Sake, Nihonshu — What’s the difference?
Most western people understand sake as the ‘rice wine’ that you order at a Japanese restaurant (usually hot). And we, not wanting to be sake Nazis, use the term ourselves. But if you want to delve deeper into this subject (and impress your Japanese friends) then we will try to explain quickly the terms and their different meanings.
- Nihonshu = what western people of as ‘sake’ but in fact it refers to alcohol made from rice in the traditional brewing way (fermentation not distilling). It is usually around 15% but can be as low as 12% and as high as 20%.
- Sake = all types of alcoholic beverages including nihonshu, shochu, plum wine and even whisky
- Umeshu = plum wine, made either using plums and shochu or (more recently) plums and sake. Umeshu made with nihonshu (see that term again) is more gentle and refined than that made with shochu albeit a tad more expensive.
- A distilled product similar to vodka. It can be made using a wide range of materials from rice, chestnuts, black sugar, wheat, soba (buckwheat) and sweet potato. Many consider the sweet potato shochu (‘imo’) as the best.
- Whisky = Another ‘sake’ from Japan. Usually really nice but if you want an age statement these days you’re out of luck.
(Whilst we are talking about Japanese whisky we want to say that with the current world craze and shortage of not only Japanese whisky but all kinds of quality whisky we have been trying extremely hard to source good drinking affordable whisky. We believe we have in the form of Kirin Sanjuroku Tarajuku. Please have a look at it in the store. It’s nice and (for a Japanese one) reasonably affordable.)
So there you have it. The best way though we feel to remember it is “sake means ‘booze’ in English” J