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What is SMV or Sake Meter Value

Ever wondered what those mysterious numbers on your sake bottle mean? Get ready for an insightful journey as we explore the science behind the Sake Meter Value (SMV), also known as the sake dryness scale. We’ll delve into what SMV is and how it can be understood in the context of sake tasting and selection.

SMV, or “nihonshu-do” in Japanese, is a measure of the density of sake compared to water. It’s a crucial factor that determines whether your sake is sweet or dry.

Simply put, a high or positive sake meter value equals dry sake, and low or negative SMV equals sweet sake.

A scale showing Sake Meter Value (SMV) and how it makes a sake taste sweet or dry. A positive value means dry, while a negative value mean that the sake is sweet.
A SMV Chart that shows a positive value means a dry sake, while a negative value indicates a sweet sake.

But don’t be fooled, the taste of a sake is not just in the raw numbers. It is a lot more nuanced than just a positive or negative value.

Understanding the Numbers

When I worked as a sake advisor in a busy sushi restaurant I drank and sold A LOT of sake. The restaurant had a huge selection, ranging from extremely dry to (in my opinion) overly sweet. In my experience, this was the single most important trait most people looked for in their drink, and the sake meter value often helped me pick the right bottle for a guest.

If you are just skimming this article, or don’t make it all the way through, I want to make one thing very clear early; SMV is not the only important number or trait that influences the taste of sake.

Understanding Acidity in Relation to SMV

Acidity is also extremely important. The best way to describe this when it comes to flavor is lemonade. Lemonade has a high acidity value (lemons have a pH of around 2.4). If you drink straight lemonade, without any added sugar, it will be very tart (acidic). The classic reaction is it dries out your mouth, and gives you a puckering sensation. Tannins can also do this, but that is more commonly associated with wine, and less common with most types of sake, except for cedar aged bottles like ‘taru’. If you add the right amount of sugar the flavor can be more pleasant, and the acidity you perceive on the tongue is less sharp and more enjoyable.

This is the same with sake, and the numbers are usually right on the bottle to help you determine how much “sugar” and how “acidic” of a drink you prefer! Take a look at our interactive tool below, which charts different bottles we have reviewed with their acidity and SMV values in a convenient SMV graph.

A More In Depth Look at Sake Meter Value

Did you know that the Sake Meter Value, often denoted as “SMV” or “Nihonshu-do”, doesn’t actually measure the sweetness or dryness of the sake, but its density? Counterintuitively, a higher SMV sake indicates a drier drink, while a negative SMV suggests a sweeter profile. It’s like judging a book not by its cover but by the weight of its pages! So next time you’re sipping on a glass of this traditional Japanese drink, you’ll appreciate the delicate balance that goes beyond just taste, and into the very essence of its composition.

Traditional Methods of Measuring SMV

Centuries ago in Japan, sake brewers had a peculiar method to gauge the quality of their brew. Imagine a scene where a master brewer, after meticulously crafting his latest batch of sake, places a floating wooden block into a tub of the brew. Depending on how the block floated—whether it tilted one way or the other—it provided an early precursor to what we now scientifically refer to as the Sake Meter Value (SMV). While today’s SMV is a precise measure of sake’s density relative to water, it’s intriguing to imagine ancient brewers using such a rudimentary method to ensure they were creating a drink worthy of the gods.

A More Technical Explanation of the Science of Sake Meter Value

The Sake Meter Value (SMV) or Nihonshu-do is a measure that represents the specific gravity (or relative density) of sake as compared to water. Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of a reference substance; in this case, water. The process of measuring SMV fundamentally rests on principles of fluid dynamics and density measurements.

Here’s a technical breakdown of how the SMV is measured:


The SMV is based on the principle of specific gravity. When fermentation occurs, sugar is converted to alcohol. Since alcohol is less dense than water, the more alcohol there is relative to sugar, the lower the specific gravity.

Measurement Using a Hydrometer

  • A hydrometer is an instrument used to measure the specific gravity of liquids.
  • It’s essentially a sealed, weighted glass tube with a scale inside.
  • When placed in a liquid, it floats, and the level at which it floats corresponds to the specific gravity of the liquid.
hydrometer being used to measure specific gravity, a way of measuring the sake meter value
An example of specific gravity being measured with a hydrometer. David Blaikie | CC 2.0

Interpreting Readings

  • When you measure the specific gravity of sake using a hydrometer, you are gauging the balance of residual sugar (which increases density) and alcohol content (which reduces density).
  • The reading is then compared to the specific gravity of water, which is set at 1.000.
  • The difference in the specific gravity of the sake from that of water, multiplied by a factor (often 144), gives the SMV.


  • A positive SMV indicates a drier sake, meaning more sugar has been converted to alcohol, resulting in a liquid less dense than the original mash.
  • A negative SMV indicates a sweeter sake, meaning there’s more residual sugar left, making the sake denser.
  • For example, an SMV of +3 suggests a relatively dry sake, while an SMV of -2 would indicate a sweeter profile.

Factors Influencing SMV

  • Remember, it’s not just sugar and alcohol affecting the density. Other elements in the sake, like amino acids, can also play a role.
  • The fermentation process, type of rice, milling rate, yeast strain, and brewing techniques can all affect the final SMV value.

In summary, the Sake Meter Value (SMV) is a reflection of the specific gravity of sake, which in turn provides insights into its sugar and alcohol balance. By using tools like a hydrometer and understanding the principles of fluid dynamics, sake brewers can gauge the taste profile of their product.

SMV Vs. Brix

The Sake Meter Value (SMV) in sake brewing can be somewhat likened to the concept of “Brix” in winemaking. Both metrics give an indication of sugar content, but they measure slightly different things and have different implications for the final product. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Sake Meter Value (SMV):
    • SMV measures the density of sake as compared to water. It essentially tells us how much residual sugar is left in the sake after fermentation.
    • A positive SMV indicates that the sake is drier (less sugar), while a negative value suggests it’s sweeter.
    • It doesn’t only measure sugar but also accounts for other elements in the sake that affect its density, like alcohol and amino acids.
  • Brix:
    • Brix is a measure of the sugar content in an aqueous solution, often used in winemaking to gauge the sugar level in grape juice.
    • The Brix value represents the sugar concentration in a solution and can give winemakers an idea of the potential alcohol content if all the sugar were fermented into alcohol.
    • It’s a tool to understand the ripeness of grapes and potential strength of the wine.

In essence, both SMV and Brix are measures related to sugar content, but they’re used in different contexts and have different implications. SMV is more about the final profile of the sake (sweet or dry), whereas Brix is about the starting sugar content of the grapes before wine fermentation. Comparing them would be like comparing the final taste of a baked cake (SMV) to the amount of sugar in the batter before baking (Brix).

Understanding Sake Labels

Deciphering sake labels can feel like trying to read an ancient script. But fear not, with your newfound knowledge of SMV and acidity, you’re well on your way to becoming a sake connoisseur. SMV meaning and the sake meter value are key terms to understand.

When you look at a sake label, you’ll see a lot of information – the type of sake, the variety of rice, the polishing ratio, the alcohol percentage, the SMV or sake meter, the acidity, and the amino acid content. All these factors contribute to the overall taste and quality of the sake.

The Art and Science of Sake Meter Value

Understanding SMV, sometimes referred to as the sake meter value or meter value, and acidity is both an art and a science. It requires a keen palate and a deep understanding of the brewing process. But once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to navigate the world of sake with ease.

So the next time you’re sipping on a glass of sweet Japanese sake or even a dry saki, take a moment to consider its SMV and acidity. You might just discover a whole new layer of complexity to your favorite drink.

Remember, sake is not just a beverage; it’s a journey. So here’s to the journey, and here’s to sake. Kanpai!

Remember to check out our other articles on sake basics, types of sake, and sake pairings for more in-depth information. And if you’re interested in trying out different types of sake, why not start with a Junmai or a Ginjo? They’re both excellent choices for beginners and seasoned sake drinkers alike.

Take the Sake Quiz to Find The Perfect Sake for You

Remember, sweetness can be offset by acidity. So even if a sake is on the ‘sweet’ side, if it has high acidity you might not perceive those sugars. It’s like tomato sauce that has a little sugar added to it.