Understanding how sake is made can be an intimidating task, but choosing a bottle of sake to drink can seem even more daunting. For the unseasoned sake drinker, a kanji-covered label will be difficult to navigate, but with a few of our tips, you’ll know what to look for when picking out your next bottle.

A bottle of sake is a reflection of the region from which it comes from: from the region where the rice is grown to the water used in the brewing process, every ingredient is different and tells a story. While these variables can change and develop over time, the information on sake labels do not. Brewers, by law, are required to publish the following details on their labels: ingredients (rice and koji mold), production date, net volume, alcohol content, type of beverage (sake or other), and the brewer’s name and address.

In addition to the legally required information, sake labels may also provide other details such as rice variety, water source, koji mold strain, type of yeast, flavor value (sweet vs. dry), and temperature recommendations. All of these details are meant to help describe the characteristics of the sake.

While most labels are completely covered in Japanese, many also feature artistic elements that showcase folklore and ancient traditions from different regions of Japan. Popular imagery includes designs of cranes, turtles, and raccoons, which all represent good fortune. More recently, sake labels are more focused on graphic and creative designs to attract younger drinkers.

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