Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ginjo vs Junmai: Don't Fall Prey To Polish Bigotry!

When I drink sake, I typically prefer a ginjo-shu versus a junmai-shu, but not always. Last night, on an izakaya crawl in Fukuoka, I was reminded of an important lesson: don't be a Seimai Buai Bigot.

Background: Seimai Buai is the % of rice that is left over during the milling process, before the brewing of the rice actually begins. You may not comprehend anything on a bottle of sake, but if you see a number between 50-60% it's Ginjo-grade (usually more deliciously, but not by rule) and 60%-85% is Junmai grade. 

With sake rice, or sakamai, the more the rice is polished the more lipids, minerals, proteins, fats, albumins are removed as they exist on the outside of the rice grain. On the inside of the rice we have a heart of starch, and that starch is the friend of the sake brewer for the starchy center, or shinpaku, helps create delicious sake! If the rice is milled less, more of these impurities are left behind. The sake then is less expensive to produce as there is more yield.

The bottle pictures here illustrate my point. The green/yellow label is a junmai with a 75% polish, the white label is a ginjo with a 55% polish. If this is all I know about the sakes, 9 times out of 10 (if not more) I am in the mood for a ginjo. But to my pleasant surprise, and the surprise of my guests, the junmai was much more delicious. It wasn't even close. Both sakes were bottled in that last 4 months, but the 75% junmai was...fantastic! A clear and easy choice, and a more affordable choice, too.

In the USA it is rare to find a junmai with a polish that is on the label as being >70%. I can think of only two or three off the top of my head. However, sake professionals should market or stock examples of good sake with a > 70% on the label -- it's an important educational tool! Don't pre-judge a sake based on the Seimai Buai alone! Rather, judge that sake up and down like a scornful Southern Baptist preacher if it doesn't taste good, regardless of Seimai Buai. In other words, don't judge a book by it's cover.

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