“Ginjo” is a word most people may have heard of whether they drink sake or not. Around ten years ago, I knew very little about sake, but I was a big fan of Kushiyaki (skewers). What I usually do was to just randomly pick a Junmai Daiginjo which is at least 500 Hong Kong Dollars from the drink menu, feeling it can’t go wrong with Kushiyaki.
After studying more about sake, I know that “Ginjo” and “Daiginjo” are sake with a rice-polishing ratio under 60%. But that’s just a superficial explanation and categorization. The true essence of “Ginjo”, per se, is something I didn’t get to understand until after many years of tasting and studying.
There were words like “Ginzo” (吟造), “Ginsei” (吟製) in ancient Japanese; and sake barrels with the word “Kinsei” (謹製; literally means carefully made) in the late Edo-period. All these words share a similar meaning. Until 1894 (Meiji 27), the word “Ginjo” (吟醸) first appeared in Niigata brewer Kishi Goro’s book “Shuzo no Tomoshibi” (The Light of Sake Brewing). Subsequently, it also constantly reappeared in “Journal of the Brewing Society of Japan”. “Ginjo” basically means a sake is made with carefulness, high-quality raw materials, and the brewer’s greatest effort and skill.
From the above definition, you can see that even a certain type of sake has a 60% or lower rice-polishing ratio, if it is not treated with dedication, it should not be considered as a “Ginjo”. The success of “Ginjo” should be attributed to Hiroshima’s master brewer Miura Senzaburou. Around 100 years from now, he discovered using soft water (with lower mineral content, usually resulting in a slower and bumpier fermentation process) from Hiroshima with a lower temperature and high-quality rice koji can brew sake just as great. After his discovery, sake from Hiroshima has snatched almost every award from the Annual Japan Sake Awards.
A sake can still be “Ginjo-ish” even if it is not brewed strictly following the specified criteria of “Ginjo”. On the other hand, a “Ginjo” sometimes does not brand themselves with perks like having a banana or melon flavoured fruity aromas. This also reflects the “special designated sake” does not necessarily represent every quality of that certain category.
One may think fruity aromas equals “Ginjo”, but it is just the “fruit” of sake brewery’s dedication. Some beer manufacturers, however, also use “Ginjo” on their cans to market their products and even use Yamadanishiki as the raw material of their beers. This, of course, enraged a lot of sake breweries in Japan.
Sake brewers poured in their utmost effort to make sake while these beer brewers didn’t even give them any credit using something that is not meant for them. (Note: “Ichiban shibori”(一番搾り) is also originated from sake industry) Ginjo beer? Many people may just “laugh and sneer” at the idea of it, what about you?