Seishu; Japanese sake/seishu, Nihonshu

The word  seishu  is written with characters meaning “clear sake”. (The word sake itself can refer to alcoholic drinks in general, not only seishu.) Sake which has not been filtered (that is, pressed), and so is not clear, is called doburoku, and its production was permitted before the Meiji Period (1868-1911). Doburoku and seishu can be considered opposites. Nigori (cloudy) sake is made by using a broader mesh at the pressing stage to allow fine rice particles through, but is still part of the seishu category.

Currently, the English word “sake” is considered a synonym for seishu, but the Liquor Tax Law does not use the term, defining matters only as relating to the word seishu. Liquor Tax Law defines seishu as an alcoholic beverage of less than 22% alcohol meeting the following conditions.

  1. That which is fermented from the raw materials rice, kome-koji and water, and has then been “strained” (the Japanese verb used is kosu).
  2. That which is fermented from rice, kome-koji, water, seishu kasu (sake “cake”) and other permitted materials as stipulated by government ordinance, and has then been strained.
  3. Seishu into which  seishu kasu  has been added, then strained.
    “Permitted materials” include brewer’s alcohol, shochu spirit, glucose and other saccharides, organic acids, amino acid salts, and seishu, and their use is permitted to the extent that their combined weight is 50% or less than the weight of the rice and kome-koji used.

It can be seen that the raw materials that may be used in the making of seishu are restricted, and must include rice, and it must undergo the process of straining. “Straining” refers to the separation of liquids and solids, not to filtration, and so the process of separating seishu and seishu kasu by means other than filtration is also held to constitute “straining”.

Seishu meeting certain conditions regarding raw materials and production methods is called Tokutei Meisho-shu (Special Designation Sake) , and seishu not in these categories is generally referred to as futsu (long second “u”) shu (普通酒), “regular” sake, or, colloquially, ippan-shu (一般酒,“ordinary” sake”).

Other categories which are easily confused with seishu are “synthetic (go-sei , long “o” ) seishu”(合成清酒), which is similar in taste, colour and other characteristics, doburoku and some other members of the legal category “other fermented alcoholic beverages” (その他の醸造酒, sono hoka no jozo (two long “o”s) shu), and those products which, although meeting other requirements for seishu, have more than 22% alcohol, and so fall into the classification of liqueurs.

Prior to the establishment of the Special Designations, a system of “ranking by grades” (kyu- (long “u”) betsu seido, 級別制度) existed, in which products were graded as Special, First or Second Grade.

It was formerly legally permitted to use the term nihonshu in place of seishu when labeling sake. However, it is expected that the use of the expression (and the English “Japanese Sake”) will, in the near future, be restricted to sake made from domestic rice and water and produced in Japan.