids are in the sake. However, going back to the non-specialist meanings of words "acid" here doesn't mean that a sake with acidity is sour. For sake, acidity firms up flavour and makes a sake taste drier. So like nihonshudo, the higher the number the drier the taste, and lower means sweeter.

There was lots more of interest in this article, so I'll be back to it tomorrow!

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