Among all well-known special designation sakes, “Honjozo” refers to sakes made from rice polished to 70% or less of its original size, and a small amount of distilled brewer’s alcohol is added to achieve different flavor & aroma profiles.
Have you ever wondered why “Honjozo” is called “Honjozo”? “Hon” means “real”. “本格 genuine”, “本場 authentic” and “本気 truth” are all explanatory words of “unconcealed”, “authentic” and “serious”. In other words, “Honjozo” means “brewing seriously”.
Is there any half-hearted brewing? They were everywhere 10 decades ago! The most common trick was to mix together sake from other breweries, water, alcohol, or even methanol for industrial use and pretended to be real brewing.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a sake brewery emphasizing that products were all made in-house from the beginning without any relentless blending, so they wrote “Honjozo” on the sake label. Later in the early 1990s, when reforming the terminology of sake labels, “Honjozo” was adopted as the entry-level sake within the special-designation sake system until now.
Inadvertently, these special-designated names have been used for nearly 30 years, and the brewing trend has changed several times. Whether honjozo refers to a specific style or not is no longer a matter now. There may be many drinkers who still believe that honjozo is mainly low-end, strongly alcoholic, and inelegant sake. We can’t be stupefied that those special-designated names only specify the minimum requirements of law. Some honjozo even outperform the minimums. Simply employ the yeasts that produce ginjo aroma such as 1401, 1801, M310, etc, For sure, if tasted blind, some people would guess it is a ginjo or daiginjo, not to mention what will happen if they used Yamada-Nishiki, adopted low-temperature fermentation and storage.
Today, with the use of advanced brewing technology, the original meaning of honjozo may have been forgotten. Sake drinkers in Hong Kong have also been spoiled by ginjo buyers and already forgotten what the most traditional honjozo is. But this does not mean that those unconscientious brewing of sakes have been completely extinct in Japan!
Based in Hong Kong / Official trainer of Dassai / Experienced sake educator (WSET, SSI) / JSA Sake Diploma / International sake judge