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Understanding

sal,e:Explaining
styleand quality
An accompaniment to

WSET® Level 3 Award


in Sake
,

Understanding
sal{e:Explaining
, styleand quality
An accompaniment to

WSET® Level 3 Award


in Sake

With a foreword by Kenichi Ohashi MW

Technical edit (Chapters 1-15) by the


National Research Institute of Brewing
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
39-45 Bermondsey Street, London SE13XF
ll?'illwset @wset.co.uk
wsetglobal.com

CJWine & Spirit Education Trust 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior permission in writing from the publishers.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 905819 49 2


..
PHOTOGRAPHIC CREDITS
17,19, 23, 27, 28, 30, 42 (bottom all 5 images), 77 (Rob Lawson); 38 (Images 5, 6, 7), 39 (images 1, 2, 3, 4) (Sekiya Brewery); 38 (image 8), 74 (Tim
Sullivan); 47 (both), 89 (National Research Institute of Brewing); 51 (image 8), 58 (left) (Akita Shurui Seizoh); 58 (right) (Daishichi Brewery); 86
(Natsuki Romano-Kikuya ;l,!i-fj-1,, 7 -()
WSET: 4, 5, 42 (top), 43 (both), 44 (all), 45 (top, bottom), 50 (images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), 51 (images 9, 10, 11,12, 13), 55, 59 (both), 63 (top), 67 (images 1,
2), 68 (top, image 1),69 (images 1, 2), 70, 73, 78 (Antony Moss MW illi"'t1,, 7 -( ); 45 (middle), 63 (bottom) (Nicholas King).

COVER PICTURE
(BloombergY[BloombergYGetty Images

LABELS
13 (top left) (Schicida Brewery); 13 (top right) (Taka Brewery); 13 (bottom, both) (lsojiman Brewery)

MAPS
Maps designed by Cosmographics Ltd

DIAGRAMS AND ILLUSTRATIONS


Diagrams and illustrations produced by CalowCraddock Ltd

Designed by Peter Dolton


Editing by Cambridge Editorial Ltd
Proofreading by Jo'e Coleby
Technical edit (Chapters 1-15) by the National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB)
Production services by Wayment Print & Publishing Solutions Ltd
Printed and bound In the UK by Pureprint

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iii

Contents

Foreword iv

Introduction vii

Section 1: An Introduction to Sake


1 What is Sake?

2 An Overview of Sake Production 3

3 Sake Labelling Terms 11

Section 2: Sake and the Consumer


4 The Systematic Approach to Tasting Sake ® 16

5 Storage and Service of Sake 27


6 Sake and Food 31

Section 3: Factors Affecting the Style and


Quality of Sake
7 Rice Cultivation 34

8 Rice Preparation 41

9 Preparing Koji 46
10 Water and Yeast 53
11 The Fermentation Starter (Shubo/Moto) 57

12 The Main Fermentation (Moromi) 61

13 Jozo Alcohol and Filtration 66


14 Finishing 72
15 Speciality Styles of Sake 76

Section 4: The Final Product and its Markets


16 Japanese Sake Labels and Kanji 80
17 The Global Sake Industry 85

Maps 94

Glossary of Japanese Words 96


Acknowledgements 101

Index 102
iv

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Foreword

Hello, everyone. My name is Kenichi Ohashi MW, and I come from Japan - the home of sake.
I run the Tokyo-based wine and sake consultancy firm Red Bridge Co. Ltd, and also Yamajin
Co. Ltd, a distribution company for alcoholic beverages produced in Japan.
Japanese sake is one of the categories I am very deeply involved with, and I currently
preside as Sake Co-Chairman of the world's largest sake competition, which forms part of the
International Wine Challenge (London). I am also a Sake Expert Assessor of the National
Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB), and from these different positions I promote Japanese
sake on the world stage.
Through WSET's wine qualifications, I have learned much about wine from an objective
standpoint. As someone who has never left Japan, I studied wine in detail over many years
from a 'Japanese' perspective. However, when aiming to become a Master of Wine, I was told
by a friend, who is a Master of Wine, that I should study for the WSET Diploma. In doing so, I
discovered new viewpoints at every turn, and learned how to think from a broad-based, global
perspective. At the same time, the course enabled me to see Japan's very specific approach
in a new light.
Now, following careful proofreading by NRIB, WSET has added Japanese sake - our
national beverage - to its worldwide educational programme. This marks not only the
internationalisation of Japanese sake, but also signifies how WSET is one of the keys to its
promotion around the world. From a Japanese perspective too, being able to learn about
Japanese sake objectively through this programme has great significance in terms of the
international promotion of sake, and therefore this qualification is of great importance.
Together with Antony Moss MW and Natsuki Kikuya (a global educator of sake), I myself
am an examiner who assesses educators, and I am already a certificate holder, having passed
the Level 3 Award in Sake examination. This examination encompasses detailed knowledge
of Japanese sake, as well as the practical aspects, and I believe it is a wonderful programme.
I encourage you wholeheartedly to learn together with us about the Japanese tradition of
sake, both from a Japanese and international perspective!

Kenichi Ohashi MW
vii

Introduction

WSET has only been actively involved with the world of sake since 2013. Nevertheless
in three years the WSET has been able to gain the support and trust of the global sake
community thanks to the passion and drive of our colleagues.
However, it takes more than desire to put together a qualification such as the Level 3
Award in Sake. It takes a huge amount of researching, planning and testing . It has been
a thrilling ride for our colleagues as they became immersed in the uniquely wonderful
world of sake that is now starting to get the global attention it so justly deserves . The
result of all this hard work is this new book Understanding sake: Explaining style and
quality which we are delighted has the support of the National Research Institute of
Brewing located in Saijo in Hiroshima Prefecture.
This book not only offers a very detailed and comprehensive overview of the
techniques used in the production of sake - it also explains how these techniques are
combined to produce the impressive array of different styles that brewers are able to
tease out of a humble grain of rice. This desire to explain and get under the skin of a
subject so that students can be equipped with understanding as well as knowledge is
what lies at the heart of our Level 3 qualifications.
We hope that you enjoy reading this book and if you are studying for the Level 3
Award in Sake then I wish you every success in the examination .

l
Ian Harris
Chief Executive, Wine & Spirit Education Trust
WHAT IS SAKE?

Whatis Sake?This chapter explains in simple terms what sake is, and the ways in which it
differs from other familiar alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and spirits. 1
Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from polished around 40% abv) and keeps its delicate acidity intact.
(white) rice. This makes sake more similar to wine and beer.
Because rice is a starchy solid, two other ingredients However, like some kinds of wine, certain kinds of
(water and a type of mouldy rice called k/5}1)are used sake have a small amount of high strength distilled
together to transform the solid rice into a sugary liquid. alcohol added (see Chapter 13 Ji5zi5Alcohol and
The fourth ingredient (yeast) converts those sugars into Filtration for more details).
alcohol using a process called fermentation, to make
an alcoholic beverage we can drink. HOW SAKE IS DIFFERENT FROM WINE
Before describing the details of how these Like wine, sake is a fermented beverage. It has an
ingredients are used to make sake, it is helpful to alcoholic strength that is similar to wine. However,
contrast sake with some other common alcoholic the use of rice as a raw material, rather than grapes,
beverages. This way it is possible to show why sake results in very different flavours and requires different
is in a category of its own, and therefore cannot production processes.
accurately be considered as a special kind of beer, Grapes contain high levels of acids and distinct
wine or spirit. aromas and flavours that are expressed in the final
wine. Black grapes additionally contain colour pigments
HOW SAKE IS DIFFERENT FROM SPIRITS (to make the wine red) and preservative tannins (that
Sake is a relatively strong alcoholic beverage (around give red wine a dry, mouth-drying texture rather like
15-17% abv), but its alcoholic strength is closer to that black tea). Colour and tannins are absent in polished
of wine (12-14% abv), rather than to that of spirits such {white) rice, and there is very little acidity and flavour.
as whisky, vodka or brandy (around 40% abv). The The production process usually adds little or none of
reason for this difference is simple. these, so a 'typical' sake is almost colourless, lacks
After the yeast has fermented the sugars into alcohol, tannins, is only delicately acidic and its flavours are
spirits need to go through an additional production more delicate than those of wine.
process to concentrate that alcohol further. This process
is called distillation, and is typically achieved by heating HOW SAKE IS DIFFERENT FROM BEER
the fermented alcoholic liquid so the alcohol selectively Like sake, beer is made from starchy, solid, cereal
boils off, and then cooling the separated alcoholic grains but it differs in a number of ways.
vapour so that it can be collected as a more highly Comparing beer and sake, the starch-to-sugar
concentrated alcoholic liquid. conversion uses very different methods. In beer
Most of the aromas and flavours are captured with production, whole unpolished grains (usually barley)
the alcohol, but most of the water and acidity is left are encouraged to start germinating, and this makes
behind. the grains produce substances (called enzymes) that
Sake is not a spirit because it is not distilled. As such, convert their densely stored starch into fermentable
it has moderate alcohol (around 15-17% abv, rather than sugar. This process is called malting. Once the enzymes
are released, the grains are heated to dry them out.
This halts the conversion process and stops the grains
Table 1: A comparison between spirits and sake. growing into cereal plants, but leaves the chemicals
SPIRITS SAKE available for the brewer to use to break starch down
into fermentable sugar. These grains are called malt.
Is it distilled? Always Never
Sake is made from polished rice. It is not possible to
Typicalalcoholicstrength(%abv) Around40%abv 15-17%abv
make polished rice grains germinate because the part

Table 2: A comparison between wine and sake.


WINE(grapejuice) SAKE(polishedrice)
Whatcanthe raw materialcontributeto the final product? • Colour(fromblackgrapes,if used) • No colour
• Intense,distinctaromasandflavours • Verylittle flavour
• Tannins(fromblackgrapes,if used) • No tannin
• Highlevelsof acids • Verylittle acid
Doesthe raw materialcontainfermentablesugars? Yes No
Isthe raw materiala solidor a liquid? Liquid Solid
2 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Table 3: A comparison between beer and sake.


BEER SAKE
Howis the starchbrokendowninto sugars? Maltedgrains Koji mould
Whenis the starchbrokendowninto sugar? Beforefermentation At the sametime as fermentation
Mainraw material(s) Variousgrains Riceonly
Arethe grainspolished? No. Theyare kept aswhole,unpolishedgrains Yes
Areother raw materialsadded? Almostalwayshops Never
Sometimesotherflavourings

that would grow into a plant is removed during the together . The use of whole unpolished cereal grains in
polishing process (see Chapter 8 Rice Preparation). beer production means many flavours can be extracted
Instead, a mould (called koji mould) is encouraged to into the final product. The drying process of malting
grow on steamed rice. In order for koji mould to feed on also makes it possible to toast, or char the grains,
the rice starch, it also needs to convert that starch into adding extra flavours . By contrast, sake uses polished
fermentable sugar and it releases its own enzymes to rice that is then steamed (a process that avoids adding
do this. The resulting mouldy rice is called koji. any flavours). The koji also has very little flavour, other
In beer production, the starch-to-sugar conversion than a delicate sweetness .
happens first by mixing the malt with hot water, and In addition to the flavours from the whole, unpolished
the sugar-to-alcohol fermentation follows when the and malted grains, almost all beers are flavoured with
conversion has finished . In sake, the koji is added to hops, which provide bitterness and aromas, and act as
the fermentation so that these two processes happen a preservative. Depending on local laws and traditions,
at the same time. some beers can be flavoured with other ingredients,
Sake can only be made from rice, never from other such as fruits and spices. Flavoured drinks are
cereal grains . Beer is most commonly made from sometimes made using sake, but once flavours are
barley, but many different grains (wheat, rye, maize added, the drink is no longer legally sake .
and even rice) can be used separately or combined
AN OVERVIEW OF SAKE PRODUCTION 3

An Overviewof Sake ProductionIn the discussion of how sake differs from


spirits, wine and beer, some of the details of
how sake is produced were introduced. This chapter builds on these details to provide a full overview
2
of the sake production process.

INGREDIENTS OF SAKE Typically, they are harder to farm and give lower yields,
Steamed white rice is the main raw material for sake. but sake brewers like these sake-specific rice varieties
Rice is a solid with a starchy core that needs water for three main reasons, all of which make it easier to
and koji to convert the solid starch into a sugary separate cleanly the starch from the proteins and other
fermentable liquid . Yeast is then needed to ferment the undesirable parts of the rice grain :
sugars into alcohol to make an alcoholic beverage . They contain less protein than table rice .
Most of the starch granules lie in a well-defined
STEAMED RICE almost pure starch core at the centre of the rice .
Rice is an edible cereal crop, planted in spring , grown They are larger-grained, and therefore less likely to
over the summer and harvested in autumn . Once crack when polished.
harvested, it can be stored for a few months until it is
ready to use. Rice is grown across much of Japan , Polishing and Washing
using flooded rice-paddies, but it can also be farmed Before being used in sake production, all rice must be
in dry fields (as is usual in the USA, for example) . processed. The first step is polishing, which is done
Asian rice has two main subspecies groups : long mechanically in large rice-polishing machines . The
grained (lndica) and short grained (Japonica), which purpose of polishing is to remove the proteins, lipids,
are further subdivided into sticky (glutinous) and non- vitamins and minerals that are concentrated in the outer
sticky (non-glutinous) types . Sake brewers only use the part of the rice grain, leaving just the starchy core . After
non-sticky version of short-grained rice . Non-sticky polishing, the amount of rice that remains is referred
short-grained rice has many varieties that have been to as the polishing ratio . This determines the final style
developed for different purposes . Some are high- and category of sake (see the section Polishing Ratio
yielding and easy to farm, and are grown in Japan (and in Chapter 3). Whether table rice or sake-specific rice is
elsewhere) as table rice for eating . These high-yielding, used, the rice starts off brown and becomes white only
easy-to-grow table rice varieties are also suitable for after polishing . (The white table rice used in cooking is
making sake, and in fact a lot of good sake is made polished the same way, but is less highly polished than
from table rice . rice used in sake brewing .)
However, some special varieties have been After polishing , the rice grains need to be cleaned to
developed to be particularly suitable for sake brewing . remove any remaining fine rice powder. This powder

WASHING, SOAKING AND STEAMING


Note that the steamer is loaded in layers. This is explained in Chapter 8.

Steaminput
4 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

must be removed because it is made up of tiny there is less need to be precise and so the soaking can
fragments of the bits of rice that the polisher was trying be done for a few hours in large tanks. After soaking,
to remove. If they remained, they would make the sake the rice is steamed. Traditionally, this is done in batches
less pure, and more rough-textured and acidic . The of approximately one tonne, and lasts about an hour.
powder is removed by washing, either in small Large sake brewers have rice steamers that are larger,
containers, large vats, or a continuous rice polishing faster and can run continuously. The combined process
machine , depending on the size of the brewery and of soaking and then steaming has three purposes :
type of sake.
The amount the rice is polished (and the amount of Raising the moisture level within the grain - Soaking
proteins , lipids, vitamins and minerals that remain) before steaming helps to ensure that the rice absorbs
affects the style and category of the final sake. enough water to be soft and moist on the inside.
Steaming (rather than boiling) means the outside of the
Sake made from highly polished rice - Sake made rice remains firm. This is the ideal distribution of moisture
from more highly polished rice tends to have purer, for producing the best koji, and for making sure the
fruitier flavours , and is lighter in body with lower acidity rice breaks up during the ferment at the right speed .
and umami. Sake made from the most highly polished
rice can be used to make one of the ginjo styles of sake Changing the starch - The heat changes the structure
(see Chapter 3 Sake Labelling Terms for more details) . of the starch so that the koji enzymes are able to break
it into fermentable sugars . Without heat, the starch
Sake made from less highly polished rice - Sake remains in a form that the enzymes cannot break apart
made from less highly polished (coarsely polished) rice into fermentable sugars .
tends to have more savoury and less fruity flavours,
with more body, more acidity and more umami. This is Disinfection of the rice - Steaming kills microbes that
a different style, not necessarily lower quality, though may be on the rice and reduces the risk of undesirable
the prices tend to be lower. microbes contaminating the fermentation.

Soaking and Steaming Once the rice has been polished, washed, soaked and
Once polishing and washing is complete, the rice is steamed, it is ready to be used to make sake or turned
soaked to alter the amount and distribution of water into koji .
within the rice grain. For the purest and most delicate
sakes, this has to be done very precisely for just a few KOJI
minutes; a stopwatch is used to perfect the timing, and Starch can be thought of as a large molecule made up
the rice is soaked in small batches. For other styles, of lots of sugar molecules all linked together in a chain.

MAKINGKOJI
This shows an overview of koji making . Only some of the options are
shown . This subject is covered in more detail in Chapter 9.

Steamedrice

Unloadingthe steamer

Coolingthe rice
AN OVERVIEW OF SAKE PRODUCTION 5

Rice, a starchy cereal grain, needs something to break achieving the perfect level of mould-growth for the
up the starch into sugars, before the sugars can be style of sake the brewery is making.
fermented by the yeast and turned into alcohol.
Chemicals that do this work are known as enzymes. An Making Koji
enzyme is a kind of protein that helps chemical reactions Koji production starts after the rice is taken out of the
to take place without being used up in those chemical steamer. There are four steps in koji making:
reactions, so only small amounts of the right enzyme are
needed to convert large amounts of starch into sugar. Cooling - The portion of steamed rice that will become
Fortunately, the natural world is full of sources of koji is cooled to the right temperature.
enzymes that convert starch to sugar: any living thing
that can digest starch has them . Starchy cereal grains Inoculation - The cooled steamed rice is transferred to
also have them: they need these enzymes to convert the koji room and spread out thinly over a table. Koji
their space-efficient starch store back into sugar before mould spores are sprinkled on it.
they can use that sugar to provide energy to grow into
a plant. Initial mould growth - The warm and humid
While beer uses whole unpolished grains that can conditions in the koji room encourage the spores to
be malted to release the enzymes in each grain, sake grow into the mould. The mould spreads and grows
is made from polished rice; the bits that could have over all of the grains of steamed rice. The rice is
grown into a plant have been removed, together with thoroughly mixed to ensure that the growth of mould
any starch-converting enzymes. So, instead of malting is even.
the grains, a mould which creates starch-converting
enzymes is allowed to grow on some of the rice. The Controlling and stopping the mould growth - The rice
mould is called koji mould and the mouldy rice is is then sometimes transferred to racks and moved to a
called koji. cooler, less humid location in the koji room. Whether it
About a fifth to a quarter of the rice used in sake is moved or not, the aim of the brewer is to control the
brewing is converted into koji . This provides enough temperature in order to slow the mould growth so that
enzymes to convert all the starch into fermentable exactly the right amount of mould can be grown on
sugar at the right speed. The ideal conditions for each grain. Ultimately the mould growth is stopped
koji mould to grow are high humidity and warm when the rice is finally moved to the coolest and driest
temperatures of between 33°C and 38°C (92-100°F). part of the koji room.
Koji is therefore made in a special part of the
brewery where the temperature and humidity can be The whole process takes about two days to complete.
managed to speed or slow the growth of the mould, The finished koji looks like polished rice, but has a

Kojiroom Controllingandstoppingmould
growth.Thisoftentakesplace
Inoculatingthe steamedricewith mouldspores. in cooler,lesshumidareasof
the k6ji room.

Initial mouldgrowth normallytakesplace


on largetablesin the warmestand most
humidpart of the koji room.

Koji
6 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

crumbly texture and has a slightly sweet chestnut In the absence of distinct aromas and flavours from
flavour . the rice (or the koji or water), yeast contribute greatly
to the aroma in most sakes. Some strains have very
Styles of Koji distinct characteristics , and are chosen because of the
As with polishing , mould growth is a step that can be particular aromas they provide.
precisely controlled. This is important because the
brewer needs to use koji with different amounts of INTRODUCTION TO SAKE PRODUCTION
mould growth in order to make different styles of sake . Having prepared the sake ingredients, the brewer can
then begin to make sake. There are four key steps :
Koji with high levels of koji mould - Large amounts of the fermentation starter
koji mould covering the entire grain means that large the main fermentation
amounts of enzymes are created . Therefore the starch jozo alcohol and filtration
is more rapidly converted into sugar in the fermentation finishing .
tank . As a result, the fermentation is faster, and the
sake tends to have more flavour intensity, with more THE FERMENTATION STARTER
acidity and umami. Before the fermentation can begin , it is first necessary
to mix all of the ingredients together. By mixing the
Koji with low levels of koji mould - Tiny amounts of steamed rice, koji , yeast and water together, the koji
koji mould, dotting the outside of the grain, means that enzymes start to turn the rice starch into sugar, but it
smaller amounts of enzymes are created . Consequently takes time for a healthy yeast population to build up.
there is a slower conversion of starch into sugar during This is a risky stage, because other undesirable
the fermentation . The fermentation is therefore slower, microbes (yeast, moulds and bacteria) could settle in
and the sake tends to be lighter in flavour , with less the liquid and begin to consume the sugars and spoil
acidity and umami. the flavour of the sake .
This style of koji requires extreme precision during To avoid contamination, the brewer takes a small
the rice polishing, washing, soaking and steaming, as portion of the ingredients, and makes a 'mini
well as in the koji room . A brewer typically uses this fermentation ', usually in a separate small tank. This
style of koji in order to produce the purest, most is the fermentation starter. The most common way to
delicate styles of ginjo . help ensure the starter does not become contaminated
is to increase the acidity of the water by adding lactic
WATER acid. This is because sake fermentation yeast are bred
While grapes come with a supply of water in their juice, to be much more tolerant of this acid than any of the
rice does not; therefore sake brewers need to add other spoilage microbes are. Therefore the brewer can
water to the rice to make a fermentable liquid possible . be confident that the only microbe that thrives and
For sake, over 80 per cent of the final product is added multiplies is the yeast they have chosen.
water . The fermentation starter is left until there is a
As long as it is clean, and its iron concentration is population of the brewer's selected yeast that is large
low, almost any water can be used . However, mineral enough to dominate and prevent any other microbes
concentration affects the fermentation and therefore from being active . This takes about two weeks .
the style of the sake . Other traditional methods that do not involve the
addition of lactic acid and that take longer to complete
YEAST are also sometimes used (see Chapter 11The
The final ingredient, which is needed to convert sugar Fermentation Starter for more details).
into alcohol, is yeast. Special yeast strains are required
to cope with the particular conditions found in sake THE MAIN FERMENTATION
fermentations. They must keep working even when The brewer is now ready to construct the main
the alcohol level is high. Alcohol levels in sake can be fermentation . As previously mentioned, if all of the
over 20% abv. Also the yeast strains often have to ingredients are added together in one go, there is a risk
work in cold conditions. For example, the fermentation that the yeast and the acid that is helping them thrive
temperatures for ginjo sake can be as low as 6°C. will become too diluted to protect the fermenting batch
Furthermore , ginjo fermentations can have very low from other undesirable microbes. The brewer does not
levels of sugar. Such a limited supply of food is want to add any more acid because this would make
something only particular strains of yeast can tolerate . the final product too acidic . Instead, they build the
For these reasons, the industry has identified certain fermentation in stages to ensure that at each moment
yeast strains that have been isolated and shared there are enough yeast to protect the fermentation
between brewers. These strains are also chosen for against contamination from other undesirable microbes.
particular desirable properties (such as being very This takes place over a period of four days .
reliable or for producing interesting aromas).
AN OVERVIEW OF SAKE PRODUCTION 7

• Day 1 - About 1/6 of the total steamed rice, water are put under great stress. In response to this, they
and koji are mixed together (including the small produce chemicals that have distinct aromas including
portion used to make the fermentation starter) . green apple and fresh banana.
• Day 2 - Nothing is added. The yeast from the starter
need time to multiply and spread through the whole JOZOALCOHOL AND FILTRATION
mixture. When the fermentation is stopped the brewer has
• Day 3 - About 2/6 (= 1/3 or twice as much as day 1) what looks like an alcoholic porridge because of the
of the total ingredients are added, and the yeast rice solids that remain. The liquid also retains a large
continue to multiply to occupy the liquid. population of yeast and these are inactive as they have
Day 4 - The remaining 3/6 (=½or the same as day 1 been chilled to a sufficiently cold temperature. To make
and 3 combined) of the total ingredients is added, a clear, stable sake, the brewer must remove these
and the now vigorous yeast population can multiply from the liquid by passing the liquid through a mesh
to fill the whole tank. that holds back the solid parts. This process is called
filtration.
Once the main fermentation has been built, the brewer Just before filtration takes place some brewers add
now has a liquid where two processes are happening a small amount of distilled alcohol calledjozo alcohol.
at the same time. The koji enzymes are breaking down This is done because sake flavours dissolve more in
the starch into sugar to make food for the yeast and at alcohol than in water. The extra alcohol helps ensure
the same time the yeast are consuming the sugar and more of the flavours go into the sake, and are not left
creating alcohol, carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and heat. behind in the rice solids. Water is added later to reduce
It is important the brewer makes sure that these two the alcohol strength back down to around 15-17% abv.
processes happen at the right speed. If there is too Sakes where this technique is not used are labelled as
much koji enzymes, too much sugar is created and Junmai (see Chapter 3 Sake Labelling Terms for more
the yeast are not able to consume all of the sugar; details).
the resulting sake will become too sweet. If there is There are a number of different techniques that
too little, the yeast will run out of sugar and die . If the brewers can use to filter their sake. Some use more
brewer has managed the earlier stages correctly, there traditional methods, for example, putting the fermenting
will be just the right amount of enzyme producing sugar porridge into bags and hanging them up to let the clear
and the right amount of yeast eating the sugar to keep liquid drip out slowly, a method that just uses gravity.
these processes in balance. This is labour-intensive, and so nowadays more
The main fermentation takes about three to five automated processes are used to speed up the
weeks, depending on the temperature. The colder the process (see Chapter 13 Jozo Alcohol and Filtration for
temperature, the longer it takes. more details) .
Once the fermentation has reached the desired level The resulting filtered sake is clear with a pale lemon-
of alcohol and sweetness, the brewer inteNenes to green or lemon colour. Many brewers choose to
stop the process by chilling the liquid to such a low remove this colour by using charcoal fining.
temperature that the yeast stop fermenting altogether.
The level of alcohol typically ranges from 17%abv to FINISHING
20% abv, although it can be lower. Nearly all sakes Some sakes are bottled immediately after filtration;
have some unfermented sugar. others are first rested in a tank. Either way, most sake is
stored at the brewery (in either bottle or tank) for a few
Fermentation Temperatures weeks or months to allow the flavours to become more
Overall, sake fermentations are relatively cool, ranging balanced before the sake is released.
from 6°C to 18°C (43-64 °F). By running the fermentation However, filtered sake is not completely stable and
at the upper or lower end of this range the brewer can there are two things that can cause a sake to develop
significantly affect the final style of the sake. faulty or unpleasant aromas:

Warmer fermentation temperatures - In these Microbial Contamination


conditions the yeast work more quickly. The resulting Filtering can be used to remove all of the yeast.
sakes tend to be fuller-bodied, with more rice/cereal However, this is not always completely successful and
and spicy/earthy flavours . some brewers do not use such sophisticated filters.
Also, it is possible for bacteria and other microbes to
Colder fermentation temperatures - In these find their way into the sake. Some alcohol-tolerant
conditions the yeast work more slowly. The resulting bacteria can feed on the remaining sugars and have
sakes are lighter-bodied, with more floral/fruity flavours. the potential to create faulty aromas .
Extremely cold, slow, long fermentations are used for
sake styles that are referred to as ginjo. In very cold Chemical Reactions
conditions, with very little food to consume, the yeast The koji enzymes are not removed by filtration.
8 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

SAKE BREWING
This overview shows the key stages in sake brewing and the main choices available to the brewer .
The individual stages are covered in greater detail in Chapters 8-14.

KOJIPRODUCTION
RICESTEAMING

~
Koji

NOTSHOWN
t
~ Steamedrice

\,,
-====---=aa===---- i-==----
FERMENTATION
STARTER
RICEPOLISHING
, WASHING,
SOAKING
Yeast • buildsstrongyeast population
• highlypolished- lighterbody,fruity
, coarselypolished- fuller body,grain
, specificyeaststrains
flavours
chosenfor certainstyles

Water

FILTRATION Lactic acid


, removesomeor all of the rice solids
II' = majorityof sake

)( = kimoto or yomohoi

..
JozoAlcohol

, can be added beforefiltration

cloudysake II' = majorityof sake

)( = junmai styles

o\C~ o\C~ o\C~


c\A c\A c\A
AMOUNT
OFFILTRATION CHARCOAL
FINING PASTEURISATION STORAGE

• is the sakecompletely , removecolourand • destroysmicrobesand , sakeis storedfor a few


clearor not undesirablearomas enzymesto makesake months,typicallyin bulk,
stable to allow the flavoursto -
marry.
II' = majorityof sake V = majorityof sake V = majorityof sake

)( = nigori )( = muroka )( = nama

Note:Therearea numberof
options
forpasteurisation
. See
Chapter14for details.
AN OVERVIEW OF SAKE PRODUCTION 9

BUILDING THE MAIN FERMENTATION

Day1 Add Total fill

fermentation starter
water
koji
steamed rice 1/6

Day2 Add Total fill

nothing 1/6

Water

..
Day3 Add Total fill

water
koji
steamed rice 1/2
MAINFERMENTATION

Parallelprocesses
• conversionof starchto sugar
• alcoholicfermentation(17-20%abv)
A Add Total fill

.................
V····
Fermentationtemperature Day4
• warmer- fuller bodied,grainflavours
• cooler- lighter bodied,fruity,floral water
koji
steamed rice Full

o,c~ o,c~
c~ BOTTLING c~ SALES
DILUTION EXTENDED
STORAGE
• reducesaketo a more • sakecan be agedfor
approachablestrength a numberof yearsin

~
15-17%abv a brewery
= majorityof sake t/ =koshu

)( = genshu )( = majorityof sake

Note:Mostsakesarepasteurised
for Note: Extendedageingcanhappen
a secondtimeat timeof bottling. in bottleor bulk. See Chapter15for
details.
10 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Therefore they remain active and can continue low temperature . However, such sakes are not stable
converting any leftover starch into sugar and cause the because when the temperature rises the microbes
creation of unpleasant flavours. and enzymes will become active again. Nevertheless,
many breweries release some unpasteurised (nama)
One way to avoid these problems is to heat the sake to sake because they have a uniquely lively and fresh
a high enough temperature for a long enough period . character . Nama-zakes (unpasteurised sakes) generally
Heating kills the microbes and destroys the koji have a short shelf life. They must be kept refrigerated
enzymes, making the product more stable. Usually, to avoid rapid spoilage and to retain their fresh, lively
sake is heat sterilised twice, before tank storage and at character until they are consumed.
bottling . The second heating can be done just before
the sake is bottled (so the liquid is hot when it goes It is also common to add a small amount of water at
into the bottle), or it can be done by heating up the the bottling stage to adjust the sake to its ideal
sake once bottled. Either way, the seal on the bottle drinking strength of about 15-17% abv. After storage
ensures that there is no further risk of contamination . and bottling, the sake is ready to be labelled and
The process of heating is called pasteurisation. transported from the brewery for sale (see Chapter 5
The problems that can be caused by microbes and Storage and Service of Sake for more details).
enzymes can be avoided if the sake is chilled to a very
SAKE LABELLING TERMS 11

SakeLabellingTermsJapanese sake labels can be exceptionally beautiful, with


traditional images and calligraphy, but the lack of any English
script can make them frustratingly hard to understand. In many export markets, it is a legal
3
requirement to provide certain key information. In this chapter we will look at these terms as written
in the Roman alphabet. It is helpful to be able to recognise some of the Japanese symbols, which
indicate what category a sake belongs to and the style it is likely to be made in. Sake labelling terms
written in Japanese kanji are covered in Chapter 16 Japanese Sake Labels and Kanji.

CATEGORIESOF SAKE yeast under stress, causing them to produce fruity


Sake is divided into two categories: basic sake and flavours similar to green apple and fresh banana. This
premium sake. style of sake is labelled as ginjo. A particularly extreme
version of this requires the rice to be polished so that
Premium Sake (Tokutel-meisho-shu) 50 per cent or less remains . This style is labelled as
Premium sake can only be made using rice, water, koji, daiginjo.
yeast and, for some categories, a small amount of high- By contrast, if the rice is polished more coarsely
strength distilled alcohol. Koji must account for 15 per (more than 60 per cent remains), then there will be
cent or more of the rice that is used. more flavour in the sake from the proteins, lipids,
Premium sake is further divided into eight grades. vitamins and minerals that remain from the outer part
The six that are most widely used are defined of the rice. These elements also provide more nutrients
according to two aspects of production: the polishing for the yeast, so the fermentation is faster and warmer.
ratio of the rice, and whether any distilled alcohol was Under these conditions the yeast produce much lower
added before filtration. The other two grades, which levels of fruity aromas, and the sake is fuller-bodied,
share the name tokubetsu, are defined by the use of with more rice/cereal and earth/spice flavours. There is
a particular polishing ratio or the use of special no separate labelling term to indicate coarsely polished
ingredients or production processes. The Japanese rice, but if the sake is labelled as justjunmai or honjozo
term for premium sake is tokutei-meisho-shu. (without mentioning ginjo or daiginjo) then it is likely to
Just over one third of Japanese sake is premium be in this style. All eight categories of premium sake
sake. This proportion is increasing. must show the polishing ratio on the label.
The four ginjo grades together account for just
Basic Sake (Futsu-shu) over a third of the premium sake made in Japan . This
The remaining two thirds of Japanese sake is futs □ -shu. proportion is increasing.
This is less tightly regulated than premium sake and
producers are allowed to use some other ingredients, Junmai and Aruten
such as amino acids (for umami), sugars and acids. The The use of high-strength distilled alcohol has very little
Japanese term for basic sake is futsD-shu, but this term effect on the sake. It does not increase the alcohol,
rarely appears on the label. Instead, brewers tend to because water is added later. It subtly enhances the
label these sakes with a brand name that is unique to aromas, and can make the sake slightly lighter in body.
them . For futsD-shu, its use increases volume and helps
reduce the cost.
GRADES OF PREMIUM SAKE Distilled alcohol (jozo arukoru) is used for most
Ginjo and Non-glnjo sake. There is no legally defined labelling term that
The polishing ratio, together with the temperature of indicates that distilled alcohol has been used;
the fermentation, has a distinct effect on the style of the however, if used, distilled alcohol must be listed in
sake. If the rice is very highly polished (with 60 per cent the ingredients on the label, and these sakes are
or less remaining), then there is little of the proteins, commonly referred to as aruten which is an
lipids, vitamins and minerals left from the outer part abbreviation arukoru-tenka (alcohol addition). Instead,
of the rice grains. The main ingredient is almost pure the term junmai has been created to identify sakes
starch, so the sake has very pure, delicate flavours, where high-strength distilled alcohol is not added.
with a light body and low acidity. This kind of sake is Junmai can appear on its own, or followed by ginjo or
fermented at extremely low temperatures. The cold daiginjo to indicate sake made from highly polished
temperatures and low levels of yeast nutrients put the rice, and with no high-strength distilled alcohol added.
12 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Ginjo and daiginjo can be used on their own to Kimoto - A sake made using an older, slower method
indicate sake made from highly polished rice (50-60 for the fermentation starter. This method produces
per cent or less remaining), but with a small amount of sakes with higher acidity and more depth and
high-strength distilled alcohol added . Honjozo is a term complexity. See Chapter 11The Fermentation Starter
used for sake made from relatively coarsely polished (Shubo/Moto) for more details.
rice (70 per cent or less remaining), with a small amount
of high-strength distilled alcohol added . These sakes Yamahai - A sake made using a simplified version of
tend to taste similar to junmai (rice/cereal and kimoto. This method also tends to result in sakes with
earth/spice flavours) but incline towards being slightly higher acidity, and more depth and complexity. See
lighter in body. Chapter 11The Fermentation Starter (Shubo/ Moto) for
more details.
Tokubetsu
Tokubetsu is a term used alongside honjozo and Muroka - A sake that has not been fined with active
junmai. It means 'special' and denotes a special kind of charcoal to remove colour. These sakes typically
honjozo or junmai. There are three ways for a sake to have a pale lemon-green or lemon appearance. See
qualify for this: Chapter 14 Finishing for more details.
The rice is polished to below 60 per cent.
The sake is made exclusively from sake-specific rice. Nama - A sake that has not been pasteurised . Note
It includes some other process that the brewer has that because Japanese people soften the 's' to a 'z'
arranged to be legally recognised. when talking about nama-sake, it is usually spelled
nama-zake. Nama-chozo indicates sake that has been
The first of these is by far the most common and means stored without pasteurisation, but is pasteurised at the
that the sakes could be labelled as a ginjo or junmai time of shipment. See Chapter 14 Finishing for more
ginjo, but the brewer has decided to label them as details.
tokubetsu honjozo or tokubetsu junmai instead.
Genshu - A sake that has not had water added before
OTHER LABELLING TERMS INDICATING STYLE bottling. These sakes tends to be slightly higher in
Production Processes alcohol, but because the brewer can manage the
There are some sakes that use variations on the ferment so it finishes with an alcohol level in the normal
production process described in Chapter 2 An range of 15-17% abv, the alcohol is not always notably
Overview of Sake Production. These variations can high. See Chapter 14 Finishing for more details.
produce sakes with characteristics that are different
from a standard sake. Of these terms, only nama, nama-chozo, and genshu
are legally defined.

Table 4: The eight grades of premium sake.


POLISHING NO DISTILLED
ALCOHOL SMALLAMOUNTOF Sakewith no added Sakewith smallamounts
DISTILLED
ALCOHOL distilledalcohol of distilledalcohol

50% Junmai daiginjo Daiginjo

Junmaiginjo Ginjo
60%
Tokubetsu
junmai Takubetsu
honjozo

Junmai* Honjozo
70%
Takubetsu
junmai** Tokubetsu
hanjozo**

100%

"'
• Forjunmai, the regulationsdo not stipulatea rice polishingratio; however,unpolished E
0
rice is rarelyusedfor sakemaking. :;;
e
~
·o
••rokubetsujunmai and tokubetsuhonj6z6can only havea rice polishingratio of over
"'
Q)
60 per cent or if there is someotherfactorthat qualifiesthem as tokubetsu. 0
E

••• A sakemadefrom ricewith a polishingratio of over70 per cent and madewith the
additionof distilledalcoholis not a premiumsake.

□ Tokubetsu
junmai L:>.Tokubetsu
honjozo
SAKE LABELLING TERMS 13

FRONT LABELS
Front labels usually have a brand name or brewery name prominently displayed. The sake category and other
information that indicates style is also likely to be clearly visible . Sakes with no back label often include some
technical detail on the front label.
Yamahai- This is a type of fermentation
Brandnames starteroften associatedwith richerflavours
Theseare clearlythe mostprominentfeatureof the label. and textures.The symbolsin print are:
UJ~
a
,t.
iii

l..

Omachi- A type
of sake-specific
rice.
7 lie
lS/ltJ;.(J:16/J!*illl
r.om11Jts<C11i!l!l
JisC:-jL:(C!li!l!Jls)
ffl)l<:'];,&60%
Junmai- A gradeof premiumsake 11!11]'100%
whichtypicallyhaveprominentrice and l.8Liia
lacticaromas.Thesymbolsin print are:
!Jl!Jfi~J'l

till*
BACK LABELS
Back labels typically show technical detail.

A moreexport-friendly labelthat containsa lot


of informationthat is relativelyeasyto
AAA
Rice:Yamadanishltd grade
understand.
Junmai (iinjo Rice Polish Ratio:
KoJI55% Kake 60% Kake- Thisis a contractionof kake-maiwhich is

ISOJIMAN ~~:''1~ :1·3


1~:i_i:ve1 steamedrice not usedto makek6ji. Oncecooled
this rice is transferredto a fermentationvessel.

Shudo-This indicatesSMV. It is a compressionof


nihonshu-do.

Seimai-buai- Polishingratio.Thekoji
is polishedto 55% andthe other rice is
polishedto 60%.

San-do-Acidity scale.In this scale


mostsakefalls between 1 and 2.

K6bo- Yeast. This is informationabout


the strainof yeast used.

Nihon-shu- The officialterm for sake.


Theother term that can be usedis
sei-shu;• ~ -
14 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Speciality Styles of Sake junmai ginjo sake could also be either yamahai,
There are several styles of speciality sakes that are muroka, nama, genshu, nigori, sparkling or koshu, or
remarkably different from standard sake. Five of these even a combination of some of these speciality styles.
are discussed below and these styles are covered in
more detail in Chapter 15 Speciality Styles of Sake. NIHONSHU-DO (SAKE METER VALUE, SMV)
There is no legislation covering label terms for
Nigori - A sake that has been roughly filtered, or is a sweetness levels in sake. However, the information on
blend of clear sake and roughly filtered sake. This sake a sake label often includes a measure called Nihonshu-
is cloudy, because of the suspended particles of rice. do (translated as sake meter value, SMV). Strictly, this
is a measure of the density of the sake (relative to the
Sparkling - Sparkling sakes can be as fizzy as density of water), and is used by brewers when tracking
sparkling wines. Various techniques exist for ensuring the progress of their ferments.
there is dissolved carbon dioxide gas in the bottled For a given level of alcohol, the SMV can be a guide
sake. Note, there are Japanese terms for sparkling to the amount of sugar present, because sugar and
sakes, but we do not give them here because they alcohol are the main (though not the only) determinants
are not widely used outside of Japan. of density. For this reason, SMV is widely used as a
rough, but not particularly reliable, indicator of
Koshu - These sakes are aged for an extended period. sweetness and dryness. Most normal sakes are
These sakes are often gold or amber in colour and between about -2 and +8 on this scale, with the
have complex aromas of honey, toast, nuts, dried fruit average being about +4, corresponding to about 17 g/L
and pickled vegetables. sugar. Higher is generally drier. SMV values higher
than +10 are unusual, and such sakes will often be
Kijoshu - Nearly all sakes have some unfermented marketed based on their dryness. Sweet sakes tend
sugar. In the case of kijoshu this level of sugar is so to have SMV values of -30 to -100.
high that they are correctly described as either sweet
or luscious. LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR JAPANESE SAKE
LABELS
Taru-zake - A sake that has been matured in Japanese Sake brewed in Japan must comply with laws covering
cedar barrels. These sakes pick up distinct aromas what may or may not appear on the main label. The
from the cask. laws cover compulsory, and some optional, labelling
items. Sake brewed outside of Japan does not have to
Of these terms, only taru-zake is legally defined, comply with these (unless they are exported to Japan),
though legislation determines how age statements for but most non-Japanese brewers tend to follow similar
koshu can be expressed. conventions, depending on local laws. For example,
non-Japanese brewers would use the Japanese term
Terms from either of these two lists above can be ginjo only if the rice is polished to below 60 per cent,
applied to any grade of premium sake, or they can even though the term is not legally controlled in their
equally be applied to a futsO-shu. For example, a country .
These laws cover the main (front) label. In addition
Table 5: A comparison between western and Japanese calendars. to this, some sake back labels include highly detailed
technical information such as the SMV, total acidity
WESTERN
YEAR HEISEiYEAR BREWING
YEAR(BY)
and amino acidity (both using a Japanese scale), and
1Januaryto Year1= 1989yearwhen 1Julyto 31June. information about the specific yeast strains.
31December the currentemperor Thebrewingyeartakesits
cameto the throne numberheiseiyear on 1July
Compulsory Label Information
2011 23 2011-12= BY23 The label must state the following information:
2012 24 2012-13= BY24 the product category (Sei-shu is the Japanese legal
term for sake, and Nihon-shu is recognised as an
2013 25 2013-14= BY25
equivalent)
2014 26 2014-15= BY26 alcohol content by volume(% abv), and total volume
2015 27 2015-16= BY27 of the container
2016 2016-17= BY28
raw ingredients
28
date produced
2017 29 2017-18= BY29
brewery name and address (and country of origin if
2018 30 2018-19= BY30 not from Japan).
2019 31 2019-20 = BY31
'Date produced' is a translation of the Japanese term
2020 32 2020-21 = BY32
in the official legislation. In practice, this is not the date
SAKE LABELLING TERMS 15

the sake was brewed, but is generally the bottling date Optional Labelling Terms
(when the sake was packed and sealed in a container There is some additional information that can also be
for sale). However, for sakes with an age statement, included on the main label:
'date produced' can also be the release date (see the rice variety/ies
section Optional Labelling Terms below) . So, although age statement
'date produced' does not always tell you how old the production locality
sake is, it generally indicates when it was released onto terms indicating production method or style
the market by the brewery . medals and awards .
Many labels use the western calendar, but others
use the Japanese system for periods and years . As noted above, of the terms that indicate production
Japanese history is split into periods which , since the method or style only nama, nama-choz/5, genshu,
mid-nineteenth century, have been aligned with the taru-zake have a legal definition. In addition to these,
reigns of individual emperors . The current emperor ki-ippon is a legally defined term indicating ajunmai
came to the throne in January 1989 and his period has sake that has been produced entirely at a single site.
been named Heisei. Therefore 1989 is Heisei year 1. Although kimoto, yamahai, muroka, nigori, koshu or
This makes 2016, Heisei year 28. kijoshu are not legally defined they can still be used on
To complicate things slightly, brewers use their own a label. Other commonly used terms that are legally
system that follows the 'Brewing Year' (BY), which runs undefined include some terms related to pasteurisation
from 1 July to 31 June of the following year. Therefore (nama-zume, hiya-orosht) and filtration fractions
sake produced in the later part of the brewing season (arabashiri, naka-dori, naka-gumt) or methods (funa-
(January onwards) is treated as being produced in the shibori , to-bin gakot) .
same brewing year as sake made earlier in the season Production localities are not (yet) registered as legally
(between July to December of the previous western controlled Geographical Indications (Gls). The stated
year). The number assigned is the Heisei year the location generally indicates the location of the brewery,
brewing year starts in. So, sakes produced in October rather than where the rice was grown, though these are
2014 and January 2015 would both be 'BY 26' in the sometimes the same. Some products state additional
Japanese calendar , though if western calendar dates information about the origin of the rice on the back
are used these would be 2014 and 2015, respectively . label.
16 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

The SystematicApproachto TastingSake®The WSET Level 3


4 Systematic Approach to
Tasting Sake® (SAT) is a tool that allows you to write a complete and detailed description of a sake
and then use this information to make an evaluation of its quality. It is a structured and methodical
approach to tasting and is therefore not an approach that is suitable for every occasion. Nevertheless,
practising with the SAT will provide a disciplined and structured template that will remind you to
consider all of the important elements of a sake.

THEPURPOSEOFTHESAT of a sake, even if you decide to record only some of


The SAT is a teaching aid and assessment tool that them .
was devised by the WSET to be used in conjunction If your tasting notes are intended to persuade or
with its qualifications . It is designed to develop two entertain, you may wish to add words and ideas that are
fundamental skills: the ability to describe a sake not included here. These might include words that to
accurately and the ability to make reasonable your mind capture the 'personality' of the sake, or
conclusions based on these descriptions. express it using poetic analogies. Nobody can define
these kinds of term precisely, or agree when it is
THE FORMAT OF THE SAT appropriate to use them. This makes them inappropriate
The first part of the SAT consists of three sections for use in an exam, or for a setting where we are trying
entitled 'Appearance', 'Nose' and 'Palate'. This is the to describe sake as objectively as possible and calibrate
descriptive element of the SAT. Each section has its people's palates as closely as possible. This is the main
own category headings, which appear in the left-hand reason these fun, but fanciful , terms are never included
column. The right-hand column lists the terms that you in the SAT.
can select to describe each category heading . For For the WSET Level 3 exam, the exam iner needs you
example, to describe the 'Appearance' of a sake you to demonstrate that you can use the full SAT accurately.
might select 'clear' for the category heading 'Clarity', There are particular rules that apply in the exam
'pale' for 'Intensity', and 'lemon ' for 'Colour' . context that you must follow if you are to maximise your
The second part of the SAT consists of one section marks. These are explained in the tasting chapter of the
entitled 'Conclusions'. This is the evaluative part of the Study Guide that the WSET has produced for the WSET
SAT. It contains two category headings : 'Quality Level' Level 3 Award in Sake.
and 'Identity'. The right-hand column lists the terms that
you can select for each category heading. For example, PREPARING FOR TASTING
you might select 'good' in the 'Quality Level' category In order to taste sake effectively, you need to prepare a
and 'premium ,junmai , yamahai' in the 'Identity ' suitable tasting environment, and you need to prepare
category. yourself.
The SAT is supported by a second document, the The ideal tasting environment has good natural
Sake-Lexicon . This appears on the reverse side of the lighting, for judging the appearance of sakes, and is
laminated SAT card. The Sake-Lexicon is a list of odour free, to avoid interfering with sake aromas. It also
descriptive words covering some suggested aroma has sufficient space for you to lay out your glasses, and
and flavour terms that may help you to describe the make your notes . Spittoons should be available near
sake you are tasting. where you are tasting.
To prepare yourself , you should have a clean palate,
USING THE SAT free of toothpaste or the lingering flavours of strong-
The SAT is intended for use in many contexts, including tasting food . You should also be well-hydrated, because
professional tastings and personal records . It is not dehydration may cause your nasal aroma receptors to
always appropriate to use the full SAT. For example , become dry and lose their sensitivity to aromas. Note
when tasting lots of ginjo sakes in order to select the that it is easy to become dehydrated when tasting a
ones you think are the best for a restaurant or for a large number of sakes , as you will be losing saliva
competition medal, you might just mention the every time you spit out. When smelling sake, the
elements where they differ, and avoid noting colour alcohol will also dehydrate your nose.
unless it deviates from 'clear , water white, colourless '. You will need somewhere to record your notes . This
It is useful to practise using the full SAT to help develop could be something as simple as a notebook and pen, or
a discipline for systematically considering all aspects a laptop or mobile phone with suitable software installed .
THE SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TASTING SAKE" 17

You will also need suitable glassware, which should


be odourless, colourless and free of any residues,
such as detergent or dishwasher salts, or dirt left from
unclean glass polishing cloths. Brewers and judges in
Japan commonly use a 180 ml (6 US fl. oz.) opaque
white porcelain cup with two concentric cobalt blue
colour circles on the bottom. This vessel, called a kiki-
choko ('tasting cup'), is good for determining the clarity
and colour, and highlighting visual faults, but not very
good for displaying the positive features (especially the
aromatic features) that make each sake special. The
same is true for the various small drinking cups widely
used to serve sake.
The ISO glass is suitable for evaluating sake. The
important features are the rounded bowl (to aid swirling
the sake to release aromas) and the inward-sloping
walls (to capture the aromas).
When pouring your samples, you should try to ensure
you consistently pour the same volume into each glass.
We suggest a 5 cl (1.5 US fl. oz.) sample. This should
be sufficient to assess the 'Appearance', 'Nose' and
'Palate' of the sake, but small enough that you are able
to swirl the sample in the base of the bowl without
spilling it.

APPEARANCE Intensity
Clarity Clear sake - Intensity is how much colour the sake has.
Clear sake - For this line there is a three-point scale: The level of intensity can be assessed by holding the
'clear - slightly hazy - hazy'. Many sakes are charcoal glass at a 45 ° angle and looking through the liquid from
fined to remove all traces of haziness, leaving them above to see how far the colour extends from the core
perfectly 'clear'. Sake that has not been treated this (at the deepest part of the bowl) to the rim (where there
way may be 'slightly hazy'; it is still basically clear, and is the shallowest depth of sake).
not faulty, but on close examination the clarity is not Most sakes appear colourless right at the rim when
quite perfect. With the exception of deliberately cloudy the glass is held at a 45° angle. The exceptions are a few
styles, anything more than this is likely to indicate ancient, long-aged sakes, and some thick cloudy sakes.
a fault. If a sake has an unusually high amount of Most clear sakes have at least a hint of colour observable
suspended particles then it can be described as 'hazy'. at the core, but some are sufficiently indistinguishable
This may indicate a fault, but the precise nature of the from water that they can be described as 'water-white'.
fault can normally only be determined by assessing If the sake has a broad watery rim, but some observable
the sake on the 'Nose' and 'Palate'. colour at the core, it should be described as 'pale'. If
there is a distinct, easily observable colour spreading far
Cloudy sake - While all sake must be filtered, some beyond the core, it should be described as 'medium',
are made in a deliberately cloudy style (by filtering and if this colour reaches almost to the rim, it should be
coarsely). The solid material is known as 'lees', and described as 'deep'.
nigori (cloudy) sakes vary widely in the amount of lees Unless the sake is made in an aged or sweet style,
solids. When assessing these you should ensure that a 'medium' or 'deep' colour intensity is usually a sign of
the lees are evenly distributed in the bottle before a fault, such as poor storage or oxidation.
pouring, otherwise the levels in each glass will vary and
will not reflect the true level in the sake. A typical level Cloudy sake - The lees in cloudy sake should be
of nigori cloudiness, 'medium lees', is enough to make 'colourless' or at most be 'slightly coloured'. Anything
the liquid opaque, but with it still flowing easily. Some more than this is likely to indicate a fault such as poor
nigori are made in a lighter style, 'light lees', where storage or bacterial spoilage.
there is enough space between the suspended
particles to see clearly through the liquid, even where Colour
it is deepest in the glass. Others are made in a thick Clear sake - Colour is the balance of levels of green,
style, with a porridge-like texture, coating the glass like yellow or brown found in a sake, and is independent of
a paste when swirled. These are described as having the level of intensity.
'thick lees'. The composition of the sake at the rim is the same as
18 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

the composition at the core, so the colour does not glass, that can affect how the bubbles appear in the
change when looking through different parts of the glass and therefore their appearance cannot reliably
sake in a tilted glass. However, because the depth of indicate anything about the quality of a sparkling sake,
liquid changes, the intensity of the colour changes . which can be more reliably judged by the 'Nose' and
Most sakes appear very pale, almost colourless at the 'Palate' .
rim, so the colour is best judged where there is There is a speciality style of sake that has 'red/pink
sufficient depth of liquid for the colour to be easily tints' (achieved by the use of particular rice, koji, yeast
assessed: at the core. strains or the use of ash). This is not mentioned as a
When clear sake is freshly pressed, it has a slightly normal colour for sake because it is a unique and
'lemon-green' colour (like olive oil). This colour may be deliberate style.
removed by charcoal fining, or may be naturally so pale
that the sake is 'colourless'. As sake is stored or aged, NOSE
oxygen, amino acids and sugars react with each other to A large part of the pleasure to be gained from tasting
produce brown-coloured compounds . These can also be sake comes from the aromas, and the differences in
added by contact with wood (such as Japanese cedar or character and complexity of the aromas account for
oak). At an early stage, these are balanced by the sake's much of the difference between basic quality and very
natural green hint, and so the colour becomes first high-quality sakes.
'lemon' (yellow), then 'gold' (yellow with a slight hint of You should swirl the liquid to release the aromas
orange or brown). As the brown components dominate, into the glass. Then, place your nose near the rim of
the colour becomes 'amber', then fully 'brown'. With the the glass and take a short sniff, noting the 'condition',
exception of sweet or aged styles, 'gold', 'amber' or 'intensity' and general 'aroma characteristics' of the
'brown' colours are usually a sign of a fault, such as poor aromas you find. Some aromas are very delicate, and
storage conditions, oxidation, or contamination with iron, you may gain some insight into the sake by taking a
even when the intensity is 'pale '. quick sniff before swirling.

Cloudy sake - The lees in cloudy sake should be Condition


'pure white', or at most, should have a slightly creamy If the sake looks in good condition it may still show a
whiteness 'off-white'. Anything more than this is likely fault that reveals itself on the nose . With practice, you
to indicate a fault, such as poor storage (leading to the should be able to detect the most common sake faults.
colour turning 'yellow', then 'brown') or undesirable Most sake is brewed by people with considerable
microbiological activity (which can make the lees turn experience and technical expertise, and the brewing
an unappetising 'grey'), or both. process can be controlled very tightly. For these
reasons, faults due to defective production are
Note that although certain colours are more frequently very rare in commercial sakes, though some minor
found at certain levels of intensity ('brown' is usually errors may express themselves as slight, tolerable
deep, whereas 'lemon-green ' is usually pale), it is imperfections. Much more common, especially
possible to encounter all permutations of intensity and because of the delicacy of the product, are problems
colour . Thus 'deep lemon' differs from 'medium gold' due to poor storage, which can include too much light,
both in the intensity of colour and where it lies on the too much heat, or being open for too long .
green to brown spectrum .
Open too long (oxidation) - A bottle that has been
Other Observations open too long loses its fresh aromas and after a few
There are a few other observations that can be made days starts to gain stale aromas, such as caramel and
about the appearance of a sake. toffee, as well as deepening in colour.
When served in a suitable glass, all sakes show
'legs/tears' (streams of liquid that adhere to the side of Out of condition (Hine-ka) - A sake that is too old, or
the glass after the liquid has been swirled). Sakes that that has been stored in bad conditions (especially at
are sweeter or higher in alcohol are more viscous and inappropriately high temperatures) loses its freshness,
have thicker, more persistent legs. and tastes dull and stale. Ginjo sakes lose their delicate
Some sakes show a slight carbon dioxide 'tiny fresh fruity/floral aromas, and sakes in general gain
bubbles' (petillonce). This can be evidence of a fault, off-aromas of oxidation (hints of caramel or toffee).
such as refermentation in the bottle, or other microbial After six months to one year in the market, unpleasant
activity. 'Tiny bubbles' can also be a sign of particularly sulfur compounds can develop, reminiscent of pickled
careful handling, especially in unpasteurised sakes, vegetables and some of the smells more normally
where the 'tiny bubbles' contribute to the impression associated with microbial spoilage (see below).
of liveliness and freshness. For sake stored for many years , these unpleasant
Bubbles are important to sparkling sakes. There are sulfur aromas can eventually develop into mellow
a number of factors, in particular the cleanliness of the caramel-like aromas - but although this development
THE SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TASTING SAKE" 19

is used by producers of koshu , cellaring of sake is


generally not recommended. Note that although some
sake bars (izakayas in Japanese) and some consumers
are experimenting with the effects of ageing sake after
release by the brewer, most sake is released ready-to-
drink and at the stage it is intended to be consumed.
Any changes in the bottle would generally be
considered undesirable by the brewer.

Out of condition nama-zake (Nama-hine-ka) - Enzymes


in unpasteurised sakes cause oxidation reactions and
degradation of amino acids. This leads to the
development of aromas reminiscent of malt, bacon,
geranium and spices. If alcohol-tolerant bacteria are
present, they can cause further unpleasant faults to
develop . These changes can be slowed by keeping
the sake cold .

Light damage - This is a particular kind of fault


associated with poor storage. Sake is very sensitive to
light, and often comes in boxes or opaque packaging
to avoid damage . Light causes a particular set of
unpleasant musky-animal sulfur compounds to
develop, smelling like burnt hair or burning flesh.

Microbial spoilage - Usually sake is pasteurised to Intensity


make it microbiologically stable, but when it is infected Some sakes are intensely aromatic, whereas others are
by a microbial contamination, alcohol tolerant strains not, either because they lack much aromatic interest,
of lactic acid bacteria will produce volatile acids and or because they are made in a deliberately subtle and
diacetyl. This is most likely to appear in nama-zake delicate style. As a general rule, if when you insert
that is stored at room temperature. If microbial spoilage your nose into the glass the aromas are immediately
occurs during sake brewing, it will result in unpleasant- apparent even without sniffing, then they are
smelling sulfur compounds, with a wide range of 'pronounced'. If, even after sniffing, you find the aromas
possible aromas, including rotting vegetables, compost, to be faint and hard to detect, the intensity is 'light'.
sour milk, rancid cheese and even sticking plasters. Otherwise, it falls into the 'medium' category;
'medium(-)', 'medium' or 'medium(+)'.
Other faults - Because cork and oak are very seldom
used, it is rare for sake to have taints that smell of Aroma Characteristics
damp cardboard caused by trichloroanisole (TCA) or Describing a sake's aroma can be a challenging task,
other similar chemicals. However, some brewery especially if the sake is very complex or very delicate.
equipment (and many breweries) are made of wood, The Sake-Lexicon has been designed to help with this
meaning there is a risk of batches acquiring the part of writing a tasting note by offering a structured
characteristic aroma of damp cardboard. approach to aroma identification and description.
Precision in production means that other faults such As you develop your skills of description, you will
as tinned sweetcorn caused by dimethyl sulfide (DMS) find it helpful to consider groups of aroma-types when
and volatile acidity (VA), giving aromas of nail polish describing sake. The Sake-Lexicon provides some
remover and coarse harsh acid, are rare, and taints common groups of aromas, and in some cases links
from brewery equipment (such as plastic, rubber, paper, them to production factors, such as ginjo fermentation
metal, wood) are extremely rare. Where present, they or age . The presence of one of these aromas does not
are unlikely to be prominent features, and so can be automatically mean the sake is made using that
treated as tolerable defects rather than absolute faults. technique. However, if most of the aromas come from
Similarly, the evidence of bad production decisions those groups, then it is very likely that the technique
(such as letting some of the koji die due to excess heat, has been used.
or fermenting slightly too fast or slow) are things that
expert brewers and tasters might be able to spot and Ginjo - These are fruity esters produced as a result of
comment on, but the effects are subtle, even to the yeast being stressed during the fermentation. The main
most expert consumers. ones produced are isoamyl acetate (banana aroma) and
ethyl caproate (green apple or green melon aroma), but
20 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

WSETLevel3 SystematicApproachto TastingSake®


Notesfor students:
APPEARANCE
For lineswherethe entries
are separatedby hyphens- Clarity clearsake clear - slightly hazy- hazy(faulty?)
Youmustselectone andonly cloudysake light lees - medium lees - thick lees
one of theseoptions. Intensity clearsake water-white - pale - medium- deep
cloudysake colourless- slightly coloured - coloured (faulty?)
For lines startingwith 'e.g.'
Colour clearsake colourless- lemon-green- lemon - gold - amber - brown
where the entriesare
cloudysake pure white - off-white - yellow - brown - grey (faulty)
separatedwith commas-
Theseare entriesthat you
Otherobservations e.g. legs/tears,tiny bubbles, bubbles, red/pink tints
shouldconsiderwhenwriting
your tastingnote.Youmay NOSE
notneedto commenton
eachentryfor everysake.
-------------------------------------------
Condition clean - unclean(faulty?)
Intensity light - medium(-)- medium- medium(+)- pronounced
Aromacharacteristics e.g. ginjo-ka,other fruity/floral, cereal/grain,lactic/dairy,sweetness,age, other

PALATE
Sweetness dry - off-dry - medium-dry- medium-sweet- sweet - luscious
Acidity low - medium(-)- medium- medium(+)- high
Umami low - medium(-)- medium- medium(+)- high
Alcohol low - medium- high
Body light - medium(-)- medium- medium(+)- full
Mousse delicate - creamy - aggressive
Flavourintensity light - medium(-)- medium- medium(+)- pronounced
Flavourcharacteristics e.g. ginjo-ka,other fruity/floral, cereal/grain,lactic/dairy,sweetness,age, other
Otherobservations e.g. balance,texture,finish
Finish short - medium(-)- medium- medium(+)- long

CONCLUSIONS
ASSESSMENT
OFQUALITY
Qualitylevel faulty- poor - acceptable- good - very good - outstanding
THESAKEIN CONTEXT
Identity Category:futsD-shuvspremium,ginjo vsnon-ginjo
Productionmethods:nama,kimoto/yamahai
Specialstyle:sparkling,koshu,kijoshu,nigori

a range of other aromas can also be produced and the Cereal/grain - Although sake tends not to smell or
level present can also affect how they seem to smell. taste of rice, some sakes can have rice-derived aromas .
These are generally fruity and floral aromas . These tend to be sakes made from relatively coarsely
polished rice .
Fruit/floral (other than ginjo) - Even when ginjo
techniques are not used, fruity aromas can appear in Lactic/dairy - Some of the fatty acids produced by
the sake. Like ginjo aromas, these are also mainly yeast can have aromas that suggest yoghurt, milk or
created by the yeast. A very typical aroma is ripe cheese . Usually these acids combine with alcohols to
banana (or even brown banana), present in many make more pleasant fruity esters, but some sakes
junmai and futsO-shu sakes, and not to be confused retain some dairy-like aromas.
with ginjo aromas, which tend to be fresher and purer Yeast and bacteria can also produce diacetyl, which
in character. has a buttery aroma. Bacteria can also produce
THE SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TASTING SAKE" 21

WSETLevel3 Sake-Lexicon:supportingthe WSETLevel3 SystematicApproachto TastingSake


Noteto Students:
DESCRIBING
AROMA
ANDFLAVOUR
TheWSETLevel3 Sake-
Ginjo banana,apple,pear,melon,lychee,pineapple, cherry, strawberry,aniseed,bubblegum,
Lexiconis designedto be a
blossom,lily, rose
promptand a guidewhich
Fruity/floral ripe banana,bananabread,fig, you do not needto
(otherthanginjo) grape,nectarine,apricot,plum,lemon,orange memorise.Youcanpassthe
white flowers tastingexamination
with

Cereal/grain riceflour,bran,steamedrice, porridge,toastedcereal,malt distinctionif you usethe


descriptorsin the Sake-
Lactic/dairy milk, cream, yoghurt,butter,freshcheese(creamcheese,mozzarella),maturecheese(cheddar)
Lexiconbut you do not need
Sweetness cottoncandy,honey,sugarcane,brownsugar/molasses to limit yourselfto these

Age(koshu) honey,molasses,caramel,soy,driedfruits, coffee,chocolate,meatbroth,clove,cinnamon, termsandthe examinerswill

fenugreek,almond,walnut, pickledvegetables,soy sauce,bacon,compost acceptother descriptorsso


long as they are accurate.
Other nuts/beans coffee,chocolate,fresh hazelnut,freshalmond,chestnut,freshwalnut,roastednuts,
caramelisednuts
herbs mint, basil,lemongrass,grass
spices clove,cinnamon,nutmeg,pepper
other earthy,mushroom,hay
meat(broth,ham,roastmeat),
Japanesecedar,oak aromas

COMMENTING
ONTEXTURE,
BALANCE
ANDFINISH
Textureandbalance creamy,silky,velvety,rich,
vibrant,refreshing,crisp,dryness(tanreikarakuch1)
hintsof bitterness(nigam1) or astringency(shubum1)
Finish kire (clean,crispfinish)

FAULTS
Opentoo long staleness,oxidation,caramel,toffee
Nama-hine pickledvegetables,caramel,toffee, rotten vegetables
Nama-hine-ka malt, bacon,geranium,spices
Lightdamage burnedhair,sulfurous,musky
Microbiological
spoilage egg, rottingvegetable,compost,onion,sour milk, rancidcheese,sweat,sulfurous,
stickingplasters
Otherfaults dampcardboard(TCA) , tinned sweetcorn(DMS),volatile acidity(:JA)
taintsfrom productionequipment(plastic,rubber, paper, metal,wood)
Palatedefects unpleasantbitterness,astringency
, coarseness/roughness
, poor balance

compounds with yoghurt or cheesy aromas. Sake indicate that the sake has a sweet taste. Sugar has no
brewers generally avoid all of these processes. aroma.
However, methods such as yamahai and kimoto In addition to these, there are several other types of
(relying on bacteria) can lead to the presence of such aromas that may appear in sake, including aromas of
aromas, and they can positively contribute to the nuts/beans and herbs/spices.
complexity of some junmai styles of sake.
PALATE
Sweetness and age (koshu) - Both of these diverse Components such as sugar, acids and alcohol are
groups of aromas develop with time. They may also be important because they contribute to the balance and
present at some level in sakes that are not labelled as style of the sake, and are the most important factors in
koshu, especially sakes with high levels of sugar. Note pairing sake successfully with food. There are many
that aromas that are often described as sweet do not different components to consider on the palate and
22 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

therefore it is often necessary to take more than one level of acid in the sake. The acids in sake seem more
sip of sake in order to assess it fully. In some cases, prominent when the product is warmed.
the effect of one component can interfere with the Traditionally, acidity was not desired by Japanese
impression made by another; alcohol and fruit, for sake consumers, and the techniques used for ginj/5-
example, add to the perception of sweetness, whereas style sakes, and the yeast types developed for this,
acidity can mask sweetness. As a trained taster, you tended to lead to relatively 'low' levels of acidity. More
are aiming to assess the actual levels of these recently, there has been a trend to relatively 'high'
components, not the apparent level, as objectively levels of acidity. These tend to be found in non-ginj/5
as possible. sakes, especially where yamahai or kimoto methods
have been used for the fermentation starter, or where
Sweetness more vigorous ki5ji growth or acid-enhancing yeast
Sweetness is the taste of sugars present in the sake, cultures have been used.
though alcohol and glycerol can also add a perception
of sweetness. Most sake has a noticeable level of Umami
sugar, providing softness and sweetness. Umami is a primary taste sensation triggered by the
'Dry' sakes (below 4 g/L of sugar) are almost unheard presence of some amino acids (molecules that link
of, but a few do exist. If a sake tastes basically dry, but together to make proteins). Learning to detect umami
there is a tiny amount of detectable sugar (typically and identify how much is present is especially
about 5-9 g/L), then it can be described as 'off-dry'. challenging, but the variations in umami levels are
This 'off-dry' description covers almost all sakes that an important part of the stylistic differences between
have Japanese indicators for dryness prominently in sakes.
their name or on the label. These could include very Amino acids are created by ki5ji activity and the
high nihonshu-do numbers (above 10), or Japanese breakdown of yeast. The taste can be described as a
terms such as karakuchi ('dry taste') savoury deliciousness, and is also found in high levels
Unless the sake has some indication of particular in seaweed and fermented and aged foods, such as
dryness or sweetness on the label, the sake is probably mature cheeses and soy sauce. Sakes that are made
in the medium category ('medium-dry' or 'medium- with the minimum amount of ki5ji enzymes and
sweet'). With practice, you will be able to identify if the fermented slowly at low temperatures (i.e. ginj/5 and
sake is slightly on the drier side ('medium-dry') or on daiginj/5 styles) tend to be 'low' in umami (though still
the richer, sweeter side ('medium-sweet') of 'medium'. with higher levels than typically found in wine). Junmai
Sweet sakes are a specialist style and require sakes made with high levels of ki5ji activity, especially
specialist production techniques. Most sweet sakes those that use kimoto or yamahai methods for the
are simply 'sweet', but in a few exceptional cases the fermentation starter, tend to be 'high' in umami.
dissolved sugar contributes significantly to the texture,
making it rich and syrupy. Such sakes can be described Alc:ohol
as 'lusc:ious'. Alcohol contributes to the texture and body of a sake.
Alcohol is more viscous than water, and higher levels
Ac:idity make a sake seem heavier in the mouth. At low levels,
Acidity gives sake its freshness, but the levels present the sake can seem watery, unless there is another
are around one-fifth of the levels present in wine, component such as sugar to give body.
because rice contains no significant levels of acids. The At high levels, alcohol triggers pain receptors, giving
acids present in sake are mostly created by microbes a hot, burning sensation, especially after spitting or
(lactobacillus in some types of yeast starter, ki5ji mould swallowing. This burning sensation can be confused
activity or yeasts as a side-product of fermentation), with the tingling sensation caused by acidity. Therefore,
but small amounts may be added (the small amount of if you are trying to distinguish the two, consider
lactic acid added to most fermentation starters, or the whether the sake is also mouth-watering (and therefore
acids that brewers are permitted to add to futsO-shu). high in acidity) or feels thick and viscous (and high in
In all cases, the level is too low to provide protection alcohol). Remember that it may be high in both.
against microbial attack. As a guide:
The main acids present in sake are lactic, succinic, • low: below 14.0% abv
glutamic and malic (with glutamic contributing also to • medium(-): 14.0-15.4% abv
the umami flavour). Unlike volatile acids, these acids • medium: 15.5-16.4% abv
are odourless and can only be detected on the palate. • medium(+): 16.5-17.4% abv
For most people, acidity is detected most strongly • high: 17.5% abv and above.
at the sides of the tongue, where it causes a sharp,
tingling sensation, and makes their mouth water as it Note that because of water adjustment at bottling,
tries to restore its natural acid balance. The more your sakes made with added alcohol are not necessarily
mouth waters, and the longer it waters, the higher the higher in alcohol thanjunmai sakes.
THE SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TASTING SAKE® 23

Sakes above 17%abv tend to be genshu (bottled


without the addition of water), but it is possible for
genshu sakes to be made to achieve a naturally lower
alcohol level.

Body
Body, or mouthfeel, is the textural impression created
by a sake. It is not a single component, but is an overall
impression of textural richness created by all the
structural components working together. For most
sake, alcohol is the main factor contributing to body.
Partially broken down starch molecules (such as
dextrins) provide much of the 'mouth-coating' texture
of sake, and sugar also increases textural richness
and therefore body.

Mousse
Mousse is relevant only in the discussion of sparkling
sakes. For most sparkling sakes, expect the mousse to
be 'creamy', in other words, enough to provide a lively
sparkle on the palate without seeming too frothy or
aggressive. Some sparkling sakes are extremely lively,
and seem to explode on the palate, then lose all their
bubbles in one quick blast. These would be described
as 'aggressive'. Other sparkling sakes (generally those
that are bottled at a lower than typical pressure of rarely found in sake and is generally undesirable.
dissolved carbon dioxide or have a higher level of However, it can contribute to the overall complexity of
sugar) have bubbles that are very soft and fine. These aged sakes.
are described as 'delicate'.
Shibumi - A Japanese word for astringency (textural
Flavour Intensity and Characteristics dryness). This can be a pleasant grippiness when it
Generally, flavours on the palate should be the same occurs at a low level.
as the aromas detected on the nose. However, the
warming of the sake in your mouth can make some Zatsumi - A Japanese term for an unpleasant
characteristics appear more apparent than they were roughness and lack of harmony.
on the nose. Savoury, earthy, spicy and toasty
characteristics tend to be more prominent on the Finish
palate. Fruity and floral characteristics are sometimes The finish is the collection of sensations after you have
less prominent on the palate than they appear on the swallowed or spat the sake out. The length of the finish
nose. is an indicator of style. What happens in the finish is
an indicator of quality, but the style of the sake needs
Other Comments on Texture and Balance to be taken into account (see below). When assessing
As well as describing the level of components in the the length of the finish you should only count the
sake and the aromas and flavours you find, you may persistence of the desirable sensations; how long the
find it helpful to comment on other aspects too. sensations last will vary from taster to taster. If the
pleasant flavours disappear within a few seconds, the
Texture words - In addition to assessing the level of finish is 'short'. This includes high-quality sakes with a
body, you may wish to describe the mouthfeel of the kire finish. For very intense, complex sakes, the flavours
sake using descriptive words, such as creamy, silky, can last for a minute or more, and the finish is
velvety or rich. described as 'long'.
Kire is a Japanese term for a particular kind of clean,
Tanrei karakuchi - A Japanese term for an overall crisp, cleansing finish. Sake with kire appears to vanish
impression of vibrant, refreshing, crisp dryness. Niigata entirely from the mouth, rather like vodka. On its own,
sakes are especially noted for being made in this style. the sake has a short finish. When partnered with food,
Tanrei indicates lightness, cleanness and sophistication, the cleansing effect acts rather like a sorbet, removing
and karakuchi means dryness. flavours and making the mouth feel clean again. A kire
finish takes great skill to achieve.
Nigami - A Japanese term for bitterness. Bitterness is
24 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

CONCLUSIONS the alcohol is a little more noticeable on the finish in


In the Level 3 examination you will be expected to non-junmai sakes, but because of adjustments in
evaluate a sake's quality and draw some conclusions production, there are no systematic differences in the
about how it has been made. In do ing so you will not levels of alcohol or sweetness when comparing the
be expected to provide reasons for your choice but it two styles .
is helpful if you understand some relevant factors to
consider when making your decision. Pasteurised vs. unpasteurised sake - Do the aromas
suggest the sake could be unpasteurised? Young,
Identity nama-zakes have a vibrant freshness, also expressed
In order to identify a sake correctly, you need skill, on the palate and the long finish (which has a liveliness
knowledge and sometimes a little luck . Your tasting due to dissolved carbon dioxide) . The aromas are less
skills can be used very effectively to identify the kind of precisely defined than in pasteurised sakes, and can
sake you have. It can be helpful to look at the following typically have a fresh chestnut aroma. Nama-zakes that
aspects . have been matured for a short period begin to show
The quality level (see below) is the best clue complex aromas of malt, bacon, and (sometimes) hints
regarding whether the sake is premium sake or futsu - of geranium, with a lively palate and a long finish. Badly
shu . This is especially the case when it seems to fall stored nama-zake can show microbial faults , leading to
into a particular category of premium sake (e.g. unpleasant nama-hine aromas such as sour milk and
ginjo!daiginjo). Futsu-shu should be well made, but rotting cheese .
lack the finesse and precision of premium sakes .
Kimoto or yamahai - Noticeably high acidity, together
Ginjo vs. non-ginjo - Are there any ginjo aromas with more complex aromas and richer texture can
present? These are generally fruity aromas , such as suggest the use of kimoto or yamahai methods for
green melon, apple and fresh banana, but can include starting the fermentation. Yamahai, in particular, can
floral (apple blossom) and sometimes spices (aniseed). also lead to rich, savoury , oxidised aromas , but this
Their presence usually indicates that the sake is made does not have to occur. Both methods (but especially
using highly polished rice, and fermented slowly at low kimoto) can be used to produce highly refined, silky
temperatures. But note that yeasts, especially aromatic sakes, as well as powerful meaty styles .
yeasts, can lead to fruity aromas even in some non-
ginjo style sakes. Ripe-banana-like esters are quite Koshu - Are there any aromas suggesting deliberate
common in more basic sakes, for example. Also, some age (koshu)? This could follow evidence in the
ginjo sakes are made in a deliberately restrained, non- appearance (a 'lemon' , 'gold' or ' brown' colour) .
aromatic style, because the producer wants to avoid Depending on the style of ageing, these aromas can
distracting, exaggerated aromas. Whether in an overt or include sweet aromas (honey, caramel), complex 'stinky'
a restrained style, ginjo-style sakes tend to show purity, sulfur compounds (pickled vegetables, compost) and
clarity and transparency in their aromas . The ginjo- savoury aromas (soy sauce, bacon). Badly stored sakes
character of these styles also expresses itself more on can smell stale, or show signs of oxidation.
the palate, which is likely to be finer-textured and lower
in acidity. The following, therefore, can suggest a ginjo- Sparkling and nigori sakes - Sparkling sakes are easy
style sake : to spot because of the bubbles . It is also common for
fruity/floral (rather than rice and savoury) aromas them to be cloudy. Nigori sakes are also easy to
pure and simple rather than complex and earthy identify, because of the suspended rice solids. Both
fine texture these categories can be made in a range of quality
medium to low acidity . levels and styles (including ginjo) .

The difference between ginjo and daiginjo is more Kijoshu - These sakes are also easy to identify . While
difficult to identify, particularly as many producers' most sakes are medium-dry to medium-sweet, koijoshu
ginjos could legitimately be labelled as daiginjo. Look are sweet and in some cases luscious.
for exceptional purity and finesse as an indication of
daiginjo, but be aware that there are many exceptions . Identifying other features, such as regional origin or raw
ingredients (rice, water, yeast , koj1) can be difficult in
Junmai vs. non-junmai - The difference between sake . In the case of regional origin , a brewer in any part
junmai and non-junmai (alcohol-added) sake is very of Japan can take any style of sake and, assuming they
subtle in most cases, because alcohol-addition is have the equipment, ingredients and expertise (all of
usually carefully managed . Side by side, thejunmai may which are transportable), they can make that style . For
seem richer-textured and more intense , whereas the most regions, the differences between brewery styles
non-junmai sake may seem slightly more aromatic and mean it is not possible to identify a typical regional
lighter-textured, with slightly lower acidity. Occasionally style, though there are some exceptions. In the case
THE SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO TASTING SAKE'" 25

of the ingredients, the effects of rice variety and water junmai (especially where kimoto and yamahai add
are subtle. Certain yeasts can be distinctive, as can robustness and complexity), and also koshu, where the
alternative kinds of koji, on the rare occasions these are finish can be especially multi-layered. Even some ginjo
used instead of yellow koji . It is the brewer's craft that styles can have a desirably juicy, lingering fruity finish .
has the greatest influence on style and on quality, and Most undesirable are off-flavours in the finish,
this tends to make the impact of the region and the raw including intrusive cereal or lactic notes in sake that
ingredients hard to read. aims for purity and fruity/floral freshness .

Quality Level Intensity- A sake that has very weak, dilute flavours
There are many different scales used to assess quality. is seldom high in quality. But, beyond a certain level,
We use a descriptive scale, ranging from 'poor' to more intensity does not necessarily mean higher
'outstanding'. quality. Some of the highest quality sakes are extremely
Many criteria are commonly used when discussing delicate in flavour. Generally, sakes that are intense
and assessing the quality of a sake. Although there also have a long finish .
are instances when sake professionals disagree about
the quality of a sake, in most cases there is broad Complexity or purity - Complex flavours and aromas
agreement about both the quality level of a sake and are desirable features in some sakes but not all. For
the reasons for its quality level . This is possible ginjo styles, the brewer may aim for purity and the
because there are a number of criteria that are widely absence of complexity, and this context should be
used when it comes to assessing quality. taken into account when making your assessment of
quality.
Balance - In sakes, balance can be thought of as a set Desirable complexity in sakes tends to come from
of scales, with fruitiness (from fermentation esters), the following sources:
sugar and umami on one side, and acidity and Flavours contributed by the outer part of the rice,
astringency on the other. An increase in fruitiness or when coarsely polished rice is used (for non-ginjo
sugar can be brought into balance by an increase in styles).
acidity (astringency is generally considered The range of different fruity esters created by yeast
undesirable) . With too little fruitiness or sugar, a sake during fermentation (for ginjo styles).
can seem angular, austere or thin. With too little acidity, Ageing, giving time for chemical reactions and
it can seem unstructured and clumsy. oxidation (in matured sakes).
Excessive astringency or bitterness can make a sake
seem unbalanced, though the presence of a low level Typicality - How well does the sake express the
of astringency can provide a subtle, pleasant textural characteristics expected of its category? Judging
grippiness and may sometimes be considered a whether a particular sake is an acceptable, good or
positive feature . outstanding example of a ginjo (or honjozo, futsO-shu,
When assessing balance, you should also consider Niigata sake, or sake made from Yamada-nishiki rice)
how well integrated each of the separate components requires an enormous amount of tasting experience
are. For example, even if the fruitiness is balanced by of each kind of sake, and is not required for the WSET
the acidity, the acidity could seem undesirably harsh Level 3 tasting examination. However, it is useful to
or aggressive. Alcohol should be well integrated, take into account the brewer's intentions and an
whatever its level, and so should the aromatic educated consumer's expectations when trying to
components, such as those derived from age. When judge a sake. If the brewer makes a daiginjo, it is
assessing a sake, ask yourself three questions: 'How is reasonable to have expectations of the style of this
the overall balance achieved?', 'Looking at the overall sake that are different from those of the same brewer's
balance, how well balanced is this sake?' and 'How well 10-year-oldjunmai koshu, and these expectations can
integrated are each of the sake's components?'. be taken into account when justifying conclusions
about the quality of the sake. The following are things
Length - This refers to how long the finish is. In other that are considered desirable and undesirable for the
words, how long the pleasant sensations linger after main kinds of sake you are likely to be assessing:
the sake has been swallowed or spat out. Long length Ginjo and daiginjo - Pure aromas and fine texture
is not always desirable. A short, clean finish is difficult are desirable. The desirability of intensity and
to achieve and should be admired (most notably in complexity of aromas vary depending on the
ginjo and daiginjo styles). In some cases, the sake has producer; some deliberately make a restrained,
a cleansing quality called kire, which is particularly simple style while others seek to make intensely
desirable . perfumed sakes . Aromas other than fruity esters
On the other hand, sakes that have a long finish can are generally undesirable, as is any coarseness of
also be admired, as long as the finish is pleasant, or texture. Look especially for the clean, cutting kire
true to the style. This is true of nama-zake, many finish.
26 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Junmai ginJo and Junmai daiginjo - Similar to ginJo (perhaps typical aromas or typical levels of structural
and daiginjo, but likely to be more intense and less components). If a sake is a little out of balance, dilute in
likely to have such a short clean finish. flavour or has a generic character that fails to express
Junmai - Rich, rice-derived flavours are generally any particular category, but is otherwise enjoyably
desirable, as are high levels of umami. Ginjo-like drinkable, then it is 'acceptable'. If the poor balance,
fruitiness is generally undesirable. any minor faults or any dominant flavours of
Honjozo - Similar to Junmai, but more likely to be components make it unpleasant, then it is 'poor'. If any
lighter in texture, with less intensity of flavour. As faults make the sake unsuitable to drink, then it is
with ginjo and daiginjo, be especially alert to a clean, simply 'faulty'.
cutting kire finish. A 'very good' sake displays particularly clear
expression of category. It may also show some elements
While it is good to take these into account, it is wise to of elegance, concentration/delicacy, purity/complexity
avoid falling into the trap of 'judging against a template'. or an especially clean or long complex finish that lift it
Not all ginjo sakes should have strong ginjo aromas, out of being merely 'good'. An 'outstanding' sake
for example, so take other factors such as how fine- should be almost entirely free of criticism. It should
textured the sake is before dismissing a very subtle precisely represent a classic category, be elegantly
ginjo sake as merely 'acceptable' or 'poor'. balanced and well crafted, and may additionally express
A 'good' sake has an appropriate balance of characteristics of its regional origin or raw materials.
integrated alcohol, acid and sugar. It is free of faults,
and shows some characteristics of its category
STORAGE AND SERVICE OF SAKE 27

In order to get the best out of any sake, it is


Storageand Serviceof Sake important that they are stored correctly and
served at the correct temperature.
5

THE STORAGE OF SAKE A kiki•choko. The blue

Sake is easily damaged if it is exposed to heat or strong concentriccirclesare used

light. The following points should be considered when by sakeprofessionals


to

storing sake. helpthemjudgethe clarity


and colourof a sake.

Keep it cool - Even for short-term storage, sake should


be kept cool (below 12°C, 54°F) and ideally refrigerated
(below 8°C, 48°F). Refrigeration is especially important
for nama-zake and for protecting the delicate freshness
of ginjo sakes.

Drink it young - Most sakes are intended to be


consumed within about a year after their shipment from
the brewery. Most nama-zakes lose their freshness in a
few months. Ginjo sakes generally have a shorter shelf
life than honjozo and junmai sakes and most should be
consumed within about ten months.

Store the bottle upright - Sake bottles are best stored


upright, to avoid contact between the liquid and the
closure, which is usually either a foil-lined stopper or a to the smell of hazelnuts, malt and bacon owing to the
metal screwcap. action of the enzymes from the koji. This is called the
nama-hine fault. However, there is a small community
Avoid bright light - Keep sake away from strong among sake fans who consider there to be such a thing
sunshine and bright artificial light. As well as heating as 'good nama-hine' (they often call it 'nama-Juku'
the sake, light can induce oxidation reactions that meaning 'matured nama') with well-balanced oxidative
cause it to become old and stale before its time. Any characteristics, developed textures and rich flavours.
type of light could harm the sake. The amino acids and These nama-zake are deliberately designed by
vitamins in sake degrade on exposure to light, causing brewers to mature, and need to be handled by
the sake to discolour and to acquire unpleasant aromas experienced restaurant/bar staff and served at the
and bitter flavours . In terms of blocking out ultraviolet best moment of maturity .
rays, the most effective are brown-coloured bottles,
followed by green bottles, both of which are much SERVICE OF SAKE
more effective than transparent bottles. Green or Sake Faults
transparent bottles packaged in boxes or wrapped in When serving sake, you should check that the sake is
paper should be stored in their protective outer free from faults. The most common faults are caused by
packaging. bad storage. There are four main faults to look out for.

Once opened, a sake bottle should be sealed and Open too long (oxidation) - A bottle that has been
stored in a refrigerator. Open bottles of sake generally open too long loses its fresh aromas and after a few
last two weeks, and sometimes even longer. The more days starts to gain stale aromas, as well as deepening
delicate ginjo styles remain fresh for about one week in colour.
after opening .
Out of condition (Hine-ka) - A bottle that is too old, or
Storing Nama-zake that has been stored at too high a temperature is also
Nama-zake deteriorates especially rapidly and should likely to have lost its fresh aromas. Out of condition
be refrigerated at no more than 5-8°C (41-48°F) . Most sake develops stinky aromas of pickled vegetables.
nama-zake should be consumed within six months.
However, there are some exceptions. Storing nama- Nama-zake that has not been refrigerated properly
zake for long periods results in a pungent aroma similar (Nama-hine-ka) - Enzymes in nama-zakes create
28 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

A selectionof sakeglasses
and o-choko.

aromas of malt and meat. Where they have Pouring etiquette - In Japan pouring etiquette is rather
contaminated the sake, alcohol-tolerant lactic acid specific. Try to pour sake with both hands by holding
bacteria can create extremely unpleasant flavours. the neck as much as you can. Using both hands shows
the most respect and care for the other person.
Light damage - Sake that has not been protected from
light can develop stinky aromas rather like burnt hair in Pour for others - The main reason why the sake cups
just a few days of exposure to daylight or artificial light. are made so small is that by pouring each other's sake
cups, people will look after each other when sharing
Microbial spoilage - If microbial spoilage occurs during sake. Pouring the other person's glasses has a very
sake brewing, it will result in unpleasant-smelling sulfur important meaning in Japanese culture. However, let
compounds, with a wide range of possible aromas, the customers or guests serve sake by themselves if
including rotting vegetables, compost, curdled milk, they insist.
stinky cheese and even sticking plasters.
Sake Service Temperatures
Serving Sake As a lasting effect of the sudden growth in popularity of
Sake can be served from the bottle, but it is also ginjo sakes in the late 1980s and 1990s, some people still
common to decant it into a small sake carafe (tokkun). consider hot sake as 'bad sake', and that the only 'good
Most sake bottles are closed with a stopper, or a sake' is a chilled aromatic ginjo sake. But it is a part of
screwcap. Both of these are easy to remove. If you the unique and appealing culture of sake that it can be
wish to serve sake in an authentic Japanese way, you enjoyably served at a wider range of temperatures than
may consider the following points. any other drinks. Warm/hot sake matches well with

Table 6: Recommended service temperatures for different styles of sake.


STYLE OF SAKE CHILLED ROOM TEMPERATURE WARM/HOT
6-13°c 1s-1s 0 c 40-so·c
(43-55°F) (59-64°F} (104-122°F)
Futsii-shu,
junmai,honjozii Yes Yes Yes
Ginjo Yes Personalpreference No
Sparklingsake Yes No No
Koshu,sweetandnigorisakes Thesesakesaregenerallybestservedlightlychilled,but somecanbe servedwarm.
STORAGE AND SERVICE OF SAKE 29

intensely flavoured and heavy-textured dishes such as first, then turn off the source of heat before allowing the
Japanese hotpot or grilled foods. sake container to stand in the water. The temperature
Sake can be served at a wide range of temperatures, of sake should be carefully checked and monitored
though not all styles of sake are suitable for serving with a thermometer in order to not overheat the sake.
warm; warming sakes makes them seem more intense, The standard time for leaving a standard sake vessel
more full-bodied and higher in acidity. This can help (180 ml) in the hot water is about two to four minutes.
when pairing with food. However, ginjo style sakes lose Many bowls and pans are suitable containers for the
their aromas and flavours when heated and are best hot water, but there is also a specific utensil called a
served chilled. Generally the sakes that benefit most kan-douko.
from being served warm are:
sakes with high levels of sweetness, acidity, umami, Microwave - It is also possible to use a microwave, if
and relatively high levels of bitterness the container you use is suitable for microwaving. This
sakes where much of the acidity is lactic and succinic is less gentle than the traditional method, but much
acid. These tend to be higher in sakes made using faster. Because sake is mostly water, it heats up at
yamahai or kimoto methods about the same speed as water. It takes just 20-40
sakes that have been matured, including many koshu. seconds to heat 180 ml of sake, depending on the
rating of the microwave and the initial and desired final
Sakes that do not benefit from heating, and are temperature of the sake. The shape of a traditional
generally best served chilled are: tokkuri can result in uneven heat distribution when
ginjo sakes, which generally lose their delicate using a microwave, but one way to avoid this is to
aromas and flavours when heated place the sake in a heat-resistant tumbler or mug for
nama-zakes, which also lose their delicate dissolved heating and then transfer it to a tokkuri.
carbon dioxide bubbles, so seem less fresh
sparkling sakes, which lose their bubbles and should Sake Serviceware
be served well chilled below 10°C (50°F). Sake can be served in a range of vessels.

There are poetic Japanese terms for the many service Wine glasses - Wine glasses are ideal for serving
temperatures used for sake, ranging from semi-frozen premium sake either chilled or at room temperature.
to over 55 °C (131°F). Most of these are rarely used, but it The most suitable glasses are small enough that the
is useful to know the following two terms for specifying sake stays at the right temperature while it is being
the service of warm sake. consumed, and tulip-shaped to enhance the aromas.

Nuru-kan (40°C, 104°F) - This is a comfortable, non- O-choko - This is the Japanese word for a traditional
burning warm temperature, slightly above body sake cup. These come in a range of sizes, shapes and
temperature. It translates as 'the warmth of a relaxing materials, but are typically about 5-8 cm (2-3 inches)
hot spring bath'. wide, with a capacity of about 60 ml (2 US fl. oz.). The
most common kinds are small pottery or glass cups that
Atsu-kan (50°C, 122°F) - This is very hot and almost have a flat base. Some are narrow and cylindrical, and
slightly burning. It translates as 'hot enough to warm others are flatter and wider. The small size means that
body and soul'. they must be frequently refilled, reflecting a tradition of
Japanese hospitality. The notable exceptions are the
Cooling Sake broad, flat, lacquered sake cups used in some Japanese
Cold sake can be served straight from a bottle that has ceremonies. These can be up to 20 cm (8 inches)
been refrigerated. Alternatively, the sake can be kept across. The shape and the material of the service vessel
cold by placing the sake-filled carafe (tokkun) in a can seem to have an effect on the way the sake tastes.
container filled with ice and water. Thicker pottery vessels can make the sake seem more
full-bodied and are especially ideal for serving warm
Heating Sake sake. Flatter, thinner vessels can make the sake seem
In order to avoid spilling hot sake do not to fill the lighter and fresher. Vessels made of tin conduct
container the sake is being heated in to the brim. Water temperature especially well and give a fresh, cooling
heats at almost the same speed as sake, so you can feeling on the lips when consuming chilled sake.
practise with water to get a good idea of how long your A kiki-choko is a specific type of o-choko that is used
method will take to heat sake. by brewers and judges and rarely in hospitality. Kiki-
There are two common methods for heating sake. choko are covered in the section Preparing for Tasting
in Chapter 4.
Hot water bath - Place the sake-filled carafe in a
container filled with water heated to about 80 °C (176°F). Tokkuri - This is the Japanese word for a sake carafe,
When using this method, it is best to heat the water used for heating and serving sake. Like traditional cups,
30 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Table 7: Sake service measure. STANDARD MEASUREMENTS IN SAKE


720 ML BOTTLE 1.8 L BOTTLE The sake industry still follows the system of traditional
Japanese measurements. Originally these were used
60 ml (2 USfl. oz.)o-choko 12 30
in China, and they became unified in Japan during
180ml (6 USfl. oz.)smallcarafe 4 10 the Edo period (1603-1868). The system is based on
300 ml (10USfl. oz.)largecarafe 2 6 multiples of the sho (1.8 l, 3.8 pints), which is the size
of the large 'magnum' sake bottles. The various
Table 8: Japanese volume measurements with metric and US equivalents. measurements cover everything from service vessels
and bottle sizes up to the way brewers measure their
JAPANESE METRIC US CUSTOMARY
annual production. In addition to the sho, the main
MEASUREMENT UNITS
units you will encounter are go, to and koku.
1go ('ho of a sho) 180ml 6 fluid ounces A go is 180 ml (6 US fl. oz.), which is the size of a
1sho 1.8l 3.8 pints standard masu. A standard sake bottle is four go or
720 ml.
1 to (10sho) 18l 4.8 gallons
A koku is 180 l. This is the measure brewer's use
1koku (100sho) 180 l 47.5gallons when expressing their annual production of sake, and
is also used for measuring fermentation and storage
tanks. It is equal to 20 12-bottle-cases of wine.
These measurements are summarised in Table 8.

SAFE CONSUMPTION
When consumed in moderation, alcohol is not regarded

0 as being harmful to one's health. However, alcohol


can significantly affect the behaviour of anyone who
consumes too much {often in very socially unacceptable
and dangerous ways). For some people it can be highly
addictive and, when consumed to excess, it can have
a negative impact on both short- and long-term health.
In some cultures alcohol is not considered socially
acceptable and its consumption is therefore banned
as a result.
In countries where alcohol consumption is permitted,
most governments control access to alcohol and limit
its potentially harmful effects.
Many governments also place limits on the marketing
A selectionof tokkuri. these come in many shapes, and many materials are and sale of alcohol. This can be through voluntary
used. The most common are about 150-300 ml (5-10 industry codes, through direct legislation, or a
US fl. oz.) and made of pottery. Glass tokkuri are combination of both.
sometimes made with a small ice container to keep For the countries where there are no official
the sake chilled. government guidelines, it is recommended that the
internationally recognised World Health Organization
Masu - A masu is the Japanese word for a small box, low risk responsible drinking guidelines are followed.
usually made of Japanese cedar. It is not really a sake Taking a unit as 12 ml pure ethanol {equivalent to
service vessel because the wood taints the sake. These about 75 ml or 2.5 US fl. oz. of sake), these are:
boxes were historically used for measuring rice rather Women should not drink more than two units a day
than drinking sake. Most are a standard 180 ml (6 US fl. on average.
oz.), but some are slightly smaller (144 ml). Despite their For men, not more than three units a day on average.
disadvantages as a service vessel, sake is occasionally Try not to exceed four units on any one occasion.
drunk out of a masu at ceremonial occasions. Don't drink alcohol in some situations, such as when
driving, if pregnant or in certain work situations, and
Sake Service Measures abstain from drinking at least once a week.
It is useful to know how many measures you can get
from a standard 720 ml (24 US fl. oz.) bottle, or from Men or women who consistently drink more than these
the larger 1.8 l (3.8 pints) bottles that are more widely recommended levels face increased risks to their
seen in Japan. The details are summarised in Table 7. health.
SAKE AND FOOD 31

Sakeand Food Sake does not just pair well with Japanese food: it can be enjoyably
consumed alongside many international dishes. Understanding the
principles behind successful and unsuccessful pairings will help you identify matches with dishes
6
from the widest range of cuisines.

Food that is consumed with any beverage has an effect and acid) whose presence in food tends to make
on the way that beverage tastes, and the beverage can beverages taste 'softer' (less drying and bitter, less
also have an effect on the taste of food. The purpose acidic, sweeter and more fruity). Generally, food has
of food and beverage pairing is to take advantage of more impact on the way a beverage will taste than the
these effects, so that ideally both the food and the other way round, and in particular is more likely to have
beverage provide more pleasure than either would a negative impact. These interactions are summarised
when consumed separately. Knowledge of these in Table 9.
effects will also help avoid negative or unpleasant
interactions. Umami in Food
It is often said in Japan that 'sake does not fight Umami is a savoury taste, and is distinct from the other
with food', and it is common practice for one sake to primary tastes, although it can be difficult to isolate.
be consumed with many different dishes. Equally, a Whereas sweetness can be illustrated in isolation with
range of different sakes may be consumed in many sugar, salt with sodium chloride and acidity with a
combinations with the dishes served during a meal. number of acids (e.g. tartaric acid), umami tends to be
This practice is different from the sometimes very present with other tastes (with saltiness in Monosodium
detailed attention given to pairing specific wines with Glutamate (MSG)) or with other flavours (e.g. in cooked
specific dishes, but the nature of sake lends itself to or dried mushrooms). One of the simplest ways to
this approach. Sake has low levels of the elements experience it is to compare the taste of a raw button
(such as acidity or bitterness) that can cause problems mushroom with one that has been microwaved for
when consuming other beverages alongside food. This 30 seconds. The umami taste of the mushroom is
makes it especially versatile and means that as long greatly increased by the cooking. Umami can also be
as the guest likes drinking sake, it is unlikely that any experienced by tasting MSG - either by eating a few
dish will make a good sake taste unpleasant. grains, or in a weak solution. Note, however, that in this
In addition to understanding the basic taste form, the umami taste is combined with a salt taste.
interactions between food and sake, it is important to Many foods that are considered difficult to pair
remember that people have different sensitivities to contain high levels of umami without salt to counteract
various flavour and aroma components, meaning that the hardening effects on the beverage. These include
the same level of bitterness, for example, can affect asparagus, eggs, mushrooms and ripe soft cheeses.
one person much more strongly than another (this is Other foods that are high in umami also tend to be high
different from a personal preference - some people in salt, which can counteract the impact of umami on
like strong reactions while others find them unpleasant). the sake (see below). These include cured or smoked
Pairings should therefore take into account both the seafood and meats, and hard cheeses (especially
preferences and the sensitivities of the individual, as Parmesan).
well as the basic interactions between food and sake. Japanese cuisine is notable for using high levels of
umami in ingredients such as dashi (broth), dried bonito
PRIMARY FOOD AND BEVERAGE TASTE flakes, seaweed, soy, miso, mushrooms and seafood.
INTERACTIONS This can make it delicious and satisfying even when
When you place food in your mouth, your taste buds there is very little fat or oil. Japanese dishes also
adapt so that the perception of levels of sugar, salt, tend to be high in salt. The low levels of acidity and
acid, etc. of the next item to be tasted can be altered. bitterness in sake mean that the high levels of umami
An extreme example is when orange juice becomes rarely cause problems when pairing with sake.
unpleasantly acidic when consumed immediately after
using toothpaste. In addition to this, some foods such Bitterness in Food
as chocolate or thick creamy dishes can have a mouth- Sensitivity to bitter tastes varies greatly from person to
coating effect that impairs the sense of taste. person. Generally, bitter tastes add to each other, so
In simple terms there are two components in food bitterness in the food alone may be at a pleasant level,
(sweetness and umami) that tend to make beverages and the bitterness in the beverage may be balanced,
taste 'harder' (more drying and bitter, more acidic, but together the bitter elements can combine to reach
less sweet and less fruity), and two components (salt an unpleasant level. Bitterness is found in certain
32 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Table 9: Summary of taste interactions between food and sake.


COM PONENT IN FOOD PRIMARY INTERACTIONS WITH SAKE OTHER EFFECTS
Sweetness Increasesperceptionof acidity Increasesperceptionof bitterness(wherepresent),
Decreasesperceptionof sweetnessandfruitiness slight increasein alcoholburningeffect
Decreasesbody
Umami(Savoury) Increasesperceptionof acidity Increasesperceptionof bitterness(wherepresent),
Decreasesperceptionof sweetnessandfruitiness slight increasein alcoholburningeffect
Decreasesperceptionof body
Acidity Increasesperceptionof sweetnessandfruitiness Slightincreasein body
Decreasesperceptionof acidity
Salt Increasesperceptionof sweetnessandfruitiness Slightincreasein perceptionof body
Decreasesacidity
Bitterness Addsto the perceptionof bitternessin the sake
(wherepresent)
ChilliHeat Increasesperceptionof bitterness,acidityand
alcoholburningeffect
Decreasesperceptionof body,richness,sweetness
andfruitiness

Japanese dishes, but the absence of bitterness in sake enjoy , and leads to some very successful food and
means that it can be paired with these dishes without beverage pairings , such as sweet sake and blue
problems . cheese .

Chilli Heat in Food Sake and Fish


Chilli heat is a tactile (touch) sensation rather than one There are elements in sake that seem to reduce the
of taste and levels of sensitivity can vary greatly from intensity of fish flavours . This effect is generally more
person to person . Not only are some people more noticeable injunmai and honjozo than in ginjo styles
sensitive than others, but there is also huge variation of sake.
in how pleasant or unpleasant this effect feels to the
individual. The intensity of the reaction and burning APPLYING THE PRINCIPLES
sensation increases with the level of alcohol in the The principles described above apply to any pairing of
beverage. Some people enjoy this effect. food with any beverage - wine, spirits or beer, as well
as sake.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS Because people vary in their sensitivities and
Flavour Intensity - It is usually desirable for the flavour preferences, there is no simple answer to the questions
intensities of the food and beverage to be matched so about which sakes go best with which dishes and the
that one does not overpower the other . However, in host or sommelier should accept that their guests may
some circumstances, an intensely flavoured food (such not agree about which pairings work.
as a curry) can be successfully partnered with a lightly When selecting sakes to partner dishes it can be
flavoured beverage - such as a simple honjozo sake. helpful to divide dishes and sakes into high risk and
Equally, some lightly flavoured desserts can be low risk . Of course, most foods contain more than one
successfully partnered with intensely flavoured sweet of the structural components listed below so there are
sakes. many possible permutations.
Other beverages are much more likely to contain
Acid and Fat elements that can cause conflict with food . Wines are
Most people find the combination of acidic beverages higher in acidity and red wine has bitter tannins. Beers
with fatty or oily foods to be very satisfying. The pairing have bitter flavours from hops. Spirits are high in
provides a pleasant sensation of the acidic drink alcohol. Sake is low in acidity and slightly sweet, with
'cutting through' the richness of the food, and cleaning little or no bitterness or astringency, so tends to be
up the palate. This is a subjective effect. Most Japanese easy to pair - even with foods that are high in umami
dishes are low in fat or oil, and the low levels of acidity or bitterness. Sake does not fight with food .
in sake mean this effect is quite subtle, when it occurs.
High-risk Foods
Sweet and Salty • Sugar - Dishes high in sugar should be paired with
Also subjective is the pleasure of combining sweet and a sake that has at least as much sugar, otherwise the
salty flavours, but this is a combination many people sake can taste too dry and thin.
SAKE AND FOOD 33

Acid - Dishes high in acidity should be paired with High-risk Sakes


sakes that are also relatively high in acidity, The more structural components in the sake (and food),
otherwise the sake can taste flat, flabby and the more possible taste interactions there will be. This
unfocused . makes pairing more complicated but also provides
• Chilli heat - Dishes high in chilli heat should be potential for more interesting results. Sake has low
paired with sakes that are lighter in alcohol and levels of the components that make food and beverage
have some sweetness. Sweetness helps soften the pairing challenging (or interesting!), but there are some
increased burning sensation that results from the styles that need to be paired with care.
alcohol level in sake, wtiich is generally higher than Many koshu sakes are very intense in flavour and
the level in wine or beer. can overwhelm some dishes .
• Intense flavours - Dishes that are very intense in Some ginjo-style sakes are very del icate and can be
flavour can easily overwhelm the delicate flavours overwhelmed by some dishes.
of most sake.
Low-risk Sakes
Low-risk Foods Most other sakes are low-risk.
Most foods are low risk, even if they have some level
of sugar, acid, chilli heat or flavour intensity . Other sakes that satisfy these criteria should also be
• Salt - Dishes high in salt are especially good at successful pairings .
enhancing the flavours of sake .
34 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

RiceCultivationRice is the primary and defining ingredient of sake, and no other grain
7 can be used to make sake. However, rice itself only has a relatively
subtle impact on the aroma and flavour characteristics of most sakes. Nevertheless, these effects are
important and the variety of rice, as well as how it is grown, are key concerns of the brewer.

RICE SUITABLE FOR SAKE are larger at the start of the polishing process remain
Rice is a type of grass, planted from seed each spring larger (and easier to continue polishing) once a high
and harvested in the autumn, leaving no viable part of percentage has been polished away. If the rice cracks
the plant behind. Rice plants are propagated by during the polishing processes, this will lead to a less
planting seeds harvested from the previous crop. This effective removal of undesirable components .
is the same as other cereals such as barley and wheat, Good water absorbency ensures the water can
and in contrast to fruit crops such as grapes or apples . penetrate deep into the grain during washing, soaking
This growing cycle affects how plant material is and steaming. The high water content in the rice grain
selected and propagated, as well as how it is grown. also helps the rice break up more easily during the
There are broadly two types of Asian rice (Oryzae fermentation. As a rice grain breaks up during
sativa): fermentation its starch dissolves into the liquid, making
lndica (long-grained) it available to be converted into sugar for the yeast to
• Japonica (short-grained). feed on.
In 2015 there were just over 100 registered sake-
Each of these can further be categorised as being more specific rice varieties in Japan. Nearly half of these
or less glutinous (sticky). The stickiness of the rice once were registered after 2000 , and new varieties are
cooked is related to the shape of the starch molecules. added most years. The two most popular varieties
Japanese sake is brewed fromjaponica rice varieties (Yamada-nishiki and Gohyakuman-goku) combined
that have been bred to be particularly non-sticky . The make up over half of all sake-specific rice production.
most important reason to use non-sticky rice is that it is Yamada-nishki, Gohyakuman-goku and Miyama-
easy to handle, whereas sticky rice sticks together . The nishiki have been the top three sake-specific rice
starch in non-sticky rice has the additional advantage varieties for over a decade.
that it is easier for the koji enzymes to break down into After these three, there are a number of rice
sugar (see the section Starch in this chapter) . varieties, each of which currently account for about 1-2
per cent (2015) of total sake-specific rice. Some are
Sake-specific Rice (Shuzo koteki mai) becoming more popular with farmers and brewers;
Most sake uses rice varieties that are also suitable for others are in decline . In some cases the changes are
eating called 'table rice'. However, the proteins, lipids, rapid; the fourth most widely grown rice varieties 10
vitamins and minerals that give table rice its flavour are years ago and 15 years ago are no longer in the current
undesirable when trying to make refined and elegant top 10. On the other hand, the current number four
styles of premium sake. For this reason most premium (Dewa-sansan) is rising rapidly, after being registered
sakes use specially-developed types of sake-specific as a sake-specific rice as recently as 1997.
rice (Shuzo koteki mat) that are better suited to
brewing. They have the following features : RICE CULTIVATION
a low protein content For historical reasons, it is very unusual for a brewer
a well-defined shinpaku (the white, opaque section to grow their own rice , although it is no longer illegal
at the centre of the rice kernel, made up of starch to do so (as it was in the second half of the twentieth
granules) that is ideally flat and disc-shaped century). Rice is cultivated by farmers, often on a small
large grains (25-30 g/per 1000 grains) scale, and the most common procedure is for sake
resistant to cracking when being polished brewers to purchase rice from Prefectural Brewers
good water absorbency and is broken down easily Associations (who can provide loans to purchase the
by enzymes during the brewing process. rice). The Prefectural Brewers Associations then source
rice from Agricultural Co-operative Associations, who
The low protein content ensures that the sake made in turn are supplied by the rice growers. As the market
from this rice contains less amino acids and peptides. trend is shifting towards the integration of growing and
Having large grains and being resistant to cracking brewing, there are now a few breweries growing their
ensures that the small amounts of undesirable own rice, or collaborating with local farmers to support
components can be completely removed. Grains that local ingredient sources for sake production, but this
RICE CULTIVATION 35

YAMADA-NISHI
Kl Yamada-nishiki is knownas the 'king' of sakerice varieties.It
hasbeenaroundsincethe 1930s,and remainspopularfor many
• Mainregion- Mainlyin Hyogoprefecture reasons.Its exceptionallylargegrainsand large,well-defined
(about80 per cent),and in the south-west. shinpakumakeit idealfor polishingdownto extremelylow rice
Production- About30 per cent of the total polishingratios,idealfor ginjo and daiginjostyles.
sake-specificrice. Thesesakeshavethe potentialto havegreatdepthof flavour
with a generous,full, soft texture,combinedwith purityand
precision.Aromatically,it is light in intensity,allowingyeastto
expressthemselves.

GOHYAKUMAN-GOKU Althoughthe grainsare slightlysmallerthan Yamada-nishiki,


Gohyakuman-goku alsobehavesverywell whenpolished.It is
Mainregion- Niigataprefecture,but also especiallygoodfor makingkoji. Its namemeans'five million
popularin prefecturesthat neighbourNiigata koku' (or '900 millionlitres'),which celebratesan anniversary
in the west coastof Japan. whenthe total rice productionin Niigataexceededthis level.
Production -About 25 per centof the total Thesesakestend to havevery light aromas,texturesand
sake-specificrice. flavours,makingthis varietyespeciallysuitablefor the styleof
sakethat Niigatais mostknownfor: light, simple,delicateand
dry with a shortclean(kire)finish.

MIYAMA-NISHIKI Miyama-nishikiis well adaptedto growingin cool, mountainous


conditions.Grainsare a similarsizeto Gohyakuman-goku, i.e.
Mainregion- Naganoprefecture,but alsothe slightlysmallerthan Yamada-nishiki.
mountainousnorth-east(Tohoku). Miyama-nishikisakestend to be rich and robust,sometimes
• Production- About10 per centof the total evenwith somegrip andgraininessin their texture.Thiscould
sake-specificrice. reflectproductiontraditionsin Naganoas muchas the difference
betweenMiyama-nishikiand Gohyakuman-goku, but when
competingin the Tokyomarket,Naganosakes(fromMiyama-
nishik1)differentiatethemselvesfrom Niigatasakes(madefrom
Gohyakuman-goku) by beingsweeter,richerand morerobust.
Thearomastend to be restrained,moreso than Yamada-nishiki.

DEWA·SANSAN Dewa-sansanhasbecomea specialityof Yamagataprefecture.


Junmaiginjo sakesbrewedfrom localrice, water,yeastandkoji,
Mainregion- Yamagataprefecture(almost and usingthe Dewa-sansanricevarietycan,if they passa strict
noneis grownoutsidethis prefecture). tastingtest, brandthemselvesas 'Dewa33'.
Production- About2 per cent of sake-specific Dewa33sakeshavepurityanddepthof flavour,typicallywith
rice. a subtleherbalelementin their aromas.

J !"'~
OMACHI Omachiis oneof the oldestsakevarieties,havingbeenregistered
as a sakerice in 1866.It hasverylargegrains;Omachiand
• Mainregion- Okayamaprefecture,with some ~ Yamada-nishiki arethe two largest-grained
majorsake-specific
alsogrownin neighbouringHiroshimaand a ricevarieties,andlike Yamada-nishiki
the shinpakuis alsolarge.
few other south-westernprefectures. However,the shape(fat,ratherthan disc-like)andtexture(soft)of
~roduction- About2 per cent of sake-specific 1 the shinpakumakesOmachiverydifficultto polish.Despitethis,
manyginjo anddaiginjosakesare madefromOmachi.
ore. ~ Omachisakestend to be particularlyrich-textured,earthyand
spicy,with higherumamiandlesspuritythanthe otherfour
leadingsakevarieties.Thesecharacteristics
meanOmachi-based
sakesareoftendeliciousservedwarm.
36 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

INSIDE THE RICE GRAIN

STARCH for life and therefore it makescompletesensethat living things


Starchfeaturesin a numberof chaptersin this section. shouldwant to have reservesof sugarto supportthem in the
Thereforeit is helpfulto bring this informationtogether in one event of shortages.It is not very practicalto store sugar
placeso that the role playedby starchcan be seen from start becauseto do so would be very spaceinefficient.Thereare
to finish. manysolutionsto this problem and the one that is commonly
found in plantsis starch.
What is Starch? Starchis madeup of sugar moleculesthat are bonded
Plants,fungi and animalsrely on sugar moleculesto give them together into long chains.Whenextendinga starchmolecule
energyso that they can live, grow and reproduce.Sugaris vital by adding anothersugar molecule,there are two waysthis can

THE STRUCTURE OF A RICE GRAIN


This diagram is a simplified cross section of a sake-specific rice grain.

Husk Shinpaku
Thisis a hardoutercoveringthat is Thisis a particularfeatureof sake-
designedto protectthe grain.It is specificricethat is missingin table rice.
removedimmediatelyafter harvesting. Theshinpakuis a clearlydefinedsection
Oncethe huskis removedwhat at the centreof the endospermthat is
remainsis brownrice,which hasa madewith round-shapedgranulesof
polishingratio of 100%. starchthat are held in placeby the
surroundingendosperm.Theshinpaku
looksopaquelike frostedglass.It is
particularlygoodat absorbingwater
and is very suitablefor koji making.

Bran
The browncolouredbranis made -----t ~
up of a numberof individuallayers.
Thereis a lot of starchin the bran
but there are alsonotablyhigh
levelsof proteins,lipids,vitamins
and minerals.Thebranis removed
during polishing,changingthe
grainsfrom brownriceto white rice.
Ricewith the branon can in theory
be usedto makeajunmai sakebut Endosperm
this is extremelyrare. Thewhite layersbelowthe branare
collectivelyknownas the endosperm.
Theyare very high in starchbut the
Germ outer layersof the endospermalso
Thisis the part of the grain containsomeof the other components
that will grow into a new rice of rice (proteins,lipids,vitaminsand
plant.Thisis removedduring minerals).The levelof these
polishing. componentsis muchlower in sake-
specificricethan it is in table rice.
RICE CULTIVATION 37

still represents a very small proportion of premium


sake .
Unlike most of the rice grown in Asia and Europe,
where rice is generally cultivated in dry fields, all
happen. The simplest way is for a sugar molecule to be added Japanese rice is produced in irrigated rice fields
at the end to make the starch chain longer without changing its {paddies), using techniques imported from China over
shape. The more complicated way is that it can be added to a thousand years ago.
create a side branch to the starch molecule, which can then The target for producing sake-specific rice is
be extended in a line or by further branches. Becauseof the different from table rice. Table rice grains can remain
presence of branching, the structure of these chains is small but sake-specific rice growers need the rice
complex. The former structure with an almost straight chain of to grow fully to produce large grains with a large
glucose is called amylase, while the latter structure with a lot shinpaku, and these take longer to ripen. In order
of branches is called amylopectin. to help with this sake-specific rice, growers only use
fertiliser in a limited way. This is a very different
If the starch molecules in a rice grain are made up of 100 per approach from how farmers grow table rice. These
cent amylopectin then the rice is said to be sticky or glutinous. farmers use increasingly large amounts of fertiliser as
If a rice grain contains about 80 per cent amylopectin and the growing season progresses in order to increase
20 per cent amylase then the rice is called non-sticky or non- yields and increase the flavoursome components in the
glutinous. Regardlessof their structure, rice grains store starch rice grain {proteins , lipids, vitamins , minerals). If a sake-
in the same way. Starch molecules are rolled up into extremely specific rice grower were to take a similar approach
tight balls surrounded by a protective shell that makesthem there would be a significant risk that the extra flavour
both insoluble in water and incredibly space efficient. component would result in undesirable flavours and
a coarse texture in the sake.
Starchto SugarConversion
in Sake
It is these balls of starch that a sake brewer has to break down The Rice-growing Year
into sugar. In order to be able to do this the brewer first needs Okinawa is the only part of Japan with a long enough,
to break open the tight balls of starch. One way of doing this is and hot enough growing season to ripen two crops of
to heat them in the presence of water and in sake brewing this rice a year. Rice cultivation in the rest of Japan follows
heat comes from steam. The heat breaks the bonds that hold the cycle below, but precise dates vary due to the
the balls together and the starch molecules are able to differences in climate, and the differences in rice
unravel. This change in the starch structure is called varieties used .
gelatinisation, which means that raw starch has been cooked The key dates of the rice growing year are:
and softened. transplanting seedlings into the field {late April to
Once the starch is gelatinised, the next step is to break it mid-June)
up into its constituent sugar molecules using enzymes.A rice appearance of the ears of grain {August to early
grain could supply these enzymes only if the germ had not September)
been polished away, and so instead sake brewers use harvesting, drying and removing the husks {late
enzymes produced by koji mould. The enzymes cut up the September to October).
starch molecules into increasingly smaller pieces until sugar
molecules are produced. However, yellow koji mould cannot The rice-growing year is shown in more detail on
produce all the enzymes present in the rice germ and, as a pages 38-39. However, here it is worth noting that
result, in sake brewing the starch is not completely broken most farmers do not grow the rice from seeds . Typically
down. The koji mould enzymes are able to cut up the chains they buy seedlings that are ready to be transplanted
that make up the straight parts of various branchesof the from growers that have had them certified by the
starch molecule. However, where the chains branch, the Japan Agricultural Co-operatives Group, known as JA.
chemical structure is different: the koji mould enzymescannot
cut up this part of the starch molecule. These branching Ideal Soils for Sake-specific Rice
sections that remain intact are called limit dextrins. They Rice paddies are ideally located in areas where there
cannot be fermented by the yeast and are present in the final is a natural basin in the land so that it is easier to flood
sake. These dextrins have no flavour but give sake its unique and drain the field in a controlled way. The soil should
mouthcoating texture. be deep enough so that any bedrock does not disrupt
The dissolving of the starch, and the breaking up of the rice root growth. Growers need soils that:
grain are related, but different, processes that happen during benefit from gluey substances, deposited by both
the fermentation. To simplify discussions, sake professionals plants and small animals, that help retain water
sometimes refer to the combined effect as 'melting', 'digesting' contain a high percentage of clay particles {clay
or 'dissolving' of the rice. particles are very small and help retain water and
fertilisers)
are rich in nutrients {especially nitrogen)
38 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

THE RICE-GROWING YEAR


This diagram shows and describes the key stages in the rice-growing year and when they typically happen.

8: Drying, and Removing the Husks (late September to October)


After harvest,the rice is dried until it hasa moisturecontentof 14-15per cent. The rice
grainsare then readyto be threshed(to removethe husks)and stored.Dehuskedrice
is morecommonlycalled brownrice.
At a moisturelevelof 14-15per cent,the grainscan be storedfor long periods.
Abovethis level,the moisturecan leadto rot. Belowthis level,there is an
increasedrisk of the grainscrackingwhenthey are handled.As well as
makingit possibleto store the rice safely,this moisturelevel is an
agreedstandardfor definingthe weightof rice whentradingit.

7: Harvesting (late September to October)


Typicallythe harvesttakes placewhen the vast majorityof the rice
ears haveripenedfrom greento gold.
If the farmerharveststoo early,there is a higherproportionof
green,unripegrains,whichcan give undesirableflavoursto the
sake.If the farmerharveststoo late,the grainstend to be drier,
leadingto an increasedrisk of crackingwhenthe rice is
harvested,stored,polishedor soaked.
Farmersnormallydrainwater from the field aboutten days
beforethe harvestto completethe ripeningand to loosenup the
roots.Dryingout the soil also makesaccessto the field easierfor
harvestingthe rice.The rice harvestis usuallydone by a
machine,choppingthe stemwith the grainsoff at the base.The
grainsare then separatedfrom the stem.

6: Ripening (late September to October)


Afterfloweringandthe developmentof the grains,severalripening
stagestake place.Duringthese stagesthe internalstructuresof the
grain developand the grainsfill with starch.Thepotentialqualityand
ripenessof a crop can be assessedby:
, the colourof the earsof grain(evenand glossygolden,ratherthan green)
• the numberof leavesleft on each plant (threeleavesis ideal)
• the numberof stemswith an ear of rice (15-20 ears per plant
is ideal, and eachear containsabout90 rice grains)
• the plant havinga strongdeep root when pulledout.

5: Appearance of the Ears (August to early September)


Theearsare structuresthat are commonto all grains.Theygrow on the end of a long stem.Flowers
appearon the ears.Thesebloomfor just two hoursand, once pollinated,developinto rice grains.
Thetiming of the appearanceof the earsdependson the climateand the ricevariety.
RICE CULTIVATION 39

1, 2: Growing Seedlings (March to May)


Beforesowingthe rice seedsthat havebeensavedand storedfrom the previousyear,growersmust
selectseedsof a suitablequality.Theselectedseedsare washedto removedirt and fungal
sporesthat cancausedisease.Theyare then soakedin waterto encouragegermination.
Forwet rice cultivation,the seedsare not plantedin fieldsstraightaway.Theyarefirst
sownin containersholdingfertilisedsoil, creatingsmall'mats' of seedlingsthat can
be plantedlater.Theyare grownin a protectedareasuchas a greenhouseuntil
they are 15-20 cm long.Thenthey are transplantedinto a rice paddy.
Meanwhile,the farmerspreparethe rice paddy.

3: Transplanting Seedlings into the Field (late April to mid-


June)
Transplantingis usuallydonemechanicallyby a small,swimming
tractorthat plantsthe seedlingsin evenlyspacedstraightrows.This
helpsencourageeven growthand makesweeding(whenneeded)
as easyas possible.If the fields are overcrowdedthey couldyield
morerice grainsbut eachricegrainwould be smaller,and if the
plantsare too widely spaced,the rice qualityand growthcan
becomeinconsistent.
Thetransplantingseasonvariesdependingon the ricevariety
and regionalclimates.Formostof Japan,the plantingout
generallyoccursearlier(earlyto mid-May)in the coolernorth-
eastregionsand later (earlyto mid-June)in the warmer
south-westregions.
Goodsunnyweatherafter transplantingis essentialto create
strong,healthyrice plants.Normallyfarmersflood the field with
water,up to three-quartersof the lengthof the seedling,andtreat
it with herbicideto protectthe rice plantsfrom havingto compete
with weeds.

4: Draining and Re-flooding the Paddy (late June to late


September)
Throughoutthe growingseasonthe paddieswill be regularlydrainedand
re-flooded.Thereare a numberof reasonsfor this.
If the rice paddyremainsconstantlyflooded,vegetationthat is submerged
without oxygencreatespoisonousacidsand gasesas it rots.Thesedisruptthe healthy
growthof the rice plants.Dryingthe fields givesthe rottingvegetationaccessto oxygen,
enablingit to decomposein a waythat helpsprovidenutrientsfor the rice plant. These
nutrientssoakinto the soil as the field is drained.
Alsothe drier periodsencouragethe rice plantsto grow as required.Duringthe dry periods
verticalgrowth slowsandthe plantsput moreenergyinto creatinglargegrains.Furthermore,the rice
plantsdevelopstrongerroot systemsso that they are better ableto supportthemselvesas the grainsripen.
40 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

are free of volcanic ash, which can disrupt rice favourable for sake production (see section Starch in
growing. this chapter).
If the weather stays too hot during ripening, or if the
In order to maintain their soil, farmers need to work it nights are too warm, or if there is a lack of sunlight ,
before the seedlings are transplanted . In the spring then the rice grains struggle to ripen . They will
the soil is broken up into fine particles and mixed therefore contain proportionally more protein and are
thoroughly with the water . The resulting sludge holds more prone to cracking . Climate change means this is
water well and allows the paddy to be flooded. Water increasingly a problem.
slowly drains away and can be replaced via irrigation
channels . The advantage of flooding the fields is that ASSESSING AND GRADING THE QUALITY OF
it is very difficult for weeds to grow; seeds sink and SAKE RICE
cannot access the oxygen and light they need to grow. The most common way for brewers to source rice is
Topping-up the level of nutrients in the soil is the for them to buy it from local (prefectural) sake brewers'
other key concern of the farmer. The most important associations, who in turn buy rice from agricultural
components of fertilisers (either organic or synthetic) co-operatives, who in turn buy it from the individual
used in the cultivation of sake-specific rice are nitrogen farmers. These transactions require standardised
compounds . Rice needs very high levels of nitrogen to measures of quality.
grow successfully and develop large grains with large Quality grades are defined by the Japanese
shinpaku . The other nutrient that is very important in government , and government-employed inspectors
the formation of a large shinpaku is calcium . grade rice before sale. Premium sake (tokutei-meisho-
The level of nitrogen needed means that sake- shu) must, by law, be made from rice that has passed
specific rice can rarely be grown without the use of inspection. Uninspected and ungraded rice can be
fertilisers . Fertiliser is generally added three times : used for sake, but only for non-premium sake (futsO-
when the seeds are sown, when they are planted out, shu). Listed with the highest quality grade first, the
and when the plant begins to grow rapidly before the quality grades are:
ears of grain appear . Above special (toku-jo)
Farmers do use organic fertilisers either from manure Special (toku)
or composted parts of the rice plant. However, sake- First Grade
specific rice is rarely grown organically. The rice plant's Second Grade
demand for nitrogen is so high, synthetic , nitrogen-rich Third Grade .
fertilisers are nearly always used.
The first two of these are only used for grading rice
Ideal Weather Conditions for Sake-specific Rice destined for sake . The other grades apply to both sake
Between transplanting the seedlings and the rice and table rice. There are rice grades below the
appearance of the ears the farmers want sunny and Third Grade , but these cannot be used for premium
warm weather. The ideal daytime temperature is about sake . The official government quality classification is
22 °C (72°F), with high levels of sunlight and cool nights. based on the following criteria :
During the ripening stage between the appearance moisture content (too much risks rot, and too little
of the ears and harvesting, the farmers continue to increases the likelihood of cracking during polishing)
need warm daytime temperatures (about 20-25°C , the percentage that are broken , cracked or under-
68-77 °F) with long hours of sunshine . There should be ripened (the smaller the percentage the better) .
a marked cooling during the night and ideally night -time
temperatures should be about 9.5°C (50°F) cooler than Grain size is also important (larger is better) but this is
the days . At this time high winds present a significant not included in the criteria of rice quality grading .
risk. Windy weather during flowering can disrupt Unsurprisingly, the price of sake-specific rice
fertilisation, leading to fewer grains . High winds, depends on the quality, and varies depending on the
especially typhoons, later in the season can damage availability and demand each season. Sake-specific rice
the rice plants. costs more than table rice. Yamada-nishiki costs more
If the temperature is too cool during ripening, the than most other varieties, and the best yamada-nishiki
starch molecules in the rice grain become very can cost more than three times as much as standard
branched, rather than straight, and therefore sake-specific rice .
increasingly glutinous. This leads to the rice being less
RICE PREPARATION 41

RicePreparationRice goes through a four-stage process to prepare it for brewing. The


brewer starts with hard and dry brown rice and ends up with white
steamed rice. The choices that are made throughout these four stages can have a significant impact
8
on the style of sake that can be made from the steamed rice.

THE AIMS OF THE BREWER stored rice is polished . Rice polishing is one of the
Rice has the great advantage that it can be stored for criteria in the grading system of premium sake. The
weeks or even months without rotting or severely maximum rice polishing ratios (seimai-bua,) are defined
degrading, as long as it has been dried to a moisture for most grades . Although the main component of
level of 15 per cent. This means that the stored rice can rice grains is starch, the bran and outer layers of the
be steadily processed in small batches, day by day, endosperm contain proteins, lipids, vitamins and
throughout the brewing season. However, rice has the minerals. All these nutrients are important for the
disadvantage that its energy is stored as solid starch, growth of koji and yeast. However, an overabundance
rather than fermentable sugar. accelerates the koji propagation and the fermentation.
In order to make this starch available , the rice needs High levels of sugar and very active, warm
to go through four processes: polishing, washing, fermentations would make it very difficult to achieve
soaking and steaming . These processes help the brewer the precise and elegant flavours that need a relatively
in other ways too . Altogether there are three things the long and cool fermentation in order to develop . Rice
brewer is looking to achieve during rice preparation . proteins are also one source of the umami taste of
Reduce the levels of proteins, lipids, vitamins and sake, but too much rice protein results in rough and
minerals in the rice grain {when their levels are too heavy textures .
high, these lead to faster fermentations and add The rice is polished mechanically using a high-speed
flavour, texture and acidity to the sake, when this is rotating roller. This process has to be done slowly and
not usually desired) . gently, otherwise the rice grains dry out and become
Adjust the amount and distribution of moisture within cracked due to the heat and friction from polishing.
the rice grain (helping koji mould to penetrate to the Some rice varieties, such as yamada-nishiki, are
centre and helping the grains to break up more particularly good at surviving long periods of polishing
easily during fermentation). without cracking or completely crumbling.
Gelatinise the starch so that the koji mould enzymes Before the widespread adoption of mechanical rice
can break the starch into sugar. polishing in the first half of the twentieth century, the
polishing process was done by hand or by watermills,
PREPARING THE RICE limiting the level to which rice could be polished; ginjo
Each of the individual processes used to prepare the levels below 60 per cent seimai-buai were impossible.
rice (polishing, washing, soaking and steaming) need The first ginjo-style sakes became possible when the
to be considered as one part of a wider set of choices modern vertical rice-polishing machine was developed
a brewer makes in order to achieve the desired styles around 1930, but these were initially limited to
of sake . competition sakes. It took until the 1980s before this
For example, if a robust and flavoursome style of technology (and the required brewing techniques)
sake is sought, then faster ferments at higher were widespread enough to support the 'ginjo boom'
temperatures and higher levels of koji activity may as this new style became popular.
be desirable. Rice suitable for this style of sake does The structure of a vertical rice-polishing machine is
not need to be so highly polished, and the water rather simple . From the rice tank on the top, brown
absorption rate does not need to be so limited or (unpolished) rice is dropped into the polishing column .
precise. On the other hand, if the producer seeks to This normally consists of a vertical barrel with an
make a delicate, light-textured daiginjo, then merely abrasive rock grinding roller (whetstone) inside. Usually
polishing the rice to the required degree is not the polishing has two different stages. Initially, a coarse
sufficient. Careless washing, or excessive, or uneven grinding roller rapidly removes the bran and outer grain
soaking or steaming, could lead to high levels of koji of rice. Later, it switches to a finer-textured grinding
enzyme, koji flavours, and the rice breaking up too roller with a slower speed for the later stage when the
quickly, all of which will result in a fermentation that is rice gets smaller and more sensitive to the shock of
too fast to create a daiginjo-style sake. friction. Although it is an automated process, the exact
timing of when to switch the roller layers and polishing
Polishing speed tends to be changed depending on the
When the rice is ready to be used to make sake, the characteristics of the rice variety . Below the polishing
42 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

RICEPOLISHING

A number of rice- polishing


machinesin a large
brewery. Theactual
polishingtakes place in the
cone shapedstructures.
Ricebeing stored in large
bags can be seen on the
right of the image.

Grainsof riceshowing
differentpolishingratios.
The indentationon the
bottomof the unpolished
grainof riceis wherethe
germusedto be.

100% 70% 60% 50% 35%

column, on the bottom of machine, there is a screen to Washing


retain the rice powder that has been removed (which After the rice has finished resting, it is washed to
is called nuka) . The rice grains go back to the top tank remove any remaining nuka, which is made up of
by a bucket conveyer to travel through the polishing undesirable components that the producer has
tube repeatedly until the rice is polished to the ratio attempted to remove by polishing. The ideal is to
that has been decided. To polish 600 kg brown rice, remove all of the dust without allowing the rice to
it takes: reabsorb too much water, and for the water that is
roughly 10 hours to reach 70 per cent seimai-buai absorbed to be absorbed evenly by all of the grains.
(honjozo level) Hand-washing in small batches is the traditional way
roughly 45 hours to reach 50 per cent seimai-buai and is still carried out for premium sakes. However,
(daiginjo level) recent improvements made to rice-washing machines
increasingly longer to reach each further 10 per cent. have made it possible to wash rice as perfectly and
thoroughly as the hand-washing method. These new
When the target seimai-buai is achieved, the rice is machines blow fine air bubbles through the water
rested to allow it to cool down and reabsorb some of replicating hand stirring, which brings all the rice in
the moisture lost during polishing. This reduces the contact with the water and gets the dusts off the rice.
risk of cracks appearing on the rice caused by an For mass production, especially for futsO-shu, brewers
immediate temperature change when it is later washed use large scale washing tanks.
in cold water. Depending on the climate, it can take
between three to four weeks for the polished rice to Soaking
first cool and then absorb the correct amount of After washing, the rice is soaked to increase its water
moisture. content to the optimal level before steaming. The
RICE PREPARATION 43

LEFT:Handwashingrice.
The riceis in the metal
containerbeingheldbythe
breweryworker.

RIGHT:Handsoaking.

overall moisture level is typically raised to around slows with time. After a couple of hours, when the level
30-35 per cent, but varies depending on the type of of absorption reaches about 30 per cent, hardly any
rice and the polishing ratio, and whether the rice will more water is absorbed. This is the ideal moisture level
be used for koji. before steaming. Because of this, sake made from less
If it is soaked for too long, the outside of the grains polished rice does not need to be precisely managed
absorb too much water. There are two reasons why during the soaking stage, and therefore the rice can
this is not good for sake quality. First, if the rice is even be left overnight to soak in large batches.
destined to become koji, the mould will grow too However, more highly polished rice (polished to 50
quickly without producing the appropriate levels of per cent seimai-buai, for example) is drier and more
koji enzymes. Second, if over-moist rice is used in the porous and therefore absorbs water more quickly. If
fermentation, it breaks up too quickly during the left to soak, it will continue to absorb water far beyond
fermentation. This results in the yeast having access the ideal ratio of about 30 per cent. Additionally, the
to high levels of sugar, causing them to ferment too ginjo styles of sake made from highly polished rice
quickly and the required flavours do not develop. This tend to require greater precision in the exact levels and
would be a particular problem for ginjo and daiginjo distribution of moisture . This applies equally to both
styles of sake. steamed rice and the rice that is destined to become
Many factors affect the ideal rice soaking time: koji. This is covered in more detail in Chapter 9
The more the rice is polished, the less time it takes Preparing Koji and Chapter 12 The Main Fermentation
to absorb the water. (Moromi).
Colder water is absorbed by the rice more slowly. As well as running regular trials, brewers use a
Water temperatures typically range from s•c to 15°C. number of techniques that allow them to be as accurate
The brewer must consider the initial and the target as possible and to achieve the correct moisture levels .
moisture level, of the rice . The techniques include:
soaking the rice in very small batches
These factors can vary day by day, batch by batch. using cold water to slow down absorption
Therefore the ideal time for washing and soaking rice timing the soaking using a stopwatch .
has to be estimated (there is no rigorous formula). The
brewer starts with a few trial batches, experimenting After soaking, the rice must be drained completely,
with adjustments, visually checking the rice and and is usually left to rest for several hours or overnight
measuring the water absorbed each time until the before steaming. Soaked rice is more fragile than
target water-absorption is achieved. unsoaked rice because of the increased moisture
Rice that is less polished (to 70 per cent seimai-buai, level in the grains . Therefore, soaked rice needs to
for example), starts off with more moisture, absorbs be handled carefully and it is typically steamed less
water more slowly, and the rate of water absorption than 24 hours after soaking has finished.
44 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

STEAMING

1. Ricebeing loaded into


a traditional batch
steamer.

2. A close up showing
that the rice is loaded
in layers.

3. A traditional steamer in
operation.

Steaming fermentation. The lowest moisture level in a steamer


Steaming has two purposes: it sterilises the rice and, is found in the top layer of rice, which is the furthest
more importantly, it alters the structure of the starch from the steam inlets. Therefore rice in this top layer is
molecules, see section Starch in Chapter 7 Rice always used for ki5ji production. As a further means of
Cultivation. It also has the effect of further increasing controlling the moisture level of this top layer of rice ,
the moisture level from the 30 per cent added during a thick cloth is placed over it to prevent the water
soaking to around 40 per cent. condensation from surfaces above dripping back onto
Rice steaming is typically the first task of the brewing the rice and making it wet.
day. Some large brewers use continuous steamers, The rice from the layers below is added to either
but traditional rice steamers that can only process one a fermentation starter or a main fermentation . The
batch at a time are widespread. highest moisture levels are found at the bottom of the
When using a traditional steamer, the rice has to steamer, but sometimes these levels can be too high.
be well drained. It is placed in the steamer either the This is a particular problem if highly polished rice is
night before or the morning of the steaming. Steaming being prepared for a ginji5 style of sake. Therefore, in
a 700 kg batch of rice takes about 40-60 minutes. order to counter this problem, some brewers lay bags
The rice is loaded into the steamer in layers of fake rice, made from polypropylene, on the bottom
separated with cloths. This makes it easier to load and of the steamer in order to raise the rice away from the
unload the steamer quickly but it also allows the brewer steam inlets. This prevents the rice on the bottom layer
to separate easily the batches that are for different from becoming too moist.
destinations (e.g. the ki5Jiroom and different starter and Some brewers have adopted a technique of using
main fermentation tanks) after they have been steamed a special heater to blow dry hot steam just before
together . finishing the steaming process. The pressure heater
The aim is for the grains to be evenly cooked and all reduces the quantity of water droplets carried in the
to be firm on the outside and soft on the inside but the steam, and means that the steam can add more heat
level of moisture that is required depends on what the and leaves less water on the outside of the rice, to
rice will be used for after steaming . make it firm on the outside and soft on the inside.
Rice that is destined to be used in ki5Jiproduction When brewing on a larger scale, continuous
requires a lower level of moisture compared with rice steamers are usually used . The most common type
that will be added to either the starter or the main consists of a conveyor, with an inlet for rice at one end
RICE PREPARATION 45

A continuoussteamer.
Riceis movedthroughthe
machineon a conveyor
belt.

and an exit for steamed rice at the other. In the first A brewerformsa ricecake
part of the conveyor, nozzles force high-pressure steam with steamedriceto test
into the rice from below. In the second part, the rice is whetherit is ready.
cooled. Whereas traditional steamers take time for the
full mass of rice to warm up and come into contact
with steam, continuous steamers put the rice into
contact with a precisely controlled amount of steam
immediately on entering the steaming chamber . This
makes it possible for the entire steaming and cooling
process to take place more quickly (in 30-40 minutes),
and many tonnes of rice can be steamed in a day.
To decide whether the rice has been perfectly
steamed, master brewers (toj1)shape a small amount of
steamed rice into a round cake using the palm of their
hand. Some brewers liken the optimal steaming level
of rice to the toughness of a hard tennis ball when they
squeeze the rice cakes. Some also check by chewing
A rice cake that has been
it with their front teeth.
formed from steamedrice.
After steaming, the rice is cooled. Traditionally this is
done by spreading the rice out on mats on the brewery
floor. Modern continuous steamers are able to cool the
rice they have steamed. Once the rice has reached the
target temperature it is sent immediately to the next
stage in the brewing process. It will either be sent for
koji production or it will be added to a fermentation
starter or a main fermentation . Rice that is added to a
fermentation and not used to make koji is called kake-
mai .
46 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Koji is a culture of special kinds of filamentous fungi grown on cereal


PreparingKoji
9 grains. Koji has been a foundation for the food cultures of Japan and koji
mould is called a 'national fungi'. Mould cultures grown on whole or powdered cereals have also been
used in Korea and China for many centuries. There are several species and strains of this beneficial
mould used for miso, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and the Japanese spirit shochii, as well as sake.

Koji is the Japanese term for steamed rice (or other components that affect the style and quality of sake,
types of grain) that has been cultivated with koji mould either by contributing directly to the sake's aromas and
(koji-kin). For most sake, about 20 per cent of the rice flavours or by providing nutrients for the yeast. These
that is used during fermentation is treated this way. other components include:
Japanese law states that 15 per cent of the rice used to amino acids and peptides, which are created when
make a batch of premium sake must be koji. Sake can enzymes (proteinases) secreted by the mould break
be made entirely from koji but this speciality style is down larger proteins in the rice. They are important
made in tiny quantities by just a few brewers. yeast nutrients and contribute to the umami and very
The main purpose of koji is to provide enzymes that slightly to the acidity of the sake
break down rice starches into fermentable glucose vitamins, which are important yeast nutrients
sugars (the same function that malted barley plays in lipids and proteins
most beer production). It would be possible to malt rice, other subtle aroma/flavour molecules, in particular a
using germination to activate the rice grains' own chestnut aroma.
starch-to-sugar enzymes. However, this would require
whole unpolished rice grains to be used, and the Note that Aspergillus oryzae produces very little acid.
flavours from the outer part of cereal grains, while The main acids in sake (succinic, malic and lactic) come
desirable in beer, are undesirable in most sake. from the fermentation starter and the yeast.
Polishing removes the germ (baby rice plant) from the
outside of the rice grain, so polished rice cannot be Varieties of Koji Mould
malted. For this reason, sake brewers need to use There are three main varieties of koji mould: yellow,
other means of providing conversion enzymes. black and white. The colours refer to the appearance of
inoculated rice grains. The variety used for almost all
KOJIMOULD sake is yellow koji (Aspergillus oryzae). This is because
Koji-kin is the Japanese term for the type of koji mould yellow koji mould produces very low levels of citric acid
(called Aspergil/us oryzae) that is widely used in Japan. compared with black and white koji mould. Acidity has
The brewer starts by spreading spores of the koji for a long time been regarded as undesirable by many
mould over steamed rice. The spores are in effect Japanese sake drinkers.
seeds from which the mould grows. In order to grow A few sake brewers are experimenting with black
and thrive, koji mould requires warm temperatures and and white koji mould. The higher level of citric acid
high levels of water in the grains of steamed rice. If the produced by black and white koji mould can result in
temperature becomes too cold and the water content a sake with a structure and balance that is more similar
drops the mould will stop growing. In order to achieve to that of wine than traditional sake. There has been a
the ideal conditions for mould growth, every sake demand among sake enthusiasts for this style, and this
brewery has a special koji room (koji-muro). This is a has led to a few producers choosing to make these
special temperature- and humidity-controlled room. The unusual sakes using black or white koji.
inside of the walls of the koji room were traditionally
covered with Japanese cypress wood (hinok1) but Formats of Koji Mould
because this is expensive and can be difficult to Koji mould is usually purchased from one of a small
maintain, most modern koji rooms are now covered in number of suppliers. There are two formats of koji
stainless steel. mould used by brewers to inoculate rice:
The mould grows by sending feeding tubes (hyphae) Powdered, which is simply mould spores.
into the rice grain. These tubes secrete enzymes that, Granulated, which is rice that has koji mould with
among other things, break down the rice starches into spores growing on it.
glucose. The glucose is absorbed into the mould's
feeding tubes and then used by the mould to support Most brewers use the powdered koji mould. This format
further growth. is a newer product. Since it has no rice grains, it is
Koji mould does not just produce enzymes that suitable to inoculate continuously at a constant density
convert starch to sugar; they also provide other of spores.
PREPARING KOJI 47

Some brewers still choose the traditional granulated


type especially for ginjo sake. There are fewer spores
available owing to the presence of rice in the
granulated format and this can make it easier to
achieve a light, even covering of spores over the rice -
something that is needed for the production of tsuki-
haze.

STYLES OF KOJI: SO-HAZE AND TSUKI-HAZE


Broadly speaking, koji styles can be classified
according to the level and pattern of growth of the
koji-mould . The two extremes are called so-haze and
tsuki-haze, but there is a continuum in between. For a
particular type of sake, the most appropriate style of
koji might lie somewhere between the extremes.

So-haze
In so-haze, the koji mould covers the entire rice grain
sending many feeding tubes into the centre of the rice
grain. This is encouraged by using rice grains with a
higher moisture content, though if the moisture level
is too high this leads to undesirably uneven mould
growth (called nuri-haze) . In this style, the koji has high
levels of enzymes, vitamins, sugars, amino acids and
peptides, all of which are produced by the koji mould.
Koji made in the so-haze style ensures there is a more
rapid starch to sugar conversion and it is typically used
to support a faster and warmer fermentation, giving
more body and flavour to the final sake. So-haze koji is
ideal for:
futsO-shu to boost the flavour intensity and
compensate for some of the dilution that occurs
whenjozo alcohol is added
premium sake with intense flavours, full body, high
acidity and high umami.

Tsuki-haze
In the tsuki-haze style, the koji mould grows in a lightly
spotted pattern over the rice grain . A cross section of tsuki-haze is ideal for achieving the very slow, controlled Kojimouldgrowthat day
the grain shows places where well-developed mould cold fermentation that is needed for the development one (top)and daytwo
feeding tubes have grown into the centre of the grain of ginjo aromas. Lipids produced by koji can also inhibit (bottom)showingthe
and others where there are no tubes at all. It takes a the formation of ginjo aromas, if the level of lipids is too spreadof the mouldgrowth
great deal of skill to create this style of koji. The brewer high . Thus, it is important to restrict the fungal growth overthe surfaceof the rice.
needs to ensure that: to keep lipids at a low level. The levels of vitamins and Note,this picture,kindly
the level of moisture in the grains is controlled and proteins produced by the mould are also lower, leading supplied by the NRIB,

kept at a low level to a more lightly textured and delicate style of ginjo. shows white koji but the

the amount of koji mould spores used is restricted Tsuki-haze is ideal for: effect would be very similar

the koji room is relatively warmer and less humid . ginjo and daiginjo sakes, where purity and delicate tor yellow koji.

texture are desired, together with ginjo aromas, low


Grains with less moisture are required because the acidity and low umami
mould finds it harder to grow on the surface of the honjozo made with a lean texture and restrained
relatively drier grains. Also, the grains have a slightly aromas .
firmer exterior that is harder for the mould to penetrate
with its feeding tubes. MAKING KOJI
This very light mould growth means that only a limited Traditional koji making is a very labour-intensive
amount of enzymes are produced, which are released process because the temperature and humidity need
slowly as the rice breaks up during the fermentation . As to be checked every two hours and the rice needs to
long as there are enough yeast nutrients in the water, be constantly worked by hand. Partially and fully
48 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

automated koji-making machines have now been growth) or rises too high (which risks killing the mould).
developed. Their use was once confined to large scale It is left like this for about 8-12 hours.
and lower-quality sake production. However, because For machine-made ki5Ji, the steamed rice grains are
of the improvements in the technology, more young inoculated by spraying them with spores while they are
and artisan sake makers are starting to adopt the use being transferred by a pipe from the steamer to the
of these automated koji machines to achieve a more koji-making machine . The most common design for an
consistent production while improving the quality automatic koji machine is a large drum with a circular
potential long-term by collecting and compiling base. Rice grains are laid out to cover the base. A
databases of the results of different production rotating roller moves the rice, and the temperature and
decisions. humidity inside the drum can be controlled , usually
Whether done by hand, or partially or fully following a pre-set program. The machine creates a
mechanised, koji production follows the following high temperature, high humidity environment to mimic
seven stages. The English names for these stages that the effect of the blanket to promote growth of the
are given below are approximate translations of the mould.
Japanese terms that appear in brackets.
Re-breaking Up (Kirikaeshi)
Bringing In (Hikikomi) Carried out at about hours 10-12.
Carried out at hour 0. The temperature of the rice has risen to about 33°C
The temperature of the rice is reduced from the (92°F), and is reduced to about 31°C (88°F), it then
steamer temperature down to 32-35°C (90-95°F). rises back after a few hours to about 33 °C (92°F).
Steamed rice is transferred to the koji room, once it The aim is to ensure even growth of mould, and
has reached the right temperature. avoid 'hot spots' occurring.

The newly steamed rice needs to be cooled to an At this stage, the mould has started to grow across the
appropriate temperature for koji inoculation. For rice, but with some uneven patches (no matter how
hand-made koji, the cooling is often done on mats careful the brewer was at the 'spreading seed' stage).
immediately outside the koji room , taking advantage of The mould growth has created heat raising the
the cold conditions in the brewery . Once at the right temperature of the rice slightly to around 33°C (92°F),
temperature, it is laid out in the koji room on a large but with some hotter and cooler parts. Re-breaking up
shallow bed called a toko. helps to ensure that the mould growth happens evenly
For machine-made koji, cooling can be done on a throughout the rice. It also allows heat to escape from
cooling conveyor linked to a continuous steamer, from any warm spots where the risk is that the fungus will
where the grains are transferred by tubes or conveyors grow too much (fungal growth can continue up to about
to the koji-making machine. 50 °C (122°F) and heat in the hot spots does not reach
these temperatures). Overall, the result is a drop in
Spreading the Spores (Tanekiri) and Initial Mould temperature from about 33°C (92°F) to about 31°C (88°F).
Growth For hand-made koji, the brewer unwraps the rice,
Carried out at about hours 1-3 after bringing-in, and spreads it back out over the bed and meticulously
the initial mould growth lasts until hours 10-12. works through the rice grains, breaking up any
The temperature of the rice begins around 30-32°C clumps . The rice is then wrapped back up again, and
(86-90 °F) and is allowed to rise to around 33-35°C the ambient temperature and humidity in the koji
(92-95 °F). room helps the mould to continue to grow for another
The aim is to inoculate the rice grains with koji 8-12 hours .
spores and encourage mould growth . For machine-made koji , the rice is broken up by the
rotating rollers, and the temperature and humidity is
For hand-made koji, this is done on a large bed-like automatically set high enough to continue encouraging
table (toko) inside the koji room . Koji spores are applied the growth of the mould.
using hand shakers. Different brewers use different
techniques: some shake high, some low, some fast, Mounding (Mori)
some slow . Whichever technique is used, the aim is to Carried out at about hours 20-23 (i.e. about half way
apply the appropriate amount of spores, and ensure through) .
they are spread as evenly as possible. After inoculation, The temperature of the rice has reached around 33°C
the rice grains are formed into a mound on the bed (92°F), and continues to rise to over 35°C (95°F).
and covered in blankets to retain the warmth and The aim is to manage the level of and distribution of
moisture, to encourage the mould to germinate and the mould growth. The rice is unwrapped and spread
grow . Because the mould creates heat as it grows, out. If the rice is to be moved to a less humid part of
the temperature is monitored so that the brewer can the ki5Jiroom, to help with this process, it will happen
inteNene if it falls too low (leading to slow mould at this stage.
PREPARING KCJI 49

Mounding is the mid-point in koji production. At this or the machine, and by using rollers to move the rice
stage, the mould should be well established and evenly around. So far, it is not possible to mimic mechanically
spread throughout all of the rice grains, but the growth the very precise control needed to make good hand-
pattern within each individual grain {so-haze, tsuki-haze made tsuki-haze.
or something in between) has not yet been determined .
The brewer's goal now shifts from encouraging mould Middle Work (Naka-shigoto)
growth to managing the level and distribution of that Carried out at about hours 30-33.
growth. In order to achieve the appropriate pattern The temperature of the rice is reduced from around
of mould , the brewer now needs to consider the 36°C {97°F) to around 33°C {92°F), after which it
distribution of temperature and moisture at the level of continues to rise again to about 38°C {100°F).
the single rice grain, rather than the whole mass of rice. The key aims are to encourage the release of heat ,
Depending on the level of precision required {tsuki- and to start drying out the rice grains.
haze requires more precision than so-haze), the brewer
has several options . For hand-made koji there are three During the middle and final work, the rice is worked
main options. so that its surface area becomes increasingly larger,
by flattening the shape of the mound and drawing
Bed koji (Toko-koji) - Rice is kept on the bed used for patterns into the surface. The larger surface area that
all the previous stages, and the entire koji-making this creates helps the heat to escape and water to
process is completed on the bed. This method creates evaporate from the surface of the rice grains. This is
much bigger batches of koji (100-300 kg) than the important because the period following mounding is
other hand -made methods, but the most precise control the time when the koji mould growth is at its most
of koji growth is not possible. This makes it most vigorous, and when the most heat is generated . The
suitable for futsO-shu, honjozo,Junmai and even some greatest danger is that excess heat can kill the mould.
ginjo, though it is unsuitable for daiginjo. This would then stop the mould growth at an earlier
stage than the brewer wants. Dying koji also creates
Box koji (Hako-kojl) - Rice is transferred to medium- undesirable aromas and flavours (slightly reminiscent
sized boxes called hako . The boxes typically contain of sweat) that taints the final sake.
15-40 kg of rice, and often incorporate a divider so the With box and tray koji, the rice starts as a mound
brewer can slide the rice from one half to the other, {after mounding) and, following the middle and final
allowing accurate control of mould growth . This method work, ends up distributed as widely and as shallowly as
can be used for a wide range of sake , though it is too possible across the whole box or tray. The patterns are
labour intensive to be worthwhile for futsO-shu, and not generally made by hand, and the precise pattern varies
accurate enough for the best daiginjo. from brewer to brewer . For bed koji , it is common to
use a large serrated wooden 'plough', as wide as the
Tray koji (Futa-koji) - Rice is transferred to tiny bed, to plough the rice from one end of the bed to the
containers called futa, each containing just 1.5-2.5 kg other.
of rice . This allows the most precise control of For machine-made koji, the rotating rollers steadily
temperature and water content in the rice, but working redistribute the rice and draw furrows {patterns) to
each box is very labour intensive. This method is allow heat and water to escape, while the temperature
optimal for the best daiginjo sakes. and water content inside remain high enough that koji
on the surface is not significantly cooler or drier than
Following the transfer {or not) of the rice , the newly the koji in the centre of the pile .
directed mould growth is allowed to continue for a
further 7-10 hours . Trays and boxes are often arranged Final Work (Shlmai-shlgoto)
in racks. If the rice is transferred to trays or boxes, they Carried out at about hours 36-38.
are checked and rearranged every few hours to avoid The temperature of the rice remains higher than 38°C
differences in mould growth occurring between the {100°F). Importantly, it should avoid exceeding 43°C
trays/boxes at the top {where it is warmer) and those {110°F) so as not to start stressing the koji mould.
at the bottom (where it is cooler). The aim is to continue drying out the rice grains, and
The stages that follow mounding are the most to continue releasing the heat created by koji activity.
labour-intensive stages of hand-made koji production,
and there are options to partially mechanise these The process of increasing the surface area of the rice
stages. For example, the boxes or trays can be put on continues, but the focus shifts from removing heat, to
racks that are rearranged mechanically rather than by removing moisture {though both are important
hand . throughout middle and final work).
For fully machine-made koji, the rice simply remains Final work, together with middle work, is especially
in the drums . The level and pattern of mould growth are critical for achieving good tsuki-haze koji . By making
determined by adjusting the temperature and humidity the surface of each grain drier than the centre, the
50 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

MAKINGKC>JI
Ki5jimaking is complex and most brewers have their own individual approaches. Therefore, it is important to
remember that these images can only offer an impression of the key stages in ki5ji making and cannot hope to
show all of the nuances.

1 Bringing In

1. Thesteamedrice is movedquickly
from the steamer.Hereit is being
done by handbut it can also be
done mechanically.

2. Therice is spreadout on matsto


cool down.

2 Spreading the Spores


and Initial Mould Growth

3. Therice sporesbeingspreadon
steamedrice laid out on a
traditionallargeshallowbed.

4. Therice is wrappedup for the


initial periodof mouldgrowth.

3 Re-breaking Up

The wrapped up piles of rice


are broken up to ensure an
even mould growth.

5. A k6ji makingmachine.Rotating
rakesbreakup the rice.

6. Thecompactedrice being broken


up by hand.

7. Thebreweryworkershaveto
completelybreakup the rice.

Therice is normallywrappedup
againbefore the nextstage of the
process.
PREPARING KOJI 51

4 Mounding
El
At this stage the rice can stay
on a large bed or be moved to
a smaller container.

8. Ricebeing moved to make tray


koji.

9. Rice being moved to make box


koji.

10. Machine-madek6ji stays in the


machinethroughout and
continues to be turned by the
mechanicalrakes. Note the
Archimedesscrew to the right
which will be used to movethe
rice out of the machine.

5 Middle and Final Work

At this stage the koji is being


constantly turned to control
mould growth and dissipate
heat.

11. Bed k6ji.

12. Boxk6ji.

6 Sending Out

Once the mould growth has


reached the required level
the rice is chilled to stop the
mould from growing any
further .

13. Here, machine-madek6ji is being


moved away from the machine
by conveyor belt.
52 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

mould is encouraged to seek the moisture at the centre Once the desired level and distribution of mould has
of the grain rather than continuing to cover the surface. been reached, the brewer needs to stop it growing any
But even for so-haze koji, the grains must start to dry further. The brewer cannot starve or poison the mould;
out. these are not practical options. Heating would kill the
For machine-made koji, the rotating roller continues mould, but the heating process would also cause off-
to reshape the rice to increase the surface area, and flavours and de-activate enzymes and vitamins created
the temperature and humidity inside are managed to by the mould. Chilling the rice on the other hand stops
encourage evaporation. the mould from growing without killing it and causing it
to release any off-aromas.
Sending Out (De-koji) For hand-made koji, the vessels (tray, box, or bed)
Carried out at about hours 44-48. are commonly transferred to a separate part of the koji
The temperature of the rice is reduced from around room that is maintained at a cool ambient temperature.
38°C (100°F) to ambient temperature in the brewery. Beds often have fans that make it possible to speed the
The purpose is to stop the koji mould growth by cooling process by blowing cool air from below.
cooling down and drying out the grains. For machine-made koji, the temperature inside the
drum is automatically reduced .
WATER AND YEAST 53

WaterandYeast Water and yeast are the two sake ingredients not derived from rice.
Water is part of every major process of sake making, and makes up over
80 per cent of the finished product. Almost all of it is added during the various stages of the brewing
10
process. Yeast create alcohol when they eat sugar but they also create many of the signature aromas
that define the different styles of sake.

WATER development of floral ginjo aromas, leading to more


Historically, Japanese sake makers built breweries in restrained and drier styles of sake.
locations with access to a constant and reliable supply The lower mineral content of the Fushimi water near
of good-quality water. Japan receives abundant rainfall, Kyoto leads to less vigorous fermentations and partly
so access to such water is rarely a problem. Most accounts for the softer style of Kyoto sakes.
breweries use natural subsoil sources but some prefer Magnesium, potassium and phosphorus are also
to use filtered tap water for consistency. Whatever present in rice and at sufficient enough levels to meet
the source, breweries can filter and alter the mineral the nutrient needs of the yeast and the koji . Therefore
content and acidity of the water they use, to make it it is possible to have a successful fermentation using
more suitable for their purposes . water with a low mineral content. However, in order for
The water used to make sake must comply with these yeast nutrients to become available, the rice
specific standards applying to water for use in the needs to break up during fermentation. This takes time,
manufacture of food products. There are strict upper during which there is a risk of contamination or of the
limits on the permitted level of organic substances, yeast completely running out of nutrients. In order to
and the level of iron is less than a tenth of the level offset this risk, brewers can use so-haze koji. The larger
permitted in tap water. Too much iron gives sake a quantity of rapidly released enzymes results in the rice
reddish-brown colour and spoils the aroma and taste. breaking up more quickly ensuring that the yeast have
Within these limits there is much scope for different a sufficient supply of nutrients. Alternatively, the brewer
mineral and nutrient balances in the water that is can adjust the mineral content of the water . This is done
used, with the main effect being on style rather than when making ginjo sake using tsuki haze koji in regions
quality. with low mineral water, such as Saijo (Hiroshima
Water 'hardness' and 'softness' strictly refers only to Prefecture).
the level of calcium and magnesium dissolved in the
water. In most cases, the dominant metal present in YEAST
hard water is calcium, though in sake brewing it is the From the brewer's point of view, yeast have three very
magnesium that is important because magnesium important roles to perform:
enhances the metabolism of the yeast. Potassium and They make alcohol from sugar.
phosphorus also aid the healthy growth of yeast and They create aroma compounds.
koji, but these are entirely ignored when measuring They create organic compounds, including acids.
water hardness. For this reason, it can be misleading
to use water 'hardness' as a defining characteristic of Compared with the subtle impact of the rice and koji,
water when discussing sake. However, calcium and yeast play a critical role in determining the style of a
magnesium tend to occur together, and are often sake. Different yeast strains lead to distinct differences
present with other metals, so it is not a totally invalid in aromas, but they can also affect the texture and
approximation . Water hardness throughout Japan is acidity of a sake. Together with the lactic acid in the
generally low compared with levels of water hardness fermentation starter, malic and succinic acids created
found internationally. by yeast are the major acids found in sake.
Brewers once preferred to use mineral-rich waters Sake yeasts are the same species as the yeast
that were relatively high in the yeast nutrients widely used for making wine and top-fermented beers
magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. This type of (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). In common with all yeast
water promoted a fast, stable fermentation with less their activity is controlled by temperature. At higher
risk of the fermentation becoming contaminated or temperatures they ferment faster and at lower
stopping prematurely as a result of weak or starving temperatures they ferment more slowly . If the
yeast. This kind of mineral-richness is most famously temperature reaches 3-5 ' C (37-41' F) then they stop
found in the miya-mizu water of the Nada area near fermenting altogether although they become active
Kobe (Hyogo Prefecture). This water is one reason why again when the temperature rises. However, they
this area became the largest producer of sake. The behave differently in high-alcohol conditions . Alcohol
faster, more complete fermentation tends to restrict the is a poison to yeast, so when the level becomes too
54 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

high , wine and beer yeast tend to become dormant in is to consider the brewers' priorities at the various
an attempt to preserve themselves until conditions moments in history when the yeast were isolated .
become more hospitable . Due to mutations that have
been preserved by selective brewers, sake yeast Reliable fermenters - Initially the number one priority
continue to work, creating more alcohol even when was a successful, complete fermentation. This was
the level is toxic enough to start killing them. Where important to brewers (because they did not want to
wine yeasts typically stop working once the alcohol lose sake batches) , but also important to the Japanese
level reaches around 15-16% abv, sake yeast continue government (because sake accounted for a very large
fermenting sugars even when the alcohol level reaches proportion of tax revenue) . This was the main purpose
above 20%: up to 22% abv in extreme cases. If it went of numbers 1 (released in 1916)to 8 (released in 1963).
over 22% abv, the product would cease, legally, to be Of these only two remain in general use, but some of
sake. the others are still used by the brewery that isolated
Traditionally, sake was made using ambient brewery them. The two in general use are :
yeast (yeast attached to surfaces in the brewery). number 6 (isolated at Aramasa brewery in Akita city,
Brewing this way leads to variable results depending released in 1935) and
on which strain of yeast completed the fermentation . As number 7 (isolated at Miyasaka brewery (Masumi
brewing science improved , brewers looked for greater brand) in Suwa city, released in 1946).
consistency by selecting their yeast.
Initially brewers would take yeast from the foam of a Both of these ferment extremely reliably and strongly.
successful fermentation and use it to inoculate the next They produce more acidity than yeasts developed more
fermentation . This technique overcomes some of the recently, and produce more muted aromas (they predate
variation but flavour production remained inconsistent the ginjo boom , see Chapter 17 The Global Sake Industry
because of microbial contamination or changes in a for more details). The aromas produced by number 7 are
yeast population when it is reused in one fermentation generally felt to be slightly more attractive (sweeter and
batch after another . These kinds of ferments typically fruitier) than number 6, which is why it (rather than 6) has
contain many strains of yeast, and their ratio changes become the industry standard, used for a lot of futsO-shu
in successive fermentations . As brewing science and some honjozo andjunmai . Number 7 can also be
advanced , brewers were able to isolate individual used for ginjo, if the brewer is specifically seeking to
strains of yeast. This meant that they could propagate avoid overt ginjo aromas . Number 11 is a variant bred
batch after batch of yeast from the same original strain from number 7, with most of the same characteristics ,
and avoid the problems caused by mutations. As a but is especially good at fermenting through to dryness
result they could achieve a level of consistency that is in high-alcohol conditions. This makes it ideal for dry,
not possible using any other technique . Isolating and non-aromatic sakes.
maintaining strains of yeast is a specialist skill and so
today nearly all brewers choose from a relatively small Early ginjo yeast - The next major drive for new yeast
range of yeast strains that they buy from suppliers such types was for the pursuit of better aromas. The first
as the Brewing Society of Japan . successful examples of these were :
number 9 (Kumamoto yeast, isolated at Koro-
Brewing Society Yeast Kumamoto Sake Research Center, released in 1968)
Since 1906, yeast selected for their desirable and
characteristics have been distributed widely by the number 10 (Meiri yeast, isolated in Northern Japan
Brewing Society of Japan as Brewing Society Yeast and screened at Meiri brewery, released in 1977).
(Kyokai kobo) . The Brewing Society manages the
multiplication of yeast so that the brewing These both followed the development of ginjo sake
characteristics of the strains are kept. This means originally developed as a competition style, but predate
they are a trusted source of the yeast types they the period when ginjo became more widely available
supply. Today, Brewing Society Yeast are numbered commercially. Like the earlier yeasts, these produce a
and packed in ampules to avoid contamination. Many higher level of acidity than more recently developed
of the numbered yeast strains were first isolated by a yeast , though not quite as high as 6 and 7. Both
particular brewery, but where some are improvements produce prominent, pure ginjo aromas, and number 9
on earlier numbered yeasts, others are developed by for many years was the standard yeast for ginjo sake.
different organisations, such as regional research It is still very widely used .
institutes or tax bureaus . Brewers sometimes refer to
yeast by their number (e.g. 'number 9', or 'kyO-go' in Low acid ginjo yeast - Following the ginjo boom in
Japanese) and sometimes by their origin (e.g. the 1980s, and the desire to produce extreme versions
'Kumamoto yeast' , or 'Kumamoto kobo' in Japanese). of this style for competitions, the next target was to
There are many numbers, with many subtly different develop yeast with pronounced ginjo aromas and low
characteristics, but one way of understanding them acidity . Notable examples are :
WATER AND YEAST 55

number 14 (Kanazawa yeast, isolated by the sticky foam from the tanks much harder, and if this
Regional Taxation Bureau of Kanazawa, released in was not done very thoroughly there was a risk of
1995) and contamination .
, number 1801 created by crossing 9 and 1601, Simply using wine and beer yeasts was not a
released in 2006 (the use of '01' is explained below) . practical option, because they were not adapted to
the high-alcohol, low-temperature conditions that sake
These are sometimes referred to as 'modern yeasts', yeast have been bred to survive. Instead, existing
in contrast to the 'classic yeasts' 6, 7, 9 and 10. Sake strains of sake yeast were used to carry out the
made using these yeasts have performed well in fermentations, but as the yeast multiply, mutations
competitions, and these yeast strains are used for occur. Some of the mutated yeast cells remain in the
commercial junmai ginjo and junmai-daiginjo, as well fermenting liquid, rather than clinging to rising bubbles.
as ginjo and daiginjo. Even though sakes made by high By repeating the process of removing the foam (with
aroma producing strains are accepted in the market the attached yeast) and keeping the yeasts that remain
as one of many widely enjoyed sake styles, there is in the liquid, low-foaming versions of existing strains
sometimes criticism that these sakes can also be bitter can be isolated, even though the mutation rate is
on the palate. extremely low. These also have to be tested to
Yeast strain number 1901 became available in 2014. ensure that, despite the mutation, they have the same
desirable characteristics of the original strain . Low-
Low-foaming yeasts - One other factor that has driven foaming variants of many Brewing Society Yeast types
the development of new yeast strains has been the have been developed, and these are distinguished
desire to produce low-foaming yeasts that behave from the original foaming version by adding '01'
more like the yeasts that are used to make wine and afterwards. So, for example, 9 (foaming original version)
beer: with some froth but not the extreme stickiness becomes 901 (low-foaming version released in 1975).
that was typical of sake yeasts . Some recent yeast strains never had a foaming version,
All wine, beer and sake yeasts form some foam at for example 1501 to 1901.
the surface of the fermentation, but wine and beer
yeasts form relatively little foam. Until around 1970, Other Yeasts
the yeasts developed for fermenting sake all tended The Brewing Society of Japan is the main supplier of
to attach themselves to carbon dioxide bubbles yeasts to the sake industry, but there are other options:
produced during the fermentation. This resulted in
enormous amounts of sticky, yeasty foam (sometimes Ambient yeast - These are the yeast populations
as much as half the fermentation tank). This also meant present on surfaces (walls, floors, ceilings, fermentation
extra space was needed in the tank to avoid the risk tanks, etc .) in wineries and breweries. They are
of it overflowing. It also made the job of cleaning the sometimes called 'wild' yeast. Compared with many

Thefoamcreatedbyyeast
duringa fermentation.The
spinningdevicein the
centreknocksthe bubble
backhelpingto keepthe
foamundercontrol.
56 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

producers of fine wine (where expression of the raw producing very soft isoamyl acetate banana aromas
materials is an aim of the winemaker), sake brewers and soft textures with low acidity has contributed to
are more likely to seek a specific final product , the reputation of the region) and Akita and Nagano
leaving as little as possible to chance . Ambient yeast Prefectures (where very successful ginj/5 yeast strains
fermentations with wine are much less risky, due to were developed in the 1990s).
the high acidity of the juice protecting it from microbial
contamination during the period when yeast population Blending Yeasts
is multiplying . Sake fermentations have little protection If a brewer is seeking yeast that combine features that
in the early stages . For these reasons, it is almost already exist (such as a strong fermentation, interesting
unknown for brewers to risk fermentations that rely on aromas and/or low acidity), developing new yeast is not
ambient yeast, but there are a few sakes made this way. the only option . It is becoming increasingly common to
blend yeast. A brewer might, for example, gain some of
Proprietary yeast - Some brewers continue to the aromatic advantages of modern yeast, such as 1801,
isolate yeast samples, sometimes from successful while using a classic yeast strain, such as 901, to fill out
fermentations and sometimes from other sources in the palate and reduce the level of bitterness .
nature (such as flowers or trees). This can lead to the There are several ways that brewers can use multiple
development of brewery-specific versions of more yeasts in one sake :
widely available strains, and even to new variations in Add a mix of yeast strains to the fermentation starter .
yeast. Some brewers use their unique yeasts as a point Create multiple fermentation starters, each with a
of difference, for example, using 'flower yeasts' (yeast different single yeast strain, and combine these when
derived from flowers). starting the main ferment.
Create multiple batches of sake, each using a single
Prefectural and regional yeast - Where a brewer or yeast strain throughout , and blend these at some
organisation has isolated a specific yeast strain, they stage after the fermentations are complete .
may decide to sell or share it. Sometimes the yeast
contributes to a successful regional style, as has Brewers are still experimenting to decide which of
happened in Shizuoka Prefecture (where a yeast strain these methods provides the best results .
THE FERMENTATION STARTER (SHUBO/MOTO) 57

The FermentationStarter(Shubo/Moto)Fermentation starters are


widely used in the production
of many fermented alcoholic beverages. All of these producers use fermentation starters for the same
11
reason: to produce a healthy population of their selected yeast. Achieving this aim is particularly
challenging for sake brewers and, as a result, fermentation starters are a vitally important part of the
brewing process.

THE AIM OF THE BREWER the acid protects the fermentation starter and allows
Before the main fermentation occurs, the fermentation the yeast to become the dominant microorganism.
starter, called shubo or moto is created. Both Japanese The challenge for the brewer is that when steamed
words are widely used for this stage. The purpose of rice, koji and water are mixed together, the resulting
the shubo is to create an acidic environment using mixture is not very acidic and offers the yeast little
lactic acid so that a sufficiently concentrated population protection. The shubo is a very attractive environment
of fermentation yeast can develop. A strong, healthy for a large number of microorganisms. Also, because
population is needed in order to carry out the main the sugars are created slowly by the action of koji
fermentation. mould enzymes on rice starch, there is less food
immediately available to facilitate the rapid growth of a
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SHUBO healthy yeast population. Bacteria multiply much more
The shubo is created in a small tank, approximately rapidly than yeast, so in order for the yeast to have a
six to ten per cent of the size of the main fermentation chance to become the dominant organism, the brewer
tank. To this, rice, koji and water are added, with a needs to combine obsessive antibacterial hygiene
relatively high proportion of koji to encourage rapid with a way of making the fermenting liquid acidic and
starch to sugar conversion. Typically as much as 30-33 therefore hostile to undesirable bacteria .
per cent of the rice used at this stage is koji, compared By far the most common method of creating a
with about 20-23 per cent of the rice used across the suitably acidic environment is to add lactic acid directly
whole of a typical fermentation batch. The shubo takes to the shubo (a method called sokujo-moto). Older
between 14 and 28 days to complete, depending on methods (yamahai and kimoto) use the action of
the method used, at which point the yeast are actively populations of lactic acid-producing bacteria to achieve
fermenting the sugars that are being created by the a similar effect. Although they take longer and are
koji mould enzymes. In order to get to this point vulnerable to spoilage, these older methods are still
successfully, the brewer must carefully manage the used by some breweries.
temperature and the acidity of the shubo. These three methods are described below, but they
are not legally defined and there are variations within
Temperature Control each technique.
The temperature must be controlled to ensure that
yeast are able to multiply at a suitable pace so that they OPTIONS FOR PRODUCING THE SHUBO
do not outpace the starch-to-sugar conversion carried During the period of Japan's isolation (from the early
out by the koji mould enzymes and run out of food . To 1600s to the mid 1800s), kimoto, a technique that
control the temperature of the shubo, a bucket-like tool reliably created a shubo, was copied by successive
called a daki can be used. These used to be made of generations because they knew it worked. The brewers
wood but today are usually made from aluminium or lacked the scientific understanding to know why the
stainless steel. They can be used for heating or for method worked. The more open, questioning attitude
cooling; either hot water or ice cubes are poured inside, that developed after Japan began to open up and
the top is closed and the daki is immersed directly into industrialise in the later 1800s led to many scientific
the shubo. Alternatively, devices using pipes or jackets discoveries, including the reason why the traditional
of hot or cold water can be used to adjust the kimoto method of preparing the shubo helped stop the
temperature as required . fermentation going bad; it was the protective levels of
lactic acid that were created during the process. This
Raising the Acidity discovery ultimately led to the development of the
In order to ensure that their yeast thrive, the brewer sokujo-moto method that is now the industry standard.
must ensure that the fermentation starter is sufficiently
acidic. Sake yeast can thrive in an acidic environment Sokujo-moto
but , importantly, other microorganisms that can spoil a Sokujo-moto literally means 'quick fermentation starter'.
sake, in particular certain bacteria, cannot. Therefore It was perfected in the early 1900s, and then became
58 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

LEFT:Sokujo-moto
. the most widely used method . It is used for almost all laboriously pounding the rice and koji in this batch into
Breweryworkers sake production today . a smooth paste using wooden poles, they could
thoroughlymixingthe The insight that lactic acid was the key to a achieve the desired result reasonably reliably . This
ingredients
. successful shubo led a brewing scientist to experiment pounding with poles or paddles (yama-oroshi in
with simply adding lactic acid directly to the shubo . Japanese) technique was later refined to include the
RIGHT
: Kimoto. By this stage, brewers had also discovered that the amount of pounding and mixing required, for how long
Breweryworkerspounding extraction of enzymes from koji into the liquid and how often. The kimoto method spread across
the rice into a paste. increased when the water was warmer . This led the Japan and became the standard way to start the
brewing scientist to start the sokujo-moto at 20-25 °C fermentation. It was still the main method until new
(68-77°F) - a good temperature for enzyme extraction techniques were discovered in the early 1900s .
and ideal for yeast multiplication - rather than the 6-7°C In the first few days of kimoto, the temperature is
(43-45°F) that had been used for centuries. The result kept very low (6-7°C (43-45°F)) to ensure that only
was a success. This simplification has many desirable the right kinds of bacteria develop . During this stage,
effects : starch-to-sugar conversion takes place before the
It is much quicker than the traditional methods , growth of almost all microorganisms . The exception
taking about 14 days rather than 28 days. at this stage is certain bacteria that convert nitrates to
The process can be controlled more precisely , in nitrites . After this, cold-tolerant species of lactic acid
particular the level of acidity (which can be lower bacteria grow and produce lactic acid. The resulting
than the amount typically produced in the kimoto or combination of nitrites, high concentration of sugar, low
yamahai method) . pH due to lactic acid and low temperatures together
The shorter time and avoidance of the need to rely inhibit the growth of undesirable yeast and other
on bacteria to create lactic acid, means there is less spoilage microbes . This is a very risky time because
risk of variation or anything going wrong. until the level of acidity is high enough it is possible for
The flavour profile is purer, with less umami present. undesirable bacteria to take hold and spoil the shubo .
The pounding process speeds up the breaking up of
More recently a 'fast sokujo' or 'medium temperature the rice and increases the amount of contact between
sokujo' has been developed, starting at an even higher the rice starch with koji enzymes . As a result, the
temperature to encourage more rapid extraction of conversion process speeds up too. This is the reason
enzymes . This method can reduce the total shubo time why the pounding process is, and was, necessary .
from 14 days to just 10 days . As the level of acidity rises and the temperature
rises gradually, yeast are able to begin to establish
Kimoto and Yamahai themselves and multiply into a healthy population .
The traditional method of creating the shubo is kimoto . Traditionally, ambient yeast would begin the
This method's prototype was developed in Nada (an fermentation process, but today brewers using the
area in Hyogo Prefecture) some time before the late kimoto add yeast about 14 days after the start of the
1600s when it was first recorded in literature . Brewers process . Once the yeast population has started actively
found that by starting with a small batch, and to multiply it takes a further 14 days until the kimoto is
THE FERMENTATION STARTER (SHUBO/MOTO) 59

TEMPERATURE
CONTROL

1. Equipmentusedto coola fermentationstarter.Dakion the rightand


pipingon the left.

2. Pipingbeingusedto coola fermentationstarter.

ready (the same period that yeast take to establish to spoilage while the acidity rises and they can produce
themselves fully in a sokujo-moto). variable results both in terms of the level of acidity and
In 1909, a scientist conducted experiments to see if the tastes and flavours created . This is why most
it were possible for koji enzymes to work on rice that brewers moved to sokujo-moto, which is more reliable,
had not been turned into a paste. To ensure that starch- more consistent and faster.
to-sugar conversion took place, koji and water were Despite the hard work, extra time and risk involved,
first mixed to extract enzymes into water, and then some producers use the kimoto or yamahai methods
steamed rice was added. The rest of the process for some or all of their sakes, for a number of reasons:
proceeded in the same way as kimoto - with certain The microbial populations that are active while the
bacteria converting nitrates to nitrites, and then lactic lactic acid is being created can create interesting
acid bacteria creating lactic acid . He discovered that a flavours that add to the complexity of the final sake .
shubo could be made this way, and the method came Kimoto and yamahai tend to have rich flavours
to be called yamahai, a contraction of yama-oroshi (though analysis does not show any increased levels
haishi, meaning the end (haisht) of the laborious of amino acids or umami, compared to sokujo-moto).
pounding with poles (yama-orosht). Kimoto and yamahai sakes tend to have higher
Yamahai is just as reliable as kimoto but it requires acidity than sokujo-moto sakes, but it would be
less work. However, both of these techniques rely on possible to produce sokujo-moto sakes with more
lactic acid bacteria to raise the acidity . As a result, both acidity if the producer desired .
techniques although reliable remain equally vulnerable Especially for yamahai, but for some kimoto sakes
60 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

too, some brewers deliberately aim for complex nutty Improving existing techniques - As has been
and caramel flavours that are the result of deliberate explained above, starting a sokujo-moto at higher
exposure to oxygen. This is a brewer choice (both temperatures, the process can be accelerated and the
yamahai and kimoto can lead to very pure, clean, shubo can be completed in just ten days. Another
elegant results too), but the oxidative flavours can example is the use of mechanical mixers to replace
complement the higher umami and acidity. the manual labour when carrying out the pasting and
mixing stage of kimoto.
Other Ways of Creating the Shubo
Kimoto, yamahai and sokujo-moto are not the only Revivals of ancient techniques - Some producers
methods that brewers use. Innovation and have revived bodai-moto (a method from the twelfth
experimentation continues in a number of areas. century that uses sour water to play the role of the
lactic acid used in sokujo-moto. The sour water is
New techniques - A notable example is ko-on toka created by letting bacteria decay rice that is mixed into
moto, which uses very high temperatures early on to the water).
sterilise the mixture and accelerate the breakdown of
starches. This was developed for sake brewing in warm Avoiding the shubo - If white or black koji moulds are
regions, but is becoming more widely adopted and is used, the higher level and different acid they create
especially suitable for very pure, clean styles of (citric acid) can be enough to start a ferment with a
premium sake. small yeast population without risking microbial
contamination. These are a different species of koji
mould, and are normally used for making the traditional
spirit, shochO.
THE MAIN FERMENTATION (MOROMI) 61

The Main Fermentation(Moromi) The main fermentation is the point where


the brewer brings all of the ingredients
that have been prepared together in order to make sake. This is a critical time for the brewer because
12
a significant number of the flavours that make the different styles of sake so unique and distinct are
created at this point.

THE AIMS OF THE BREWER the relative proportions and timing of the ingredients
Once the fermentation starter is well established, it can as they are added
be used to create the main fermentation . The aims of temperature, speed and time .
the brewer at this stage are:
to avoid problems such as contamination or a Building the Main Fermentation
fermentation stopping early The standard ratios (by mass) of steamed rice, koji
to achieve the correct balance between the two and water placed in the main fermentation tank are
parallel processes of starch-to-sugar conversion approximately :
(by koji enzymes) and sugar-to-alcohol fermentation 80 parts steamed rice
(by yeast) 20 parts koji
to achieve the desired aromas and textures for the 130 parts water .
style of sake .
These ingredients are not all added at once . Instead,
AN OVERVIEW OF THE MAIN FERMENTATION they are added in three stages over a period of four
The main fermentation (moromt) can be considered days . This is to ensure that the yeast population does
as happening in three stages . The first is the building, not become too diluted, and that there are always
where most brewers use a method called 'three stage sufficient quantities of conversion enzymes from the koji .
addition' to avoid contamination and set the levels of The earlier additions and the shubo generally contain
rice, water and koji enzymes . The second stage is a higher proportion of koji , to help get the fermentation
when most of the fermenting occurs, and temperature off to a strong start. If the entire amount is added to
needs to be controlled to achieve the correct balance the tank at once, there is a delay before yeast reach a
between the processes and the correct style . The final population large enough to balance the conversion
stage is the ending of the ferment. of starch to sugar by the koji enzymes. During this
The majority of sakes are fermented at around delay, there would be an increased risk of microbial
12-18'C (54-64'F) and the main fermentation takes contamination, which could interrupt the fermentation
around 21-28 days. The ferments produce a liquid of process and spoil the liquid. This risk could be reduced
around 17-20% abv, with approximately 15-25 g/L by adding more lactic acid but the amount of acid that
unfermented residual sugar. Ginjo styles of sake are would be required would result in a sake that would
an exception . They must be fermented at much lower taste far too acidic .
temperatures (around 10-12'C, 50-54'F) and take The three-stage addition (sandan jikom1) is not a
much longer (30-35 days). As the alcohol concentration legal requirement for sake production, but it is widely
increases, the fermentation speed becomes slower . used for all styles of sake, for everything from futsD-shu
At the last stage of fermentation, the temperature is to daiginjo .
lowered to slow the rate at which the yeast die , and
the fermentation stops without further inteNention . Day 1: First addition (Hatsu-zoe) - The shubo is
When the fermentation has ended, the alcoholic and transferred to a larger tank . More water, koji and
(usually) slightly sweet liquid is full of rice particles steamed rice are added to the shubo so the total
and yeast cells. These suspended solid particles are volume at this stage is roughly equal to 1/6 of the final
referred to as kasu, and are removed at the filtration total amount of mixture . The temperature at this stage
stage. is about 12-15'C (54-59 ' F), which is a good
A sake fermentation is unusually complex . In most temperature for yeast to multiply.
other fermented beverages the producer starts with a
fixed amount of sugar, whereas in a sake fermentation Day 2: A day off (Odori) - Nothing is added on the
the sugar is being produced at the same time as it is second day in order to let it 'dance' (odori in Japanese)
being consumed . Despite the challenges this presents, and allow the number of yeast cells to multiply . Giving
sake brewers are able to achieve a remarkable degree the yeast population time to build up is an essential part
of consistency from one batch to another by using two of achieving a balanced fermentation . The temperature
key controlling mechanisms: is allowed to rise very slightly as the yeast multiply.
62 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Day 3: Middle addition (Naka-zoe) - Double the low yeast densities will lead to the slowing and
previous total amount of water, koji and steamed rice stopping of fermentation too early during the later
are added, so the total volume at this stage is now stage of the main fermentation.
about 3/6 (half) of the final total. If the fermentation speed races too far ahead of the
starch conversion into sugar, the reduced sugar levels
Day 4: Final addition (Tome-zoe) - The remainder become a limiting factor of fermentation. In such cases,
(about half) of the water, rice and koji is added and the the main cause is that enzyme production by the koji
three-stage addition is now complete. During the mould was insufficient. Furthermore, in such situations
middle and final additions, the temperature is lowered the enzymatic conversion of protein into amino acids
to reach the starting temperature for the main ferment. and peptides is often also slower due to lower levels
This is typically about 6-10'C (43-50'F). To achieve this of the enzymes which break down proteins that are
cooling, some brewers replace some of the added also created by the koji. The resulting sakes will
water with ice. have a thin taste and low umami due to the lower
concentration of amino acids and peptides.
When building a fermentation, a brewer must be very
accurate so that the amount and type of koji is correct Temperature control - There are a number of options
to deliver the quantity of enzymes that is right for the for controlling the temperature of the main fermentation.
target temperature and style of sake. If the ratios of For traditional and small scale sake making, foamed
ingredients are wrong on day four when the last resinous mats or traditional woven mats (called
addition is made, the brewer will struggle to keep the mushiro) that wrap around the tank are used to help
fermentation to the required temperature. If there are maintain a steady temperature. When a brewer needs
insufficient enzymes for a warmer fermentation then to cool the ferment, ice is inserted into the space
the yeast will run out of sugar if the temperature between the mat and the tank. More modern sake
target is achieved. If there are excess enzymes for a breweries use jackets on the outside of the tank or heat
lower temperature fermentation, then if the target exchangers that are submerged into the fermenting
temperature is achieved there will be a build-up of mass. These devices achieve a change in temperature
unfermented sugars leading to a sake that is too sweet. by circulating cold or warm water. The most modern
brewers manage the temperature with computer
Managing Fermentation: Temperature, Speed and systems to control the water circulation.
Time In sake fermentations, precise temperature control
Enzymes and yeast activity both increase when the can be critical. The fermentation tanks need constant
temperature goes up and decrease when the attention and small adjustments may be made regularly
temperature goes down. However, as temperatures to keep the liquid as close as possible to the target
rise the enzymatic creation of sugar increases more temperature.
slowly than the rate at which yeast consume that sugar.
Therefore, if the brewer's target temperature is Temperature and style - The brewer must also
between 16' C and 18'C (61-64'F) then a notably high ensure that the fermentation takes place at the correct
quantity of koji enzymes is needed in order to keep up temperature for the style of sake being produced. In
with the demands of the yeast. Whereas, if the target order to make a rich junmai, the fermentation should
temperature is between B'C and 12' C (46-54'F) then be at the top end of the standard temperature range
the quantity of enzymes needs to be considerably for sake fermentation, typically 16-18'C (61-64'F). On
lower in order to prevent sugar production outstripping the other hand, in order to make a daiginjo, the peak
yeast consumption . Brewers spend a huge amount of temperature must be at the other end of the scale,
time and effort making their koji in order to ensure the which can be as low as 10-12'C (50-54'F). If the
amount of mould, and therefore enzymes, is exactly fermentation temperature is wrong it is not possible to
what is needed to balance the fermentation it will be make the required style because the desired aromas
used in. and flavours are not created .
If a fermentation speed lags behind the rate of
starch conversion into sugar, the sake will become too Ending the Fermentation
sweet. In extreme cases, higher sugar concentrations Brewers generally have target levels of both sugar and
in the ferment inhibit further starch conversion and alcohol that they aim to achieve. They manage all the
result in a higher kasu ratio due to inefficient earlier stages of production so that these both reach
conversion of starch. In these extreme cases, the the desired level at the same time, and they make the
higher sugar concentration can also lead to higher decision when to bring the fermentation to an end.
levels of unpleasant volatile acidity. The addition of High temperatures and/or high alcohol concentration
water during fermentation is a technique that can would make stressful conditions for yeast and increase
alleviate this problem, but adding excess water can the rate at which they die. Dying yeast create tastes
lead to a dilute, flat taste in the final sake. Furthermore, and aromas that are considered to be undesirable in
THE MAIN FERMENTATION (MOROMI) 63

FERMENTATION
TANKS

1. Small FermentationTanks. Thesetanks are


located in a small brewery. The tanks are
coveredwith plastic sheeting to stop objects
falling into the fermenting liquid.

2. LargeFermentationTanks.Thesetanksare
in oneof the verylargebreweries.Theyare
so largethat a floorlevel hasbeeninstalled
nearthe top of the tanksto facilitateaccess.
Steamedriceandkojiare beingmovedby
pumpsthroughthe largewhite pipes.

sake . For this reason, the temperature is generally So-haze koji has higher levels of enzymes , which are
lowered at the late stage of the ferment for all styles of needed to ensure that the yeast are provided with
sake. This lowering of temperature stops yeast activity enough sugar and other nutrients during the faster,
and ends the production of alcohol. more vigorous fermentations .

OPTIONS FOR THE MOROMI When the yeast population grows rapidly at higher
Rich, High-umami Styles temperatures , it leads to vigorous fermentations , higher
Typically, these styles of sake are fermented at the top acid production and lower aroma production . In
end of the temperature range and are made using rice addition, higher temperatures lead to lower kasu ratios
with higher polishing ratios (70% or higher) as well as (higher utilisation of all elements in the rice) and higher
so-haze koji . There are a number of reasons for this: concentrations of amino acid and peptides, which
Rice with a higher polishing ratio contains higher means richer tastes . These conditions are favourable
levels of protein, which can be broken down into for futsu-shu and certain styles of junmai .
amino acids that increase the umami taste of the sake.
64 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Glnjo Fermentations adjustments . This is why it is so important to polish as


In order to produce a ginj/5 style of sake, extremely low much of the nutrient-rich outer parts of the rice grains
fermentation temperatures of 8-12°C (46-54 °F) are away when attempting to make ginj/5 sake. The outer
required . At these temperatures, fermentations can last parts would also contribute undesirable flavours, acidity
for as long as 30 to 35 days. and a coarse texture.
Extremely cool conditions are used for ginj/5 making. On the other hand, if the levels of yeast nutrients are
Rice with lower polishing ratios (60% or lower) and too low, or the levels of ki5ji enzyme are too high, then
tsuki-haze koji combine to provide a slow release of when sugar starts building up faster than it can be
a low total level of amino acid nutrients, and a slow fermented, the normal option of raising the temperature
release of sugar. This limits the growth of yeast. Low is not available to the brewer producing a ginj/5 style.
fermentation temperatures keep the yeast activity in They need the low temperatures to stress the yeast so
balance with the slow production of sugar, and lead to that ginj/5 aromas can be produced, and limit the
slow fermentations, low production of acids by yeast, breaking up of the rice, keeping the texture fine and
and low degradation of proteins. Together, these smooth. This is why it is so important to manage the
result in light and smooth tastes and textures. These growth of the ki5ji that is destined for ginj/5 sakes.
fermentation conditions also enhance the production During such long fermentations at lower
of esters (aroma substances), and low temperatures temperatures, rice does not break up as much, leaving
reduce the loss of esters by evaporation. more rice solids remaining in the tank. This means
This combination of cold temperatures and a there are lower levels of other flavour and texture
shortage of nitrogen (or amino acids that can act as components, such as amino acid or organic acids, that
sources of nitrogen) puts the yeast under a great deal would otherwise be extracted, creating a very smooth
of stress and causes them to create increased levels of texture and clean delicate taste.
a particular group of higher alcohols (the precursors to
ginj/5 aromas). All yeast will respond in this way under Main Fermentation Batch Sizes and Yields
these conditions. For example, yeast number 7, which The total amount of rice placed in a single fermentation
was not selected for its aroma-creating abilities, can tank ranges from less than one metric tonne to more
be used to make restrained styles of ginj/5. What is than 30 tonnes.
notable about 'ginj/5 yeast', such as number 9, is that Opinions differ, but it is widely believed that if quality
they produce more of these alcohols - especially is the only factor, the ideal size of brewing ginj/5 styles is
isoamyl alcohol. Other high-aroma ginj/5 yeast produce between 600 kg to 1500 kg of polished rice per batch,
larger quantities of a compound called caproyl-coA, plus about 800-2000 L of water. Using the normal ratio
which is another important aroma precursor . of 80 parts steamed rice, 20 parts ki5ji and 130 parts
In a complex sequence of enzymatic chemical water, this makes a total of about 720-1800 L of sake.
reactions, yeast combine the various alcohols with One kilogram of polished rice makes about 2.5 L of
acetyl, caproyl-coA and other chemical groups to junmai ginj/5 sake, once water is added to adjust the
produce the highly fruity or floral aromatic compounds alcohol to about 15 per cent, though the quantity can
called esters . In ginj/5 sake, the most notable of these be even lower than this in an especially cold slow
esters are: fermentation where even less of the rice breaks up
• isoamyl acetate (aromas of banana) and only a little liquid is extracted at the end. See
• ethyl caproate (aromas of green apple or melon). Chapter 13 Ji5zi5 Alcohol and Filtration .
Other esters can be created too and they generally For honji5zi5 andjunmai, the tank could be double
have various fruity and floral aromas. this . The ratios of 80:20:130 for steamed rice, ki5ji and
water will be similar to that for junmai ginj/5, but the
It is essential for brewers to manipulate the ginj/5 higher temperatures and more active ki5ji enzymes
fermentation by controlling the temperature precisely lead to a more complete breaking up of the rice and
and adjusting it delicately (only 0.3°C to 0.5°C (32.5- a greater liquid extraction of sake. About 2.6 L of
32.9°F) a day) to seek the ideal balance of aroma, junmai sake per kilogram of rice is typical. The yield
structure and texture. This requires a lot of attention for honji5zi5 is higher due to the small amount of jozo
over the condition of yeast and degree to which the alcohol added.
rice breaks up, as well as the temperature. If the level Most futsD-shu is brewed in batches that are 20-30
of yeast nutrients (other than sugar) is too high, the times bigger than this, in order to achieve much lower
fermentation can progress more quickly than desired . production costs . The more complete the rice-
With a normal fermentation, the brewer can lower the dissolving, the higher the levels of extraction at the
temperature to bring things back in balance , but a ginj/5 filtration stage, and the permitted use of larger amounts
fermentation is already close to the temperature below of ji5zi5 alcohol mean about 5 L of futsD-shu sake can
which yeast stop working, so they can make only small be made from each kilogram of rice .
THE MAIN FERMENTATION (MOROMI) 65

PUTTING THE OPTIONS TOGETHER


The options suggested in this table are not the only ways these categories and grades of sake can be made.
Indeed sake brewing is hugely varied, but it is helpful to see how some well-establ ished approaches deliver the ir
different stylistic results. Note , this table includes information cover ed in Chapt ers 13 J/5z/5 Alcohol and Filtration
and Chapter 14 Finishing .

Ginj6 Glnj6 Junmai Junmai Honj6z6 Futsii-shu

Elegant,restrained Intensejuicy-fruity Tasty,medium Veryfull bodied Light,simple, Inexpensive,


stylewith low acidity stylewith some bodiedstyle complexstylewith elegantdrinkabledry tastysake
acidity highacidityand stylesake
high umami

Ricetype Yamada-nishiki
, Yamada-nishiki Yamada-nishiki, Omachi Gohyakuman-goku Tablerice
Gohyakuman-goku Miyama-nishiki Omachi

Ricepreparation Lowseimai-buai. Lowseimai-buai. Mediumseimai-buai. Highseimai-buai. Mediumseimai-buai. Highseimai-buai.


Precisely,in small Precisely,in small Mediumbatchsizes Mediumbatchsizes Precisely,in small In largebatches,
quantities quantities quantities and precisionnot
needed

Water Mediumhard Soft Mediumhard Mediumhard Mediumhard Mediumhard(adjust


mineralcontent)

K6jlstyle Extremetsuki-haze Tsuki-haze Slightlyso-haze So-haze Tsuki-haze Veryso-haze

Fermentation Sokujo-moto, Sokujo-moto, Kimotoor Kimoto, Sokujo-moto, Fastsokujo-moto,


starter ko-ontoka moto ko-ontoka moto sokujo-moto yamahai ko-ontoka moto ko-ontoka moto

Yeast Blendof modern 9, 10,modernyeast, 6 or7 6 (especiallyfor full 7 or11 701


yeastwith low-aroma or blendof these,or bodiedsakesmade
yeastsuchas certainprefectural usingkimoto or
number7,or certain yeastsuchas Alps yamaha1)or 7
prefecturalyeast (Nagano)
suchas HD1

Fermentation Verylow Verylow Medium Mediumto high Mediumto low High


temperature

Fermentation Veryslow Veryslow Mediumspeed Fast Slow Fast


speed

Useof Yes(a little) No (junmai) No (junmai) No (junmai) Yes(a little) Yes,andconsider


j6z6 alcohol addingglucoseand
organicacidsand
flavourenhancers
too

Filtration method Fukurofor the most Fukuroor centrifuge Yabuta,with medium UsuallyYabuta Yabuta Yabutawith high
premiumdaiginjo, for the mostpremium pressure pressure
take middlefraction junmai daiginjo,
and/orfune or takingmiddlefraction
Yabuta and/orfune or
Yabuta

Kasu-bua
l Veryhigh High Mediumto low Mediumto low Mediumto high Verylow

Pasteurisation Yes,twice (or rarely Yes,twice (or rarely Yes,twice Considernama, Yes,twice Always,twice
onetime, in bottle) onetime, in bottle) or nama-chozo

Additionof water Yes Yes Yes No (genshu) Yes Yes

Charcoalfining Yes No,or very little Yes,a little No Yes,a lot Yes

Ageingbefore Short Short A few months, in A year or more, Short As little as possible
release bulk beforebottling eitherin maturation
vesselsor bottle
66 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

JozoAlcoholand Filtration
13
When the brewer stops the fermentation, the liquid
is white, opaque and full of rice solids. This is not a
viable commercial product not least because the law requires that the liquid must be filtered before
it can be called sake. By the end of this stage in production most new sake is clear, with a pale lemon-
green colour.

THE AIMS OF THE BREWER alcohol) is added to the fermentation tank before
At this point the brewer has a number of objectives: filtration . Although the Jozo alcohol can be rice-based
To stop the fermentation at the required level of and locally made, it can also be imported . A common
alcohol and unfermented sugar. source is Brazil, where it is made from molasses and/or
To ensure as much as possible of the desirable grains. It must be distilled from an alcoholic beverage
components {alcohol, water, sugar, aroma and fermented from raw materials of agricultural origin .
components that enhance texture) get into the sake. The alcohol is distilled like vodka to over 95% abv to
To ensure as much as possible of the undesirable remove all flavour, before being sold to the brewer,
components {rice solids, yeast particles, and and stored by the brewer at 30-40% abv to reduce the
components that lead to coarse texture) stay behind. risk of fire. It is added to the sake at 30-40 % abv. The
To extract as much sake as is appropriate to the style Japanese government sets a maximum amount of Jozo
being produced . alcohol that can be added .
For Junmai, none can be added.
The techniques available are: For Premium {non-Junmm) sakes, 10% can be added.
temperature control For FutsO-shu, 50% can be added {including any
adding high strength distilled alcohol Uozo alcohol) other flavour improving additives).
to selectively extract the most desirable parts {for
non-Junmai sake) These percentages are the mass of pure alcohol {at
using a filter, of which there are various different 95% abv) expressed as a percentage of the mass of the
kinds, that vary from very gentle to very efficient. polished rice used to make the sake.
The goal {at least, for premium sake) is not to increase
STOPPING THE FERMENTATION the volume, so brewers use the amount of Jozo alcohol
The fermentation is stopped when the sake has reached that is appropriate to their desired style, and within the
the desired levels of alcohol and unfermented sugar. required limit. The main possible effects on style are:
In order to stop the yeast activity, the fermentation increased expression of aromas, especially for ginjo
temperature is usually lowered to 3-S'C {37-41' F) to sakes
halt the yeast without killing them. Dead yeast can add lighter palate profile {lower sugar, acidity and umami,
interesting complexity to wine and beer, but the flavour lighter body, and a shorter more cleaning, crisper
they would add is considered undesirable in sake. finish, called kire) .
However, the sake should not be filtered too early
otherwise it retains green and sour smells. Note that the use of Jozo alcohol does not generally
increase the alcohol level of the bottled sake, so it is
JOZOALCOHOL, THE FOURTH ADDITION AND incorrect to consider these as 'fortified' . Water is almost
OTHER ADDITIVES always added after filtration to bring the alcohol level
For all sake, the only permitted additive after filtration back down to the desired bottling strength, as is the
is water. Before filtration, distilled alcohol can be added case with all non-genshu sake.
in limited quantities, and it is still permissible to add Many aromatic compounds in sake are more soluble
more rice, water and koji. in alcohol than in water, so raising the alcohol at the
For futsO-shu only, brewers are also permitted, until filtration stage means more of these are carried into the
filtration, to adjust: sake, and fewer are left behind in the rice solids. This is
sweetness {increased by adding glucose or other especially the case for the fruity esters created during
permitted sugars) ginjo fermentations.
acidity {increased by adding permitted organic acids) lf}ozo alcohol is added at 30-40% abv before
umami {increased by adding permitted amino acids). filtration , and the water is added after filtration, the
overall effect is dilution. Sweetness, acidity and the
JozoAlcohol dextrins that contribute to body are all diluted, as are
For daiginjo, ginjo, honjozo and futsO-shu {i.e. all non- some aroma and flavour elements, though others are
Junmai sake), some high-strength distilled alcohol Uozo increased due to the increased solvent effect of the
J0Z0 ALCOHOL AND FILTRATION 67

higher alcohol. The result is a lighter, leaner, purer, OPTIONS FOR FILTRATION
more elegant style of sake . When the brewer considers that it is time to remove the
Sake with addedjozo alcohol is referred to as aruten, remaining rice solids, the sake will undergo filtration.
an abbreviation of arukoru-tenka {alcohol addition) , but Filtration is the closest translation to the term used in
this is not used as a labelling term . The usage of jozo the Japanese legislation, although this process is widely
alcohol has been decreasing as the current markets referred to as 'pressing', because it occurs at the
increasingly prefer junmai styles . The technique is also equivalent stage to pressing for red wines, and the
becoming less necessary owing to improvements in equipment that is most widely used looks similar to a
brewing technology and the development of new yeast wine press . However, it is more accurate to describe the
strains, expressing intense ginjo aromas without the process as filtration . This is because the idea is not to
need to enhance them usingjozo alcohol. press the liquid from the solids, but rather to use a mesh
to separate and remove the solid parts, called sake-kasu.
The Fourth Addition There are currently three main methods of separating
The fourth addition is a technique use to control the the sake liquid from the solids, but innovation continues
level of sweetness in a sake. The addition is made in this area.
towards the end of the ferment of aruten sakes . This
fourth addition is mainly water , dissolved sugars and Yabuta-Shibori (Assakuki)
small amounts of dextrins . It is created by adding koji This is the modern industry standard filtration method
enzymes directly to a mix of steamed rice and water . using an accordion-like machine called an assakuki,
The enzymes rapidly convert the rice starch into sugar, though the machines are most commonly referred to
and leave some starch fragments as dextrins . by the name of the major brand {Yabuta). Most sake is
The brewer decides the level of sweetness they wish filtered through this kind of machine. The porridge-like
the final sake to have, and calculates the volume of fourth sake from a recently finished fermentation is pumped
addition needed to achieve this , taking into account the into vertical pocket panels . Next to every sake-filled
volume increase due to jozo alcohol and water. panel there is another pocket that can be mechanically

Freshlybrewedsake Air in: inflatingthe bags YABUTA·SHIB0RI


filling the filter
\,\, \,\ \,\,
1.A brewery worker
ensuringall the
sake-kasuis out of
Steelsupport a yabuta after it
Deflated~----► 1141+--
air bag for structural has been used.
integrity
2. Sake-kasufrom

---------► ~

a yabuta.The
pressurethat
Kasuremains can be applied
in bagbetween
squeezesthe kasu
inflatedbags
L..,ti---a---+-- Bagholding into compacted
the freshly
sheets.
brewedsake
Filteredsake
coming out
FILLING
THEYABUTA FILTERING
68 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Freshlyfilteredclear inflated with air. As the air pockets expand , they apply
sake. pressure to the adjacent sake-filled pockets, squeezing
the liquid through the fabric, while the fabric holds the
solid sake-kasu. A strong metal frame holds everything
in place.
Yabuta exist in various sizes, and the largest ones
can extract large volumes of liquid very rapidly; filtration
takes just a few hours. The mechanically applied air
pressure, and the strong frame, means it is capable of
efficiently extracting large volumes of sake from the
kasu. Although strong pressure can release coarse
components from the lees into the sake, it is possible to
lower the air pressure in the Yabuta and produce high-
quality sakes. The very best sakes are made when little
or no pressure is applied and this is also possible when
using a Yabuta. Very low or no air pressure means that
the extraction is slow enough for the brewer to carefully
separate the filtration fractions and select the very best
parts (see Filtration Fractions below). Compared with
the other traditional methods, Yabuta are also good at
minimising oxidation.
This is the industry standard method for futsD-shu,
junmai and honji5zi5. Almost all ginj/5 and daiginj/5 sakes
are now filtered this way too.

FUNA-SHIBORI

FILLING
THEFUNE

Bagsfull of freshly Jl1'.'.:i;::::::::::::::=::=:-:::-~


brewedsake

Pressure
allied
machanically

FILTERING

Kasuremains
in bags
__ :-,

1.A fune filled with cloth bagsthat havebeenfilled with freshly


fermentedsake.
Thehydraulicmechanismthat will applypressurefrom above
Filteredsakecomingout is clearto see.
J0Z0 ALCOHOL AND FILTRATION 69

Funa-Shibori
FUKURO-SHIBORI
This is the traditional way of separating the liquid from
the rice solids, but is now limited to some premium sakes
because the Yabuta is more appropriate for almost all
sake . In this method, the sake ferment is poured into
long individual cloth bags made of a synthetic fabric
or cotton . These bags are laid horizontally in a large
wooden or metal tub called a fune. Pressure is then
applied from above, usually mechanically . This causes
the sake to run out of the bags through a hole in the
bottom of the tub, while the solids remain inside. -I--'-'.&-- Freshlybrewedsake
Fune filtration takes about two days, which is much suspendedin bags.
longer than Yabuta filtration, but the lower pressures Sakedripsout leaving
kasu in the bag
that can be applied means the resulting sake is
generally finer in texture. The slower the extraction,
and the smaller scale, makes a more precise separation
of filtration fractions possible.
, Filteredsakecomingout
This method is mainly used for ginjo,junmai ginjo,
and some daiginjo andjunmai daiginjo.

Fukuro-Shibori (Drip Separation)


This is a traditional method that uses no external
pressure, instead relying solely on gravity . Newly
fermented sake is poured into small cloth bags (about
five to ten litres each), which are hung up to allow the
liquid to drip through, while the bag holds back the
solids. Sake is normally collected in 18-litre (four-gallon)
glass bottles called to-bin.
This is the slowest method of filtration and takes
place on the smallest scale, allowing the most precise
separation of filtration fractions. Compared with using
a fune, this process is even gentler and leads to even
finer textures.
Because it is such a highly labour-intensive and time-
consuming process, its use is limited to super-premium
sake like daiginjo andjunmai daiginjo, especially for 1. Clothbags
sakes destined for entry into the Annual Japan Sake suspendedin a
Awards each spring. Some breweries call sake filtered metalcontainer
this way shizuku-zake (drip sake). that will catch
After the fukuro-shibori process, there remains some and collectthe
liquid mixed in with the solids in the bags. The contents drippingsake.
of the bags can be filtered again using either funa-
shibori or yabuta-shibori in order to ensure none of the 2. Sakethat has
liquid is wasted. dripped out of
the cloth bags is
Other Methods of Filtration collectedin a
In addition to these main methods, brewers and glassto-binvia
engineers are exploring other methods of separating the green pipe.
sake liquid from solids. Some of these are aiming at
speed and efficiency (though the Yabuta will be hard
to improve on). Others are looking at better ways to
minimise oxidation and any loss of aromatic freshness.
Both funa-shibori and fukuro-shibori lead to a great
deal of exposure to the air, and possible damage by
oxygen. Chemical analysis of ginjo sakes show the
presence of chemicals indicating high levels of
oxidation - which is perhaps surprising for a drink that
is so pale and delicate. This helps make sake stable
70 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Glassto-binthat havebeen
usedto collectsakefiltered
usingfukuro-shibori.

once opened, but some producers are wondering what product (to maximise the fresh character). This is
could be achieved if oxygen exposure were avoided. labelled as arabashiri. When not bottled separately,
During the fermentation, yeast scavenge oxygen, so this rough and lively fraction is generally blended as a
the most critical time is during the filtration stage, after component in less expensive sakes.
which the sake can be stored in sealed tanks. An
example of a method to filter with minimal oxygen Naka-dori/naka-gumi
exposure is a centrifuge separator , currently used by The middle fraction produces the highest-quality sake,
just a tiny number of quality-conscious breweries. with the silkiest texture and the purest aromas. With
These are fast, and avoid the risk of evaporation of funa-shibori sake, this middle fraction can be labelled
ginjo aromas and contact with oxygen. Also, being as naka-dori or naka-gumi. There is no legal definition
stainless steel, there is no risk of tainting the sake. of this; it is the brewer's decision to decide how much
to reject from the start and end of the filtration process.
FILTRATION FRACTIONS With fukuro-shibori sake, the middle few 18-litre to-bins
Whatever the method used, there are some differences may be selected and bottled separately, and to-bin
between the sake that is released first (the free run) gakoi is the term for this. As with naka-dori!naka-gumi,
and the sake that is released later, as more pressure is the brewers use their judgement regarding how much
applied or more time passes. to include.
If a producer is seeking to maximise quality, they can
take advantage of these differences, especially if they Seme
are using funa-shibori or fukuro-shibori. The final fraction is called seme. It is coarser in texture
than the middle fraction and tends to have less aromatic
Arabashiri freshness because of the liquid's longer exposure to
The free-run liquid that emerges from a filter before air, and the increased contact time between the solids
pressure is applied is called arabashiri. It tends to be and the liquid. At this stage if a funa-shibori is being
livelier, with more dissolved carbon dioxide (which used, pressure is increased. As pressure is increased,
dissipates over the course of the slow filtration process proteins, lipids and unconverted starch fragments can
if it is not captured), and the first parts can even be a be extracted from the sake-kasu, leading to increased
little cloudy and rough-textured. It has an extreme, bitter flavours, astringency and a coarse texture. In a
almost assertive freshness . Some brewers release this, tune, it is common to rearrange the bags to press and
generally as an unmatured, unpasteurised, seasonal extract a little more liquid through another filtration. This
JOZOALCOHOL AND FILTRATION 71

sake may still be of acceptable quality. It is generally very gentle filtration methods are used (such as
blended as a component in less expensive sakes. fukuro-shibon).
Conversely, the kasu-buai is lower when:
SAKE-KASU AND KASU-BUAI larger amounts of koji enzymes and higher
The solid cake left over from the filtration process is fermentation temperatures result in the rice breaking
called sake-kasu . In addition to undissolved rice and up more completely
yeast, it also contains about 8 per cent alcohol. Sake- very efficient filtration methods are used (such as
kasu is highly nutritious and can be eaten as it is or yabuta with high pressure).
used as either a raw ingredient for making shochO, or
for cooking and pickling vegetables. A producer might be very proud of a high kasu-buai
Kasu-buai is the term given to the ratio of the mass when making super-premium sake and, as such, the
of sake-kasu expressed as a percentage of the mass number is sometimes stated on the back label. For
of polished rice used to make the sake. For example, daiginjo class, the percentage of kasu-buai is typically
if using 100 kg of rice to brew sake and 25 kg remains 40-60 per cent, and a little less for ginjo class. The
as sake-kasu after filtering, its kasu-buai is 25 per cent. kasu for these sakes is wet and spongy. Achieving a
The ratio is related to which filtration method is to be low kasu-buai is an objective when trying to make large
used, and to the brewing method used. It tends to be volumes of affordable sake . For futsO-shu, the kasu-
higher when: buai is typically below 30 per cent, and the resulting
low levels of koji enzymes and low temperatures limit kasu forms thin, hard sheets.
the extent to which the rice breaks up (as is the case
with ginjo ferments)
72 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Once a sake has been filtered, the brewer could simply package it and put it on
Finishingsale.
14 Indeed some sakes are sold like this in limited numbers as a seasonal product.
Most sakes do undergo a number of processes in order to ensure the clarity and colour of the sake as
well as level of alcohol and its stability are as the brewer and consumers require.

THE AIMS OF THE BREWER liquid, are too small to be removed by filtration without
After filtration , the sake is an almost clear liquid, but removing other desirable parts of the sake . Fining
there are options available to the brewer to adjust the agents are substances that cause these tiny suspended
final product ahead of bottling and shipping. The particles to clump together . The larger clumps fall out of
producer may want to choose from , or do all of, the suspension due to gravity, or they can be filtered out.
following processes .
Charcoal Fining
Subtracting - After filtration, there may be suspended Active charcoal is also used as a fining agent to reduce
particles in the sake as well as proteins and undesirable the amount of colour and remove undesirable aromas,
colour, which the producer can remove if they choose . flavours and textures . Charcoal powder is added to the
Significant subtractions such as the removal of alcohol tank, and the undesirable components are adsorbed on
(as happens in some wine and beer) are not permitted its surface. The powder is then removed using a filter .
in sake brewing . This process also affects the way sake ages, slowing
the development of the colour and the aged aromas .
Pasteurisation - Koji enzymes are still active and there This process is called roka . The practice of using
may be viable microbes that can spoil the sake. The charcoal fining dates back to between 1911and 1923.
majority of sakes are pasteurised . Unpasteurised sakes It was originally used to clean up sake to be submitted
are called nama-zake . for sake contests : this was a period when any trace
of colour in sake led to lost marks in the sake
Storage and Maturation - Chemical reactions between competitions. The practice later spread into the wider
the different components can lead to the development market of commercial sakes especially after the growth
of desirable aromas and te xtures . Sakes are typically in popularity of the light , crisp, dry and (most
stored at the brewery for a few months before they are importantly) water-white style of Niigata sakes that was
put on sale. Sakes that undergo an extended period of developed in the late 1980s.
maturation are a speciality style of sake called koshu . Even though charcoal fining removes the undesirable
characteristics in the sake, in recent years more and
Additions - For all sake, the only addition permitted more breweries have started to believe that it also
after filtration is water . removes some of the positive characteristics and
makes the sake too thin and characterless , especially
SUBTRACTING when over-used. In extreme cases , it is possible to
Sedimentation smell and taste the carbon itself. This means that
Even after filtration, some haziness and colour remain today 's market is shifting towards a muroka (un-carbon
in the sake liquid, generally due to small particles of fined) style of sake, which is considered a more natural
rice or yeast. Given enough time , these particles fall out style of sake with richer and less manipulated flavours .
due to gravity and then the layer of clear liquid can be
separated from the layer of solids. After filtering the Final Filtration
sake, brewers normally leave the sake for up to a week The filters that brewers use at this stage are very
to settle the remaining sediments . The clear sake can different. They have filters with pores that are small
be pumped off the sediment. However , the sediment is enough to be able to remove very small objects,
not very compact and contains a lot of sake. This liquid including yeast and bacteria . There are two main
can be recovered by passing the sediment through a reasons why a brewer may choose to use these filters :
filter . to produce a crystal clear sake (sedimentation does
not always achieve th is result)
Protein Fining to remove yeast and bacteria in order to improve the
With the passage of time, during storage, proteins stability of the sake .
present in the sake may cause some additional
haziness to develop in it. Unlike the rice and yeast PASTEURISATION (HI-IRE)
particles, these proteins, although suspended in the After sedimentation , and any fining or filtration (where
FINISHING 73

used), the sake is not a stable product and is at risk of


deteriorating rapidly or even going off. There are a
number of reasons for this . Sake:
has koji enzymes and starch fragments that can
continue being broken into sugars
generally has sugars that have not been fermented
and the yeast and any other microorganisms will feed
on these sugars if the temperature of the sake rises
has relatively little acidity, which means that
microorganisms can easily live in it
cannot legally have preseNatives such as sulfur
dioxide (SO2 ) added. Even if this were allowed, SO2
depends on acidity to be effective and would be of
little use with sake's low levels of acid.

Special filters with a very small pore size can be used


to remove yeast and even (much smaller) bacteria that
might later cause spoilage. The most problematic of
these is a strain of lactic acid bacteria called hi-ochi kin.
When hi-ochi kin is active, the sake becomes cloudy,
oxidised and develops an unpleasant odour. However,
filtration does not produce a fully stable sake because
it cannot remove the koji enzymes. They remain active
and they can increase the level of sweetness in a
sake as well as accelerate oxidation leading to loss
of freshness. These enzymes can continue to cause
problems until the sake is consumed unless it is kept
very cold - storage conditions that temporarily slow
the enzyme activity.
Filtering to remove the enzymes is possible, using a
molecular filter, and some large brewers use this kind
of fine filtration to produce unpasteurised sakes that
do not need to be kept cold . However, the equipment
is costly. For almost all sake, producers use heat to
deactivate the koji enzymes as well as to kill any yeast
and bacteria that may be present in a sake immediately
after filtration .
very well, it typically takes the sake in a large tank one A filter usedto remove

Pasteurisation Techniques or two days to cool down . This can harm ginjo aromas charcoalfiningpowder

Most sake undergoes pasteurisation twice. On both and freshness in general. froma sake.

occasions the sake is heated to a temperature of


60-65 °C (140-149°F). This is done immediately after Bottle pasteurisation - This method is called bin hi-ire
filtration (before storage) and a second time before or bin-kan. Sake is bottled first and then the bottles
shipping out (after storage). are put into hot water to raise the sake to the required
There are two methods of pasteurisation . The more temperature. It is then usually cooled down immediately
efficient method is to pasteurise in bulk, while the more by showering cold water onto the bottles or putting the
labour-intensive way is to pasteurise bottled sake in bottles into ice-cold water after pasteurisation. Some
hot water. brewers believe it is gentler to let the bottles cool
naturally, but even if the cooling is natural it happens
Bulk pasteurisation - This method is called theja-kan fairly quickly because of the cool ambient temperatures
method, which is named after the coiled tube that is in the brewing season and the small size of the bottles.
used to pasteurise the sake . The tubes are heated up The process can be carried out by hand or by machine.
to 60-65°C (140-149°F) and the sake runs through Since the sake is already bottled, there is no need for
them. Once pasteurised, the sake is transferred to a a second pasteurisation.
large tank for storage and will usually go through a Although it is more labour intensive than bulk
second pasteurisation before bottling. Althoughja-kan pasteurisation, it is a quick and gentle process
pasteurisation is very efficient for treating large exposing the sake to the least heat, for the shortest
quantities quickly, sterilising and stabilising the sake amount of time. This method is therefore used for ginjo,
74 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Bottlepasteurisation.
Thebottlesare submerged
In hotwater.The
thermometersare there to
monitorthe temperatureof
the sakebeingpasteurised.

Junmai ginjo, daiginjo andjunmai daiginjo sakes. Some Nama-chozo - Legally defined as a sake that is
brewers even prefer to use this method for their Junmai pasteurised just once, after storage in bulk . The first
and honjozo sakes. (pre-storage) pasteurisation is avoided. This is a way of
providing some of the character of 'true' nama-zake,
Unpasteurised Sake (Nama-zake) but with a slightly lower risk of the product being
Just filtered sake has an extremely fresh and expressive damaged because of poor storage in the supply chain .
taste with a lingering finish. Brewers sometimes sell
these, unpasteurised, as special seasonal products. Nama-zume - This term is not legally defined, but
These are released right after the first press has been generally means a sake that is pasteurised once,
completed, around mid-November to early December , before storage in bulk and later bottled without a
and are categorised as nama-zake ('raw sake') or second pasteurisation. Hiya-oroshi is nama-zume that
simply nama . Many nama-zake are labelled as shinshu is released as an autumn seasonal product once the
('new sake '). These seasonal products will be available heat of the summer has passed.
until early summer at the latest, since nama-zake is
extremely sensitive to the heat and maturation occurs 'Once-pasteurised' - This term is sometimes seen on
much more rapidly compared with pasteurised sake. sake that is pasteurised just once (using bin hi-ire)
In addition, it is at risk of spoilage by hi-ochi bacteria. before storage in bottle. Because the sake is already
Over-maturation or incorrect storage conditions bottled, the second post-storage pasteurisation is
cause a degradation of nama-zake as a result of unnecessary. This avoids the distinct aromas of nama-
enzymatic action. The fault is called nama-hine-ka, zake, which can develop in bottle, while keeping the
and the distinctive aromas range from malt and bacon, sake as fresh, stable and unmanipulated as possible.
through to rancid cheese . A few sake enthusiasts enjoy
these aromas and like to experiment with ageing STORAGE AND MATURATION
nama-zake (see Chapter 4 The Systematic Approach The heating of sake during the pasteurisation process
to Tasting Sake ®for more details). alters the aroma and leaves it with an unrefined taste.
In addition to 'true' nama-zake (which is never Freshly filtered sake is also relatively rough in texture
pasteurised), the following three options are also and lively in flavour. For these reasons it is normal to
available to brewers wishing to maximise freshness and rest sake for between six months to one year to settle
minimise the impact of pasteurisation while ensuring and balance out the flavours. Sake that is brewed
that the product is stable once released. between autumn and winter following the harvesting
FINISHING 75

of the rice is stored during spring and summer and then BLENDING
shipped the following autumn. Brewers mature sake in Sake can be blended for volume and stylistic
various ways. Temperature can range from between consistency. Not all sakes are blended. In some cases,
freezing to ambient temperatures that can vary brewers go to extreme lengths (such as collecting
considerably between summer highs and winter lows . filtration fractions separately) to produce tiny volumes
The normal temperature is cool and steady (about of sake with different styles. But for most sakes,
10-20 ' C, 50-68'F). This pre-released storage is usually blending is the last stage where different components
carried out in sealed tanks, but some sakes especially can be combined to achieve the desired style. Different
ginjo styles are stored in bottle. components that could be used in blending include
Any sake matured for longer periods is categorised sakes with:
as aged sake or koshu ('old sake') . Even though there different polishing ratios (the blending component
is no legal rule for its minimum maturation length, with the highest polishing ratio limits the sake grade)
brewers tend to use this term only for sake that has different rice types or yeast types
been matured for two years or more (see Chapter 15 different press fractions
Speciality Styles of Sake for more details). different ages or made using different storage
methods
ADDITIONS (for nigori-zake only} higher and lower amounts of
Adding Water sake lees.
After filtration and during storage in bulk, the alcoholic
content of sake is typically 17-20% abv. As this alcohol BOTTLING AND LABELLING
level is considered to be too high for enjoyable Usually, breweries filter and pasteurise sake again at
consumption with meals, brewers often adjust the the bottling stage.
flavour and alcohol content by adding water and Sake bottles come in various colours, but black,
reducing the alcohol level by 1-2% abv. Sake that has brown or dark green bottles are often used because
not had water added at bottling is categorised as they limit the sake's contact with light. Light increases
genshu ('original sake'). Genshu sakes tend to have the speed of sake colouring and causes unpleasant
more concentrated and rich flavours, with higher aromas to develop .
alcohol. However, it is possible for brewers to manage Depending on the scale of production, the bottling
the fermentation to achieve a final alcohol level of and labelling may be done by hand, or by using a
15-16% abv (or even lower) even without water addition. mechanised bottling line.
76 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

SpecialityStylesof Sake Beyond the styles produced by variations of the


15 standard sake-production process, there are other
unique speciality categories in sake. Some have a long historical background but others are relatively
new categories created by young sake brewers seeking new markets. These categories are still
evolving and new developments are reflecting the perceived demands of sake markets within
Japan and abroad.

NIGORI-ZAKE increasingly seen as outdated in Japan. Sparkling sake


Nigori-zake is cloudy or opaque owing to the presence is still an evolving category .
of sake lees, which also provide a white or creamy The production method of sparkling sake is not
colour. Note that like nama-zake, the 's' of sake tightly defined or regulated , and no standard label
becomes a 'z' for the sake pronunciation . terms exist, therefore, different producers create
According to Japanese legislation, sake must be various styles of sparkling sake with various levels of
filtered, so even though some English-language texts alcohol, sediment and sweetness, ranging from off-dry
describe nigori as 'unfiltered sake', this is incorrect. to sweet.
Nigori-zake is made by partially filtering using a coarse Sparkling sake can be unofficially grouped into three
mesh and allowing an amount of the rice solids to styles .
remain in the final liquid .
The method was pioneered by a brewer in Kyoto in Carbonated Sparkling Sakes
the 1960s, after working with local legislators to agree The simplest method of making sparkling sake is simply
a filter size that would allow them to state that the to inject carbon dioxide under pressure once the sake
product was filtered, while still allowing lees to pass is made and filtered . Sparkling sake made by this
through. method tends to be clear, water-white and colourless
Nigori-zake can have different degrees of lees, in appearance . Most are sold pasteurised .
and can be made in many styles (futsO-shu,junmai or
daiginjo, and it can be nama or sparkling as well). The Bottle-fermented Sparkling Sakes
stylistic extremes are: Bottle-fermented sparkling sake is initially made the
thick lees, making the sake richly textured and full- same way as regular sake, but fermentation is halted
bodied with higher acidity content earlier than is usual when the alcohol is only around 5-
usu-nigori , or sasa-nigori , which have a small amount 10% abv, as opposed to the 18-20% abv of normal sake.
of lees remaining to give some texture. The sake is then filtered and bottled. Within the bottle,
fermentation continues and produces carbonation, as
Because sake lees fall to the bottom of the bottle, well as adding an extra 1-1.5% abv. In order to continue
when serving nigori-zake it is essential to tilt the bottles fermentation, a significant amount of sugar and yeast
to mix the lees gently with the liquid. The exception is is needed, hence these sparkling sakes tend to be
sparkling style nigori-zake, where the carbon dioxide cloudy . It is not common to disgorge (remove the yeast
bubbles will mix the lees when the bottle is opened. from) this style of sparkling sake because sake yeast
As sake with lees tends to have a shorter shelf life do not flocculate (clump together), so are difficult to
than clear sake, nigori-zake should be stored carefully remove . The flocculating yeast that are bred for easy
at a cool temperature . Its lees can develop orange, disgorgement in sparkling wines struggle to ferment
brown or greyish colours when it is stored for too sake , and the small scale sparkling sake industry means
long or at temperatures that are too warm. Normal there are fewer resources to invest in developing
clear sake can sometimes become cloudy as a result suitable yeast. Depending on how much further the
of an infection by hi-ochi bacteria (see the section fermentation progresses, the balance of alcohol and
Pasteurisation (Hi-ire) in Chapter 14) or misstorage of residual sugar can vary in the final product. Most of
nama-zake . Any sake with cloudiness or a deposit the sake made with this method is sold nama
should be white or slightly creamy in colour, and (unpasteurised) and sold as premium-priced products
should smell and taste pleasant. in Champagne-style bottles.

SPARKLING SAKE 'Live Nigori'


Sparkling sake (happ-oshu in Japanese) is relatively The 'live nigori' method is the most traditional style of
new. Carbonated and bottle-fermented sakes began to sparkling sake. It is a seasonal style, released in the
be marketed in the 1990s, when sake brewers were winter, around Christmas time, when shinshu ('new
trying to attract new consumers to a category that was sake ') comes onto the market. The production method
SPECIALITY STYLES OF SAKE 77

is similar to the bottle-fermented sparkling sakes, Sake with higher sugar and acidity content is
except that these are bottled with only a very coarse believed to have more ageing potential than regular
filtration. The product is unstable because koji enzymes sake. In order to make this style of sake, producers
and yeast continue to produce sugar and alcohol in the make their koji with a much thicker covering of mould
bottle. This instability means these products have very than koji used for regular sake. It is an extreme style of
limited distribution. Because the alcohol level changes so-haze. Also the brewer adds a higher proportion of
day by day, it is not possible for these to comply with koji to provide faster starch-to-sugar enzymatic activity
labelling legislation in most export markets. Generally within the ferment. It is also common to add acid
they are available in a small, local market for a limited during the sake-making to balance the sweetness and
time of year. Great care is needed when opening these intensity of the final flavours. Blending enables the
sakes, because it is easy for as much as a third of the brewer to control the flavour profiles to maintain
contents to rush out when the pressure is released. consistency. Some brewers blend different styles and
vintages.
KOSHU In general, rougher polishing ratios and ageing at
Koshu is also knownjukusei-shu ('matured sake'). higher temperatures, in larger vessels with more
Ageing sake brings a well-rounded texture with greater access to oxygen, yield more drastic changes. The
integration of the various flavours as well as the colour develops to medium or deep gold, amber and
development of new flavours. These are the result of even to brown. Age creates richness and complexity
reactions between sugars and amino acids. This is a and aromas such as caramel, toffee, molasses and
very varied category because brewers have a lot of nuts. Some earthy/vegetable notes of mushrooms, soy
options to choose from in their production. Different sauce, pickled cabbage and radish can also develop.
styles of sake can be aged and the vessels used to age Finely polished rice made in ginjo styles and matured A line upof speciality
the sake are varied not only in their size but also the at colder temperatures in small, tightly sealed inert sakesfrom:(lefttoright)
material they are made from. Finally, the temperature of vessels, produce less noticeable and more subtle sparklingsake,koshu,
the maturation conditions can have a significant impact variations in aged sake flavours. Colours develop to nama-zake,nigoriand
on the style of the koshu. pale or medium lemon or gold and aromas can remain kijoshu.
78 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Sakethat will ultimatelybe


soldas koshubeingagedin
smallsealedcontainers.

remarkably fresh with a subtle nuttiness. The texture sake'. Kiji5shu was created to be comparable with
becomes fine and silky. premium noble-rot wines such as Tokaji and Sauternes,
Some unusual ageing options for koshu include to be enjoyed by VIP guests visiting Japan.
maturation in caves or in the ocean where the ageing During the production of kiji5shu, water additions to
temperature is low and stable. A few breweries mature the moromi are partially replaced with sake. Typically
sake in whisky, sherry or wine oak barrels to add this substitution happens on the fourth day. The regular
unique characteristics to the flavour. sake ratio of rice and water is 100:130. Kiji5shu typically
Most of the koshu in the market is aged for at least replaces the 130 parts water with 60 parts water plus
two years but there is no legally required minimum 70 parts sake. The sake that is added to the moromi is
period of ageing for this style. If there is an age of the same grade as the kiji5shu that is being made.
statement, this legally must refer to the number of years Any grade of sake can be made in a kiji5shu style but
that the youngest component has been in its storage most have a polishing ratio between 60 and 70 per
container, rounding down for any fractions of a year. cent.
There is a 'Long-term Matured Sake Research Group', This addition of sake raises the alcohol level at the
which involves 45 breweries. This group states that start of the fermentation. The yeast are not stopped by
koshu made by its members must be aged for at least this addition and continue the fermentation. However,
three years before it is released. they are not able to ferment all of the sugar created
Bottle-aged sakes (whether labelled 'koshu' or not), by the ki5ji enzymes by the time the fermentation is
are the main exception to the general rule that the stopped. This technique therefore results in a sake
'date of manufacture' on the bottle indicates the that is sweet and viscous.
bottling date. Some indicate both the year of brewing Kiji5shu also has higher levels of malic and lactic acid
(BY) and the 'date of manufacture' (release date), than regular sake. Because of its high sugar and acid
allowing the consumer to see how long the product content, kiji5shu has commonly been aged to benefit
was aged in bottle at the brewery, and how long it has from the flavour developments that come from the
been in the supply chain since release. reactions between the sugar and amino acids.
The brewing process for kiji5shu was invented in
KIJOSHU 1973 by Dr Makoto Sato at the National Research
Kiji5shu is a sweet style of sake that is typically full- Institute of Brewing (NRIB). His inspiration came from
bodied and complex. The name means 'noble ferment a very old legal document. Enoki Shuzo in Hiroshima
SPECIALITY STYLES OF SAKE 79

Prefecture was the first brewery to make kijoshu for casks of Japanese cedar to recreate this effect. Taru-
consumers in 1974. In recent years more producers zake can be any style, but honjozo,Junmai and
have developed new styles of kijoshu, including fresher, futsO-shu are the most common. This is because ginjo
unaged styles. styles of sake lose their delicacy under the woody
Kijoshu is good to serve as a digestif or as an aromas. Taru-zake comes in two forms:
alternative to dessert wine. Some producers recommend matured and shipped in the traditional cedar barrel
pouring kijoshu over vanilla ice cream or serving it on matured in cedar barrels and transferred and
ice. shipped in glass bottles of various sizes.

TARU-ZAKE The typical size of a barrel is 72 L (4 to, in Japanese


Until the fifteenth to sixteenth century, sake was made units of volume), but 36-litre and 18-litre barrels are
in small batches close to where it was consumed. It was also used. Because Japanese cedar transfers its strong
stored in jars or pots made from glazed or unglazed scent quickly, sake is usually stored for just one to
pottery. The introduction of wooden vessels such as two weeks in the barrel. It is then blended for flavour
casks and barrels made it possible to ferment sake in consistency. In Japanese legislation, taru-zake must
larger batches, and also to transport sake over large be matured in Japanese cedar vats. Therefore, the use
distances within Japan. This coincided with the start of cedar planks, staves, chips or any oils or extracts to
of the Edo period (1603-1868) when Nada (in Hyogo add woody aromas without using barrel is prohibited in
Prefecture) had become the main sake production Japan. Most of the barrels are used about three times
region and large amounts were transferred by boat before being discarded.
to the new capital Edo (the old name for Tokyo). The The most common place you would encounter
vessels used for transporting sake were made of taru-zake in barrel is at celebratory events, such as
Japanese cedar. The wooden vessels are highly weddings, New Year and other Japanese festivities.
fragrant, and added intense spicy flavours to the sake. Once the decorated barrel is filled, a loose wooden lid
This practice continued to some extent until the 1920- is placed on top so that the host and selected guests
30s, by which time glass bottles became the standard of the party can use wooden hammers to knock and
container for sake. 'open' the barrel together. The sake is then served to
Taru-zake is a style of sake that has been stored in all of the party participants to share the celebration.
80 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

JapaneseSakeLabelsand Kanji Manyofthebottlesofsakethatareexported


16 have back labels in English, providing
information about the producer, the style, and often very detailed information about the chemical
composition and production methods. But this is not always the case. To someone unable to read any
Japanese, the labels can seem impenetrable. However, by learning to recognise a small number of
these Japanese characters and particular terms in which they are used in combination, you can
gather a lot of information about the product, even if no English translation is given.

UNDERSTANDING WRITTEN JAPANESE as two syllables: 'sa-ke'), which means any alcoholic
Written Japanese is a complex arrangement that uses beverage (exactly the same as its Chinese meaning).
three different writing systems in combination: the Kanji can also be combined to make up other
Japanese words. For example, Shu (;illi)can be combined
symbolic system of kanji and the two syllabaries called
hiragana and katakana. with other kanji to make, for example Ni-hon-shu ( E3
lilli)where it is pronounced the Chinese way, which
*
Kanji literally means 'Japanese alcoholic beverage', and
Japanese evolved as a spoken language long before it refers to the drink we know outside Japan as 'sake'.
was written down. The oldest surviving examples of
written Japanese use symbols imported from China via The following are common kanji that you will encounter
Korea in the fourth century AD, and these characters very frequently on sake bottles.
continue to be used for the core of Japanese writing.
5~ B *;j~*1'.
They are called kanji in Japanese and originated as
writing symbols ('Ji') coming from the 'Han' (Chinese) The seven kanji below are also seen quite frequently
people. and are useful for deducing the methods used to make
Right from the oldest surviving written records the sake, or its style.
(around 700-800 AD), Japanese writers used Chinese LlJ ~ ~ ~ji tt 5:llj i:5°
kanji in two ways.
Hiragana and Katakana
Sound - In this case the Japanese used the way the In addition to the 4000+ Chinese kanji used for writing
characters were pronounced in Chinese but not the Japanese, there are two other smaller sets of simpler
Chinese meaning. These pronunciations are often, but characters that are unique to Japanese. They were
not always, close to the pronunciation in modern developed from various forms of shorthand over a
standard Chinese. thousand years ago. These are:

Meaning - In this case the Japanese used the Chinese Hiragana - Simpler, rounded symbols usually
meaning of the kanji but used the Japanese combined with kanji on the back label. For example,
pronunciation for the object or idea being portrayed. (::.;::: L) (nigon) is a common label term that is written in
hiragana.
Because of the two ways that kanji are used in Many brand names use ancient or obscure kanji that
Japanese, for almost all kanji there are at least two even educated Japanese would not necessarily
pronunciations: one derived from Chinese sound, recognise. To help Japanese readers, hiragana often
and one derived from the Japanese for the idea or appear next to the kanji to indicate the correct
meaning the kanji conveys. Some kanji have just pronunciation. This is sometimes done with technical
one pronunciation (usually the Chinese one, but words like kimoto and koji, where the kanji characters
occasionally the Japanese one), and a few characters are not widely recognised.
have multiple Chinese and/or Japanese pronunciations.
This means you need to see the context in which a Katakana - Simpler, more angular-looking symbols
kanji is used before knowing how it should be generally used for words imported into Japanese from
pronounced. other languages. Katakana are used very little on sake
For example, ;illj is a kanji and represents the idea bottle labels. Two that appear frequently on back labels
'alcoholic beverage'. Its 'Chinese-derived' pronunciation are:
is 'shu', meaning any alcoholic beverage. However, in 7 JI, ::::i-JI, (arukoru, or alcohol).
modern standard Chinese, this symbol is pronounced 7 ::. / (amino), followed by the kanji lit (san,
'jiu', for example, as in the spirit bai-Jiu (Bli!li).Its meaning acid) giving a measure of the level of umami
'Japanese-derived' pronunciation is 'sake' (pronounced present in the sake.
JAPANESE SAKE LABELS AND KANJI 81

Each sound in Japanese (loosely equivalent to a The various conventions aim at making it simple for an
syllable) has a single, unique hiragana and a single English speaker to read the word as it is written and for
unique katakana. It would therefore be possible to the way they pronounce it to be close to the correct
write the whole Japanese language equally well in Japanese pronunciation.
entirely hiragana or in entirely katakana . But, apart
from the link with tradition, the kanji have the great Vowels
advantage of being very visually distinct, so when In Japanese, there are five vowels that are almost
reading a sentence , the core ideas can be seen identical to the way they are pronounced in Italian or
immediately (by someone who recognises the kanjt). Spanish, and for English speakers are close enough to:
a = as in 'pat'
Reading Japanese i = as in 'peat'
On top of this complexity there are a couple of u = as in 'put'
additional challenges when reading Japanese . First, e = as in 'pet'
written Japanese generally does not leave gaps o = as in 'pot' .
between words, so learning that daiginjo, honjozo and
nihon-shu are written with three different kanji (dai-gin- If you see a line above an 'o' or a ' O', this indicates that
jo, hon-jo-zo and ni-hon-shu) whereasjunmai, seishu the vowel is lengthened to around double the length
and ginjo use just two (jun-mai, sei-shu and gin-jo) is (for example, Tokyo and kojt). Long versions of 'a', 'e'
not always much help when these terms appear in the and 'i' are written by simply doubling the vowel (for
middle of longer, unbroken strings of symbols . It is best example, Niigata) .
to learn them so you recognise the kanji separately as
well as when combined. The good news is that, most of Consonants
the time, these words are prominent and are separated Japanese consonants are limited to eh, d, f, g, h, j , k, m,
on a front label. n, r, s, sh, t, w, y and z. If you pronounce these exactly as
The final challenge is that labels are sometimes you would in English, then you will be correct enough.
written in beautiful, but almost illegible, calligraphy. But Just remember that the sound of the letter 'j' is always
a familiarity with the core labelling terms will help even written as a 'j', so 'g' is always pronounced as hard 'g '
in these cases, at least , most of the time . as in 'gate', and never as in 'ginger '. (Remember this
when pronouncing ginjo and daiginjo .)
PRONOUNCING JAPANESE WORDS The only other likely trap for English speakers is to
In contrast to reading or writing Japanese, pronouncing forget that Japanese words are made up of syllables,
the Japanese words is very easy. The number of not letters . Every syllable in a Japanese word is
sounds in Japanese is small , and they can be pronounced separately and distinctly. So that, whereas
represented very accurately using the Latin alphabet. In in English an 'e' at the end of a word is silent, but
fact, the chances are that if you are an English speaker changes the vowel sound that precedes it, a final 'e'
and pronounce the Japanese word the way it is spelled, in a Japanese word is a part of the word that is
you will pronounce it correctly, or at least closely pronounced. For example, sake is pronounced as
enough that you would be understood. Of course, 'sa-ke' (with two syllables) .
English speakers from different regions pronounce There are some other subtleties that you could learn
these English words differently, but this will be a good if you really want to tackle the language in detail, but
guide unless you have a very strong regional accent. with this start , if in doubt , pronounce any Japanese
There are several similar systems for writing word the way it is written. You will be close enough to
Japanese using the Latin alphabet. This means you be understood, and will avoid most of the risk of saying
may see slight differences in the way words are written . something that has a completely different meaning .
This can affect:
use of hyphens and spaces (dai-ginjo , dai-gin-jo, dai COMMON KANJI FOUND ON SAKE LABELS
gin jo, dai ginjo) The tables overleaf provide the pronunciation and
how long vowels are written (daiginjoh, daiginjou, meaning of individual kanji that is most commonly
daiginjo) found on Japanese labels . You do not need to
how consonants are written (daiginjyo) . memorise these meanings, but you may find they help
you remember the sake labelling terms in which they
are used .
82 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Kanji Pronunciation(s) Meanlng(s) Used in

shu, alcohol, Ni-hon-shu


)~ sake sake B* 5~ Japan(ese) alcohol(ic) beverage

nama-zake
~ )~ raw (unpasteurised) sake

ko-shu
o 5~ old (aged) sake

ni sun Ni-hon,
B (can also mean 'day') B* Ni-ppon
sun origin, i.e. Japan ('land of the rising sun')

~
hon origin Ni-hon-shu
8 * )~ sun origin (Japanese) sake

hon-jo-zo
* g~ origin{al) fermentation production

'.=E. sei clear, ~.:E ..~ Sei-shu


iF.I clean, iF.Ji refined (clear) sake (the official term for
refined sake)

*ii!
jun pure

~* jun-mai
pure rice

* *ii!
*
mai rice jun-mai
pure rice

~ ~g
gin examine, gin -jo
scrutinise scrutinise(d) fermentation

• jo ferment(ation),
brew(ing) ~g
*g~
gin-Jo
scrutinise(d) fermentation

hon-Jo-zo
origin(al) fermentation production

dai great(ly), dai-gin-jo


7':~M
*
la
~& zo
large

produce,
production hon-jo-zo *g ~
Also,
great(ly) scrutinise(d) fermentation

hon-jo-zo
origin(al) fermentation production

~~ "ti::. shu-zo
I J.E. sake production ('sake brewery')
JAPANESE SAKE LABELS AND KANJI 83

KanJI Pronunclatlon(s) Meanlng(s) Used In

~t toku special
fl ~IJf.lt!*
toku-betsu jun-mai
special selection pure rice

toku-betsu hon-jo-zo
fl ~IJ*B~ special selection origin(al) fermentation
production

betsu distinguished, toku-betsu jun-mai


~lj selected separately fl ~IJ
f.lt!* special selection pure rice

toku-betsu hon-jo-zo
fl ~IJ
*B~ special selection origin(al) fermentation
production

~ ~ ;~
ki, life, nama-zake
nama live, raw (unpasteurised) sake
living ,
raw k/-moto
~ ~it living fermentation-starter
moto fermentation starter, ki-moto
ijJI: fermentation origin ~ ~it living fermentation-starter
yama mountain yama-hai
LI.J (but in this context Ll.J
fi This is an abbreviation of yama-oroshi hai-shi
yama-oroshi refers to the 'Pounding with poles' abolition.
poles used for pulverising
and mixing rice in the
Kimoto method)

~
hai become outmoded yama-hai
(hai-shi means abolition) Ll.J
fi This is an abbreviation of yama-oroshi hai-shi
'Pounding with poles' abolition .

0
ko old,
aged o5~ ko-shu
old (aged) sake
84 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

These kanji enable us to read the following common terms on sake bottles :

Kanji Pronunciation Literal Meaning

Nihon-shu Japan(ese) alcohol(ic) beverage

Sei-shu refined (clear) sake


(the official term for sake)

Junmai pure rice

ginjo scrutinise(d) fermentation

daiginjo great(ly) scrutinise(d) fermentation

Junmai ginjo pure rice scrutinise(d) fermentation

Junmai daiginjo pure rice great(ly) scrutinise(d) fermentation

honjozo origin(al) fermentation production

tokubetsu Junmai special selection Junmai

tokubetsu honjozo special selection honj6z6

yamahai 'pounding with poles' abolition


(abbreviation of yama-oroshi haish1)

kimoto living fermentation-starter

nama-zake raw (unpasteurised) sake

koshu old (aged) sake


THE GLOBAL SAKE INDUSTRY 85

The sake industry is in a state of change. Until recently,


The GlobalSake Industry sake was mainly brewed and consumed in Japan.
Decline in the local market and interest in the product by people outside Japan is leading brewers
17
increasingly to export, though the proportion exported remains small. It is also leading to breweries
being set up outside of Japan.

The sake industry consists of just over a thousand with ji5zi5 alcohol and corrected with flavour
active breweries in Japan, and a few breweries in other enhancers)
countries, together with various suppliers of ingredients, sake style (ginji5 sakes must be made with great
equipment and expertise, and various organisations attention to detail, in small quantities, and the slow
involved in the distribution, sale and promotion of sake. ferment takes up space in the brewery)
other methods used (kimoto and yamahai take
SAKE PRODUCTION IN JAPAN longer and need greater expertise than sokujo-moto,
The number of sake breweries in Japan has halved, and koshu sakes require space and finance for the
from around 3500 in the 1970s to around 1500 in time they are aged) .
2014-15, but not all of these 1500 are producing sake.
Production has also decreased, reflecting a decline in In addition to the cost of producing the liquid, there
domestic sales; 447 487 kl (2.49 million koku) were must be a gross profit for the brewery (to pay wages,
produced in 2014-15, which is less than a third of the enable investment in equipment, and pay taxes and
volume produced (and sold) in the early 1970s. The levies to brewers associations) and there must be
sake industry reports volume using the traditional margins for the distributors (including importers) and
Japanese measurement of koku. As a comparison, retailers . At each stage there are usually further taxes to
1 koku = 180 L = 20 x 9 L cases . pay, which also need to be included in the final price.
Of those remaining breweries, the industry is split
between a small number of giant producers and a Location and Regionality
large number of smaller producers, with very little in The chain of islands that forms Japan spans 20 degrees
between . This means the industry 'average' (mean) latitude; similar to the span from Portland (Maine) to Key
production of about 1500 koku does not represent the West (Florida), or from Paris (France) to Timbuktu (Mali).
reality of most breweries. The median is less than 500 The country is divided into eight regions, which are
koku. Over 80 per cent of sake breweries are tiny or further subdivided into 47 prefectures. Although some
small (producing less than about 1000 koku each year). prefectures are more recognised for sake production,
Fewer than 3 per cent of brewers are considered large there are sake breweries in all eight regions and almost
or giant (over 10000 koku) and the largest 1 per cent of all of the 47 prefectures.
breweries together make more than half of all the sake The two leading prefectures (Hyogo and Kyoto)
produced in Japan. These giant companies are led by combined, account for approximately half of all sake
Hakutsuru, Takara and Gekkeikan, each producing production, simply because the largest breweries are
approximately 250 000 koku. That is as much as the located there . Niigata is third by volume, but has the
combined production of the smallest 80%. largest number of breweries.
In 2015, 'Nihon-shu' became a Geographical
Factors Affecting the Price of Sake Indication {GI) reseNed for sake brewed in Japan and
A product's price is ultimately determined by what a made from rice haNested in Japan. Sake does not yet
consumer is prepared to pay for it. Strong, effective have a more detailed system of Gls, referring to a
branding can lead to the price of something far product's region or place of origin within Japan, though
exceeding the costs of production. While this happens some groups of breweries have developed local
in other alcoholic beverages (such as Champagne and schemes . For example, the Dewa33 label in Yamagata,
vodka), the price differences between sakes tend to be and the Hakusan GI in Ishikawa Prefecture . There are
closely correlated with the costs of raw ingredients and some trends in regional styles, but these are quite
production. This means that the following main factors limited. There are two broad underlying reasons for
account for differences in price: this: ingredients and business trends.
rice type (top grade yamada-nishiki is more
expensive than third grade table rice) Ingredients:
rice polishing (polishing to 30 per cent takes longer Rice can be sourced from anywhere in Japan, and is
and yields less sake than polishing to 70 per cent) widely traded. Even when local rice is used, it has a
sake category (premium sake cannot be bulked out subtle effect on sake flavour .
86 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Water can have its mineral and nutrient content can source the rice, water, koji-kin and yeast, brewing
adjusted. Even when this is not done, the impact of equipment and brewers, with the required expertise.
water is subtle. There is no reason why sake from Hokkaido Prefecture
Yeast and koji-kin spores are generally sourced from has to taste different from sake from Kyushu Prefecture.
suppliers. The Brewing Society of Japan (BSJ) However, there are some trends in local styles that
supplies most of the brewery yeast used, and there can still be identified. There is a rough trend for lighter
are only a few specialist suppliers of koji-kin outside and drier sakes to be made in the north-east (especially
of the BSJ. Niigata) and sweeter and more intensely flavoured
sakes to be made in the south-west (especially
Business trends: Hiroshima and Saga). There is also a tendency for
Where once brewers tended to learn their skills from eastern-coastal breweries (such as those in Miyagi and
local guilds, technical expertise and methods are Shizuoka) to make lighter, purer sakes ideal for local
now shared throughout the country by universities cold-water seafood. In central mountain locations (such
and organisations such as the National Research as Nagano, mountainous parts of Akita and Fukushima,
Institute of Brewing (NRIB). Tochigi and Gunmai) the sakes tend to be heavier and
Where sakes were once made with local markets more complex, to partner foods that rely more on
and local cuisines in mind, brewers are increasingly preserved meat and vegetables. Sakes made from
seeking national or international markets . The local breweries on the warmer west coast also tend to be
food specialities are also now much more widely richer and more intense.
available. Understanding these trends, and the limits of how
applicable they really are, requires a deep
The result is that a brewer in any location in Japan can understanding of recent events in sake history as well
A sakesamurai make any style of sake, if they so choose . This is as recent trends and developments at individual
inaugurationceremony. provided they have the money and the desire, and they breweries. As a simplification, the list below shows
THE GLOBAL SAKE INDUSTRY 87

some of the main influences underlying current JAPANESE SAKE INDUSTRY ORGANISATIONS
differences in regional style. A number of organisations influence the production
and sale of sake in Japan. They have various roles,
Iwate Prefecture (and Tohoku Region) - The Nanbu ranging from helping brewers to purchase ingredients,
Toji guild has nurtured high levels of technical expertise, equipment, labour and expertise, through to
supporting local research and the sharing of ideas. researching techniques to help improve sake and
Most members seek to avoid heavy and rich flavours develop new styles, lobbying governments, promoting
so the sakes are pure, clean and light. Members of the sake and gaining a better understanding of the
Nanbu guild are influential throughout Tohoku and commercial opportunities .
parts of Kanto.
Toji and Toji Guilds
Niigata Prefecture - The Echigo Toji guild promotes a Toji is the name given to the head brewer, responsible
style of sake known as tanrei-karakuchi. Light, dry and for the quality of the product and also for managing the
very pure, with a short clean kire finish. This influence team of kurabito ('brewery workers'). Traditionally the
extends to neighbouring prefectures . toji was also responsible for recruiting and even paying
the production team - tasks that the kuramoto (brewery
Nagano Prefecture - This mountainous region to the owner) delegated and traditionally had little interest or
south of Niigata has promoted an intensely flavoured, involvement in.
rich and slightly sweet style of junmai sake, the exact Ti5ji guilds came into being in the early Edo period
opposite to the Niigata style. It developed a local yeast (1603-1868) at a time when the seasonal system of
strain ('Alps yeast') and a local rice (Miyama-nishikt) to brewing sake was developed. Farmers travelled,
support this style. leaving their families, to work in the sake breweries
during the cold season from autumn to spring. They
Kyoto Prefecture - Of the two largest production then returned home for the rest of the year to tend their
prefectures, Kyoto sakes are the most delicately crops .
aromatic, and tend to be elegant and refined. The style Regional guilds formed, and were named after the
developed as a partner to the sophisticated fine Kyoto areas from which their members came. The guilds were
cuisine . The low-mineral water helps produce this style . organisations in which members shared techniques and
educated the next generation of toji and kurabito. Later,
Hyogo Prefecture - Of the two largest production the guilds also served as an informal employment
prefectures, Hyogo sakes traditionally avoid perfumed agency, introducing brewery owners looking for
aromas (because they are locally considered suitable staff to work for them.
distracting), and are firmer-textured sakes with more These days, it is becoming increasingly common for
intense flavours and higher umami. The two main local the kuramoto or their family members to be closely
toji guilds promote this style (using so-haze koji as part involved in production, and some even take on the role
of their technique). The mineral and nutrient-rich local of toji . There is also a trend to employ kurabito locally,
water also promotes a faster fermentation and helps to directly and permanently, rather than as a team of
avoid the development of aromas. seasonal itinerant workers paid by the toji. These
workers and the kuramoto-toji now often learn their
Hiroshima Prefecture - This is the location where craft from brewing courses or simply on the job, rather
ginjo techniques were first developed, together with than through apprenticeships with the guilds. These
techniques for reliably fermenting sake using extremely three trends mean kuramoto are less dependent on
low-mineral water. So-haze ki5ji was used with slow, the guilds for sourcing managers, brewing expertise
cold fermentation to keep the parallel processes in and staff. With dwindling numbers of traditional, guild-
balance. The so-haze koji resulted in a higher acid style linked toji, exacerbated by the decline in young people
of sake. Nowadays, the mineral content is adjusted to seeing sake brewing as an attractive career prospect,
reliably produce ginjo sakes using tsuki-haze koji, but there have had to be big changes and there is now
the higher acid juicy, fruity style retains its appeal. much more flexibility in the way the kurabito and toji
The influence of Hiroshima and its techniques are recruited, trained and organised.
extends to much of the Chugoku region where it is Whereas guilds traditionally made introductions to
located, as well as to the neighbouring regions of brewery owners in need of a toji and kurabito, many
Shikoku and KyOsh0.The exception in Shikoku region is breweries now employ a brewer who is trained up by
Kochi Prefecture, which makes the driest and lightest the current toji to replace them when they retire. In a
sakes reflecting a local tradition for consuming large few breweries, including all of the big breweries, the
volumes. Although the island of Ky0sh0 is really better staff might brew throughout the year, rather than
known for shochil distilleries than sake breweries, Saga seasonally. In some cases they may help to grow rice
Prefecture is becoming known for making sakes that for the brewery or do other jobs around the brewery ,
balance sweetness with high acidity . including sales among other roles. This makes sake-
88 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

brewing a more attractive career. As a result of these improve sake brewing to ensure the sake trade
trends and the general decline in brewing , many of the continued to bring in revenue for the government
guilds have either disappeared or are struggling to through taxes, hence the ties to the MOF. Its research
continue. Currently there are approximately 25 guilds also covers the production of beer, wines and spirits.
left of which three (Nanbu, Echigo and Tanbu) are NRIB provides technical training for brewers,
especially important. These three guilds are often covering both production techniques and sensory
referred to as sandai or the 'big three '. evaluation of sake.
Recent and ongoing areas of research include :
Nanbu (Iwate Prefecture) - The Nanbu Ti5ji Guild is the understanding and explaining aspects of how sake
pre-eminent guild , whose membership has not dropped tastes. For example, how sugar and acidity levels
in recent years . Its influence extends beyond its base in relate to how sweet or dry the sake seems to be, or
north-eastern Japan, and currently accounts for about a identifying and investigating the origin of sake
third of all toji and kurabito. The Nanbu Ti5ji Guild has aromas
an excellent reputation for offering brewing education investigating and learning how to minimise the risk of
and regularly holds training for active members . faults and defects. For example , the development of
unpleasant off-flavours in aged sake
Echigo (Niigata Prefecture) - The Echigo Ti5ji Guild's gaining an improved understanding of sake
production method emphasises the use of tsuki-haze microbiology, including the behaviour of yeast and
koji, lending itself to a lean, dry style (tanrei-karakuch1). koji strains used in its production
There are many breweries (more in Niigata than any gaining an improved understanding of the factors
other Japanese prefecture), and many of these were that determine the suitability of rice for sake
started by Echigo Ti5ji breaking away from an existing production , including the effects of weather during
brewery . This led to the widespread use of Echigo the growing season .
Guild 's methods throughout Niigata and some
neighbouring prefectures too. The spread of Echigo- New National Sake Contest (Zenkoku Shinshu
trained toji partly accounts for the consistency of the Kanpyoukai)
Niigata regional style. In 1911,the NRIB started up the New National Sake
Contest (Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyouka1) enabling
Tanba (Hyogo Prefecture) - The Tanba Ti5ji Guild entrants to get feedback on their sakes from NRIB
tradition is for brewing sakes with intense flavours and experts, in turn raising the quality of sake. The quality
relatively high umami levels achieved through koji with rankings used to be used to grade sake, with the higher
high levels of enzymatic activity (i.e. so-haze). This grades being more heavily taxed. This system was
influenced the style of some of the largest sake phased out in 1992 and replaced with the current
breweries. system of premium sake grades.
Although no longer used for determining tax rates,
You do not necessarily need a qualification to become the contest has continued, funded in part by the
a toji although there are courses available; Tokyo Ministry of Taxation . The judges for the New National
Agricultural University brewing college is the most Sake Contest today are now members of the NRIB,
popular . Kyoto University runs a similar course . The others appointed by them and the National Tax Agency.
Japan Brewing Society has also produced a Each spring, when the brewing season is over, the
correspondence course in sake brewing. Generally contest is run, and gold and silver medals are awarded
time must be spent watching and working alongside to the best sakes . Every brewery can enter one sake for
and with other kurabito and toji first, experience being each brewing licence they hold. (Very few breweries
highly valued . Being a member of a guild also does not have more than one licence.) The sake brewed for this
require you to hold a formal qualification, although the competition is often referred to as 'competition sake' .
Nanbu Guild is highly regarded for its brewing It is generally brewed specifically for the New National
education, regularly providing training for active Sake Contest and is often unavailable for actual sale
members and has an exam that must be taken to and extremely expensive if it is. The purpose of the
qualify as a (Nanbu) toji . contest is therefore not so much to give guidance of
quality to consumers, but to show the skills of the
National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) brewer .
The National Research Institute of Brewing (NRIB) was The contest helps identify trends and the impact of
established in 1904 as part of the Ministry of Finance that year's rice harvest, and NRIB publishes a report
(MOF), coming under the control of the National Tax after the contest.
Agency in 1959. It was set up to conduct scientific
research into and improve modern brewing techniques, Brewing Society of Japan (Brew. Soc. Japan)
develop new technology and help implement safety The Brewing Society of Japan was established in 1906
standards and quality control. The NRIB aimed to and was authorised as an incorporated foundation in
THE GLOBAL SAKE INDUSTRY 89

1915.Thereafter, for over 110years, the society has Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS) The NationalResearch
supported the progress and development of Japanese The JSS, sometimes referred to as chOokai, is a non- Institute of Brewingwhich
brewers by supplying pure yeast cultures, publishing profit organisation . It was created in 1953 to promote is locatedin Saijoin the
books on brewing and performing other related duties. the sake and shochO businesses and to act as a liaison prefectureof Hiroshima.
The Society offers information on brewing between brewers and the Japanese government.
technology through research and investigation into the ShochO is a Japanese spirit made from a variety of raw
brewing industry. For the purpose of publicity and materials including rice and sweet potatoes. The JSS
sharing their research, they publish a monthly bulletin advises on laws related to the sake industry. These
(Journal of the Brewing Society of Japan). This journal include laws defining the criteria for the different
has been published continuously since the grades of sake and definitions for terms used to
establishment of the society. All articles of the journals describe styles and production techniques , labelling
are available on its website. rules and taxation .
The Society carries out the following activities: JSS also lobb ies the Japanese government on behalf
Research and technological development related to of the sake business . For example, the JSS persuaded
brewing. the government in 2013 to extend a tax break for
Helping its members through their brewing studies, brewers producing less than 1300 kilolitres a year. This
understanding technological developments and had a significant impact, as over 1100 breweries were
promoting their practical use. then eligible for exemption.
Collecting and stocking the genetic resources of The JSS receives annual subsidies from the
microorganisms and distributing them. Japanese government, though this in turn is raised by
Honouring brewing researchers and skilled taxes on sake production and sales. The subsidy covers
technicians. the operational costs of JSS, but is also used to provide
Issuing a bulletin and books about brewing. agricultural loans to small brewers .
Sale of sake treating materials. The majority of brewers in Japan are members of the
Inspection of the standard norm of sake treating JSS. To join they must first join an affiliated regional
materials. sake brewers' association.
Requested research and analysis.
90 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

The Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council - Generally these orders are fulfilled, although in 2013
The Junior Council is part of the JSS. It was formed in there was a shortage of yamada-nishiki rice resulting in
1955 and since 1970 they have received funding from some breweries not being able to obtain the rice they
the JSS, with whom they collaborate . It currently has needed through JA.
around 800 voluntary members . The Junior Council More and more brewers are now choosing to buy
seeks to influence government policies and actions rice directly from individual farmers with direct contracts
affecting the sake industry. Through its activities, it with the growers. The advantage of this is that brewers
actively promotes sake. can then obtain rice grown to their exact specifications .
This works well for those who need specific kinds of
The Sake Samurai Association - The Sake Samurai rice, such as regional varieties, or organic rice. If
Association was established by the Junior Council in farmers are local, it also enables the brewers to monitor
2004. It aims to raise the profile of sake both in Japan the quality , be involved in the cultivation itself (if they
and internationally . Since 2006, they have awarded wish) and be more aware of the conditions in which the
annual Samurai titles to individuals for their outstanding rice has been grown, which might affect how the sake
contribution to the understanding, appreciation or will be brewed.
promotion of sake, most significantly collaborating with A small, but growing number of brewers have started
the International Wine Challenge to introduce a sake to grow their own rice for brewing their sake . However,
category in 2007. as it has been several generations since this was the
norm, most breweries do not currently have the skills,
Japan Agriculture (JA) tools or land needed to grow their own rice.
Japan Agriculture (JA), also known as Nokyo, is a Many sake brewers source their rice from a mix of
national network of local farm co-operatives with any of the three sources: JA, directly from individual
central offices in Tokyo. It was created by the Japanese farmers and even cultivating some themselves.
government after the Second World War to stabilise JA has a large membership and retains close links to
food production and prices . It covers all agricultural the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the agriculture
crops, but rice is the most important. ministry . Therefore, despite recent changes , it
During the Second World War, the government had continues to have a lot of political influence . It is one
taken control of rice production by passing the 1942 of Japan's most powerful lobby groups, campaigning
Staple Food Control Act. This prevented corporate to keep high import tariffs on farm goods , with rice
entities from cultivating crops, and put in place generally being considered the most important of these .
agricultural reforms giving tenant farmers ownership This keeps rice prices for sake brewers in Japan high .
of farmland . This meant that sake breweries could
no longer grow their own rice. The land reform MARKETS FOR JAPANESE SAKE
redistributed land from large landlords to tenants, with The Japanese Market
an average plot size of around three hectares. These Sales of sake in Japan were in fairly sharp decline
small plot sizes continue because laws make it hard to from the 1970s until 2012. In 2013, sales started to rise
sell the land on and many farmers hold on to it as an again for the first time from 583 000 kl to 587 000 kl
asset with development potential. Before this, sake (3 231 874 to 3 254 048 koku). This small increase is
brewers grew their own rice and tended to be wealthy reportedly due to a trend for people in their 30s,
landowners, originally setting up breweries to process particularly in Tokyo, for drinking premium sake.
the surpluses . Over the last ten years, the greatest decline has been
JA was created at this time to stabilise food with the lowest quality grades of sake (especially futs a-
production and prices. Sake brewers wanting to buy shu, but also honji5zi5). The only categories that have
rice had to buy from JA, rather than directly from the shown growth arejunmai sakes (includingjunmai ginji5
farmers . JA negotiated the sale of rice on behalf of its andjunmai daiginji5, showing the greatest growth) .
members, mainly part-time farmers working on tiny Ginji5 and daiginji5 sakes were in decline but have
parcels of land. This did not change until 1995, when started to increase again .
the Staple Food Law was passed, allowing sake brewers
to buy rice directly from farmers. In 2004 and 2008, Export Markets for Japanese Sake
there was further deregulation with the Revised Staple In 2014, Japan exported just 16 316 kl (90 448 koku)
Food Law enabling brewers to grow their own rice of sake, representing about 3.5 per cent of production .
again, and making it easier to buy directly from farmers. However, this is nearly double the volume exported
Roughly half of sake brewers still buy their rice ten years previously , and the trend is for exports to
through JA. Brewers place orders for rice through continue to increase . The tiny percentage exported
prefectural sake brewers' associations who in turn means its growth has not offset the decline in the local
obtain the rice through JA. Brewers can specify what market, but brewers hope that this will change.
rice variety, quality grade and region they want it from In descending order of volume, the main export
(although they are not able to specify the producer). markets for sake in 2014 are:
THE GLOBAL SAKE INDUSTRY 91

• USA - Also number 1 for value. The USA has been Around this time , The Honolulu Sake Brewery, the
an important export market for many years, and longest continuously running sake brewery in the USA,
continues to grow. The US market is oriented opened up (although it closed in 1992). The brewery
towards premium sake. survived difficult times through innovation: using
Korea - Number 3 for value . It has recently grown Californian rice instead of Japanese (as US producers
rapidly. Exports are mainly large volumes of do today), using refrigeration and stainless steel tanks
inexpensive sake , although there is some premium to produce sake in an otherwise unsuitably hot climate
sake exported here. (techniques later adapted by the Japanese to enable
Taiwan - Number 5 for value. It has declined over year-round brewing), and making other products such
the last 20 years, but is showing some signs of as ice (using its refrigeration systems) and soya sauce
recovery . Exports are mainly large volumes of when it was not possible to make sake .
inexpensive sake , although there is some premium From 1920 to 1933, the US sake industry was hit hard
sake exported here. by Prohibition . Before Prohibition, there were around
• Hong Kong - Number 2 for value. An important 20 sake producers in the USA, but many closed as a
market that continues to grow. In the last 20 years it result. When Prohibition was repealed, a number of
has moved from inexpensive to super-premium sake. sake breweries started up in California, Washington
• China - Number 4 for value. It has recently grown and Hawaii , but the US sake industry was again hit
rapidly and shifted from inexpensive to more hard by the Second World War. All sake production
premium sake. was stopped to conserve rice to support the war effort.
Many sake breweries went out of business at this time .
These top five markets accounted for three quarters of In 1948 sake production started up again with new sake
exports in 2014, both in volume and value . Other breweries opening up in Denver, San Francisco and
important markets include Canada, Singapore, Hawaii. From the late 1970s and 1980s there was a
Thailand, Australia, Germany and the UK. surge in the popularity for Japanese cuisine such as
sushi and including sake .
SAKE PRODUCTION OUTSIDE JAPAN In 1979, Ozeki (a major Japanese sake producer) set
Although rice-based beverages have been brewed up a brewery in Hollister, California . Before this, US
outside of Japan for many centuries, sake was sake styles had been rather rustic . Ozeki produced a
developed during a period when Japan chose to cleaner , fresher, product using Californian Calrose rice.
isolate itself from the rest of the world. The first sake This marked a change in the styles made, opening up
breweries were set up outside of Japan not long after sake to a wider market. Ozeki remains one of the
the borders reopened in the 1860s, but none of these largest US sake producers and continues to make sake
early breweries now survive . In terms of their business today, using local water, softened due to its hardness.
objectives, most modern breweries fall into one of the Their sake is sold both domestically and outside of
following categories : the US.
The desire to make the product fresher and more Following Ozeki's success, other large, established
affordable by brewing in the Japanese style, but close Japanese sake producers set up in California, seeing
to the location of the market. (This is true of the large it as a good base due to the plentiful supply of rice
breweries in the USA and China.) produced there that was also suitable for brewing.
The desire to make a premium product with a local Takara (Berkeley, CA) started up in 1982, Yaegaki
flavour . (This is true of many of the craft breweries in (Vernon, CA) was set up in 1987 and Gekkeikan
the USA, Canada and Europe .) (Folsom, CA) was set up in 1989. All use Calrose rice
As an extension of homebrewing, almost as a hobby and local water. They target mainly the US market, but
that pays for itself. (This is true of some of the smallest also export products to Canada, South America, Europe
brewers outside of Japan .) and Asia. Ozeki, Takara, Yaegaki and Gekkeikan
continue to be the largest sake producers in the US,
The USA and their success has encouraged smaller breweries to
Sake is likely to have come to the USA around the end start up too . Although they are about one tenth of the
of the nineteenth century, when Japanese immigrants size of the parent breweries based in Japan, their scale
came to work on plantations in Hawaii, eventually of production around 15 000-25 000 koku (about
settling there, and elsewhere in the USA, though 3000-5000 kl a year) would be considered large in
particularly on the West Coast. However, sake imports Japan .
dropped drastically around 1898, when a 600 per cent In 1997, SakeOne set up a brewery in Oregon, a
import duty was imposed . This led to a gap in the joint venture between a Japanese sake producer,
market for more affordable, domestically produced Momokawa Brewing, and a US sake importer. They
sake and some of the first sake breweries outside of make their sake using Calrose rice, which comes to
Japan, including the short-lived Japan Brewing them polished to 90 per cent. SakeOne then polish it
Company of Berkeley, California. down further using their own rice polisher . SakeOne
92 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

took a slightly different approach to the larger portion of the company , renaming it Azuma Kirin and
breweries, concentrating only onjunmai ginjo sakes, providing new expertise and equipment. Sakeria
and including nama-zake in their range . Their Thikara was set up around 2007 in Sao Paulo with the
production is smaller than the California giants, but they aim of launching premium sake in Brazil. They make
would be considered as a medium-sized brewery in honjozo sake using imported Japanese rice . Some
Japan {in the top 10 per cent for production volume) . other local Brazilian sake brands exist, including low-
Their intention is to continue to grow to meet demand quality products that are not made from rice .
as US and International sake consumption increases .
More recently there has been a growing sake micro- Australia
brewing scene developing across the US. Many of Sun Masamune {Penrith, New South Wales) was started
the brewers have a micro-brewing or home-brewing in the late 1980s by a syndicate of Australian rice
background, with the craft-beer boom as an influence, growers and Japanese businessmen who wished to
wanting to make a local American, fresh product using take advantage of lower production costs to export a
local water and local rice. Many make nama -zake, competitively priced product to Japan. It was then
enabling people to try this style in areas of the country purchased by a Japanese sake producer, who invested
where it was not easily available . Generally these target in a state-of-the-art brewery and installed a Japanese
local regional markets, with some holding ambitions to toji . Having started commercial production in 1996, like
expand in a similar way to SakeOne, others wanting to SakeOne in Oregon, they are now a medium-sized
remain small-scale. brewery . Most of their production is exported to Japan,
Most sake breweries in the US today use local water but some is sold in Australia and some is sent to other
and US-grown rice, the majority being Californian export markets in Asia, Europe and North America .
Cal rose. Calrose is a tropical-adapted strain of japonica
{also calledjavanica) and is medium-grained . It is East Asia
generally dry-farmed in large fields, rather than labour- The People's Republic of China - Tianjin Nakatani
intensive rice paddies . Using local rice farmed this way Brewing Co. {Tianjin, China) was started in 1995 by the
is much more cost-effective than importing rice from Japanese owner of a brewery in Nara. The location in
Japan . In addition, US farmers are also beginning to China was chosen because high-quality rice grows
grow versions of Japanese sake-specific rice varieties well there and the region 's cold winters make it ideal
such as yamada-nishiki. for brewing the high grade , ginjo styles of sake the
brewery focuses on . The company also exports sake
Canada from their Japanese brewery, along with sakes from
Canada's sake-brewing history also started with other breweries . The company accounts for a quarter
Japanese immigrants seeking work, with Vancouver of all sake sold in China . They sell their sake mainly to
becoming the centre of the Japanese community who Japanese restaurants in China. The brewery also
were reported as illegally brewing sake . The first produces sake for the Japanese and other international
recorded legal and commercial sake brewery was the markets . The cost of rice and labour in China is cheaper
Vancouver Malt & Sake Brewing Co., which was set up than in Japan , enabling them to charge a lower price
by a Japanese immigrant in 1923. for ginjo sake . China has several other brewers of sake,
Today, Canada has three micro-scale sake breweries, making products for the local market.
founded between 2007 and 2013. Artisan Sake Maker
and Y3K are in British Columbia and The Ontario Spring Taiwan - The history of sake-making in Taiwan dates
Water Sake Company is in Ontario . Artisan Sake Maker back to 1901.Taiwan was ruled by Japan between 1895
uses a form of ginpD rice {a sake-specific rice strain and 1945. When the Japanese were repatriated in 1946,
from Hokkaido) , farmed on two hectares {five acres) they left behind their sake-drinking and sake-making
of rice paddies . The others use Calrose . customs . A monopoly law was introduced in 1922 so
that The Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Bureau became
Brazil the sole producer of Taiwanese sake . The law was
Brazil's sake-brewing also started in order to provide abolished in 1987 when Taiwan joined the World Trade
sake for Japanese immigrants . The first Japanese Organization . The Bureau, now privatised , is still the
immigrants arrived in Sao Paulo in 1908 to work on major player in the sake market. Wu Feng Farmers'
coffee plantations . Brazil has the largest Japanese Association Distillery started up in 2005. They use
population outside of Japan, living mainly in Sao Paulo short-grain sticky Japanese rice, grown locally and
and Parana. polished by Wu Feng. They concentrate on premium
Tozen sake brewery was established in 1934 in categories and production is small. Their target market
Campinas, Sao Paulo. Tozen initially went through some is the domestic market in Taiwan, particularly young
difficulties in production due to the warm climate and professionals with higher than average incomes, to
lack of raw materials during the Second World War. In drink at home and in restaurants.
1975, the Japanese beer brewer Kirin acquired a
THE GLOBAL SAKE INDUSTRY 93

Korea - Like Taiwan, Korea was ruled by Japan for many Europe
decades, ending in 1945. During this time, Japan had a Craft-beer brewery N111gne0 (Grimstad, Norway)
large influence on the style of beverages produced in started to make sake in 2010. Their sake is made from
Korea. There are traditional Korean beverages that use ginpa sake rice, imported polished and frozen (for
a multi-microbial solid cereal cake called nuruk, instead freshness) from Hokkaido, North Japan. They make
of koji, for fermented cereal-based beverages, as well very small quantities of sake . They target the local,
as spirits such as traditional soju . Nuruk can add strong international and Japanese market to drink at home, in
flavours to the resulting products , which generally have restaurants and bars.
more flavour and more acidity than Japanese sake . There are plans for opening sake breweries in the
One Korean speciality is makgeolli, which is unfiltered, UK, Italy and Spain.
thick with rice particles, and sometimes served 'live'
(mid-ferment) . As well as the traditional Korean drinks,
there are some producers of clear sake, following the
Japanese model of production.

There are also companies brewing sake in Thailand


and Vietnam .
94 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

JAPAN REGIONS & PREFECTURES


• HOKKAIDO • KANSAI
1 Hokkaido 24Mie 0 200 400 600 800km
25 Shiga 100 200 300 400 500 miles
• TOHOKU 26 Kyoto
2 Aomori 27 Osaka
3 Iwate 28 Hyogo
4 Miyagi 29 Nara
5 Akita 30 Wakayama
6 Yamagata
7 Fukushima CHUGOKU
31 Tottori
KANTO 32 Shlmane
8 lbaraki 33 Okayama
9 Tochigi 34 Hiroshima
10 Gunma 35 Yamaguchi
11Saitama
12 Chiba • SHIKOKU
13 Tokyo 36 Tokushima
14 Kanagawa 37 Kagawa
38 Ehime
• CHUBU 39 Kochi
15 Niigata
16 Toyama KYUSHU & OKINAWA
17 Ishikawa 40 Fukuoka
18 Fukui 41 Saga
19 Yamanashi 42 Nagasaki
20 Nagano 43 Kumamoto
21 Gifu 44 Oita
22 Shizuoka 45 Miyazaki
23 Aichi 0 46 Kagoshima TOHOKU
47 Okinawa

I
..
.
• 46
.,.

OKINAWA
·~
47
.,
.
MAPS 95

RELIEF MAP OF JAPAN


01---'~ 00___ 20~0__ ~ 30_0 ___ 400
~--~ ~o~
et
o m = =- N

TOPTHREEPREFECTURES
FORPRODUCTION
HYQGO Sea of Japan
KYOTO
NIIGATA

CITIESWHERE YEAST WEREISOLATED


40°N 40°N
No.6 AramasaBreweryin Akita City
No.7 MiyasakaBrewery(Masumibrand)in Suwa
No.9 Koro-kumamoto SakeResearchCenterin KumamotoCity
No.14 RegionalTaxationBureauof Kanazawa

TOPTHREE TQJIGUILDS
NanbuToji Guild- IwatePrefecture
EchigoToji Guild- NiigataPrefecture
TanbaToji Guild - HyogoPrefecture
1'll

35°N

PACIFIC OCEAN

• /l

KEY 2000 m+ 1000-2000 m 500 - 1000 m 200-500 m 0-200 m


96 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Glossaryof JapaneseWords
This is a glossary of the Japanese words and names that are covered in this book. This list is included for reference
purposes only. Students should refer to the Level 3 Award in Sake Specification for guidance with regards to which
terms and names they need to know . The kanji, hiragana and katakana are included for interest only. The only
Japanese writing that students need to know is covered in Chapter 16 Japanese Sake Labels and Kanji.

Japanese word Kanji, hiragana Simple definition


orkatakana
Akita f.:l!IE A prefecture in northern Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

amino-son TUM Amino acid.

amino-son-do 7::. I M.13t A scale for measuring the level of umami (amino acids) in a sake.

arabashiri ifLjE LJ The free run liquid that comes out of a filter.

aruki5ru-tenka 7Jl,::J-Jl,~1.J□ The addition of high-strength distilled alcohol to a sake after fermentation and
before filtration.

aruten 7Jl,~ Sake made with the addition of high-strength distilled alcohol.

assakuki J±~~ A type of modern filtering machine. They are typically referred to as yabuta, the
name of the leading brand.

atsu-kan F.Jl'.if'ill Term used to describe sake heated to 50°C, 122°F. Literally means, 'hot enough
to warm body and soul'.
bin hi-ire *E.!kA;h, Bottle pasteurisation.

bin-kan *Hg1 Bottle pasteurisation.

bodai-moto ~tHit A fermentation starter method that predates kimoto.

choko ffilJ A traditional sake cup .

Chugoku cp~ A region in southern Japan.

chDi5kai cp9i!:~ 'Association'. An informal name for the Japan Sake and Sh5ch0 Makers Association
(JSS),abbreviating its full name (Nihon Shuz/5 Kumiai ch0i5km).

daiginj/5 j;:~iffl A category of premium sake made using rice with a polishing ratio of 50% or less
and the addition of a small amount of high-strength distilled alcohol.

daki af~ A bucket-like tool, typically made of metal that can be filled with warm or cold water
and submerged into a fermentation starter to control the temperature.

de-ki5ji tf:j~ Sending out. The last stage in ki5ji production .

dewa-sansan tf:jijij~~ The number 4 variety of sake-specific rice.

doburoku iffiljij 'Unfiltered sake', similar to a thick nigori, but doburoku is not legally a kind of sake
because it has not been passed through a filter.

Echigo ~~ An old province of Japan, corresponding closely to Niigata Prefecture. It gives its
name to a famous ti5ji guild .

Edo ms A period of Japanese history that runs from 1603 to 1868. Edo was also the name for
Tokyo during this period. It was the seat of power although not the formal capital city.

fune ffl The container that holds the cloth bags that are pressed during funa-shibori.

funa-shibori ffl~ LJ A filtration method that involves applying pressure to a number of cloth bags filled
with fermented sake.

fukuro-shibori ~~LJ A very traditional form of filtration. Cloth bags full of fermented sake are hung up and
the clear sake drips out to be collected.

Fukushima miJ A prefecture in northern Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

Fushimi «~ A ward in Kyoto, famous for having a reliable supply of good-quality water, which
helped the city become a major centre of production for sake.

futa E Small trays used in the second half of ki5ji making.

futa-ki5ji E~ Tray ki5ji. Ki5ji that was transferred to futa part way through production.

futsu-shu ~iffijij Non-premium, basic sake .

genshu m(jij A sake that has not been diluted with water prior to bottling.
GLOSSARY OF JAPANESE WORDS 97

Japanese word Kanji, hiragana Simple def init ion


orkatakana

ginj/5 ~!ffl A category of premium sake made from rice with a polishing ratio of 60% or less and
the addition of a small amount of high-strength distilled alcohol.

ginpO ~Jil. A variety of sake-specific rice.


A
g/5 A traditional sake measurement equivalent to 180 ml or 6 US fl. oz.
"'
gohyakuman-goku 3isn:o The number 2 variety of sake-specific rice.

Gunma ff.~ A prefecture in central Japan.

guinomi <·~
,;a:Jj. Traditional sake cup (larger than an o-choko).

hako ffl Medium sized trays used in the second half of ki5ji making.

hako-ki5ji ffl~ Box ki5ji. Ki5ji that was transferred to hako part way through production.

happ-oshu ~;~;ffi Sparkling sake.

hatsu-zoe f)J;ij;t First addition, when building the moromi using the 'three stage addition' method.

Heisei 3¥/ill: The current period of Japanese history that started in 1989 when the current
emperor came to the throne .

hi-ire .!kA:n Pasteurisation.

hikikomi 51~u:,_Jj. The first stage in ki5ji production.

hine-ka ~~ The aromas of an out-of-condition sake .

hi-ochi .!kiits A sake fault that occurs when hi-ochi bacteria spoil unpasteurised sake .

hi-ochi kin .!kii"t:i~ A strain of lactic acid bacteria that can spoil unpasteurised sake.

hinoki ~ Japanese cypress or hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), traditionally used for
ki5ji rooms.

hirogana ,P:{&~ A Japanese writing system used for Japanese words. It is often used alongside
obscure kanji to help with pronunciation.

Hiroshima ft. §f, A prefecture in south-west Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

hiya-oroshi U-{->;IS0~ A nama-zume sake that is sold as a seasonal autumn product.

honji5zi5 ;;f;-lffl~ A category of premium sake made using rice with a polishing ratio of 70% or less
and the addition of a small amount of high-strength distilled alcohol.

Hyogo ~i. A prefecture in southern Japan. One of the two leading prefectures for sake production.

isshi5bin -ft-Jffi: A 1.8 L bottle. One sh/5 is 1.8 L or 3.8 US pints.

Iwate =6"-'F- A prefecture in northern Japan.

izakaya ~;ffi~ A Japanese sake bar.

ja-kan !UH, A bulk method of pasteurising sake.

ji5zi5 aruki5ru lffl~7Ji.,::::J-JI., Alcohol produced by distilling a wash that is made by fermenting products of
agricultural origin. This is used in non-junmai sakes.

jukusei-shu ~ /ill:;ffi Aged sake.

junmai
flli* A category of premium sake made without the use of high-strength distilled alcohol.

There are no polishing ratio requirements for rice used to make junmai.

junmai daiginj/5
t.ili
**~• A category of premium sake made using rice with a polishing ratio of 50% or less
and without the use of high-strength distilled alcohol.

junmai ginj/5
*ill*~• A category of premium sake made using rice with a polishing ratio of 60% or less
and without the use of high-strength distilled alcohol.

kake-mai
UI-* Steamed rice that is directly transferred to a fermentation vessel and not used to
make ki5ji.

kan-douko '.il'H,
C ? ;:_ A specific type of waterbath used to heat sake carafes.

kanji it~ A symbolic writing system used in Japan that originated in China.

Kanta
00* A region in central Japan immediately to the south east of Tohoku.

kan-zake '.ll'Hilffi Heated sake.

karokuchi $□ A dry taste.

kasu *B The rice particles left after the fermentation has finished.

kasu-buai *a~g The ratio of the mass of sake kasu expressed as a percentage of the mass of
polished rice used to make the sake.
98 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Japanese word Kanji, hiragana Simple definition


orkatakana

katakana 1J'} 1rJ- A Japanese writing system typically used for words imported into Japanese.

ki-ippon ~-;$: Ajunmai that has been made entirely on one site.

kij/5shu ft ifflj@ A sake with a high level of sweetness.

kiki-choko fl] ~ffilJ A specific type of sake cup that is used to assess sake. It is white with concentric blue
circles painted on the inside base.

kimoto ~ffiii An old and time-consuming form of fermentation starter notable for the pounding of
the steamed rice into a paste.

kire l;JJn A short clean, crisp, cleansing finish.

kirikaeshi l;JJLJ~L The third stage in k/5ji production.

k/5-on toka moto ~;M..~it.ffii A new fermentation starter method that involves using high temperatures to speed up
the process.

Kobe flllj=i A city in Hyogo prefecture in southern Japan.

k/5bo M-63: Yeast.

k/5ji ~ Steamed white rice on which koji-kin has been grown .

k/5ji-kin ~ii" Specific strains of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae used to make koji.

k/5ji-muro ~~ The temperature and humidity controlled room where koji is made.

koku 1:l A traditional sake measurement equivalent to 180 L or 47.5 US gallons.

kome-k/5ji *~ Rice-koji. Sometimes it can be helpful to use this term to clarify that you are referring
to koji rather than to koji-kin.

koshiki t!Ji A traditional rice steamer.

koshu oi@ An aged sake.

kura ill Brewery .

kura-bito ill.A. A brewery worker.

kura-moto ~ji; A brewery owner.

ky/5kai t~~ Literally 'society'. Informal name for the Brewing Society of Japan, an abbreviation of
Nihon joz/5 kyokai.

kyokai k/5bo ~~M-63: Brewing Society Yeast.

Kyoto Jli:ffll A prefecture in southern Japan. One of the two main prefectures for sake production.

kyil-go 9% Number 9, with reference to yeast.

Ky□sh □ f1j•N A region of Japan that comprises the large island of the same name on the south end
of the Japanese archipelago.

masu ffl A small open square box made of Japanese cedar. Used to measure rice and
occasionally as a drinking vessel.

Miyagi 'g~ A prefecture in north-east Japan . The capital city of the prefecture is Sendai.

miyama-nishiki ~UJ!i:il The number 3 variety of sake-specific rice.

miya-mizu 'g7]< The 'miracle water' of Nada (Hyogo Prefecture), which is rich in nutrients and helps
ensure reliable fermentation.

mori iME
L) The fourth stage in koji production.

moromi Im The main fermentation .

moto ffiii The fermentation starter.

muroka 1!!ti
lt ~ Term used to describe a sake that has not been fined with charcoal.

mushiro ii Woven mat that surrounds a fermentation tank . Traditionally this was used for
temperature control by packing ice between the mat and the tank.

naka-dori $Jfll LJ The middle fraction produced during filtration.

naka-gumi g:ij.&,Jj. The middle fraction produced during filtration.

naka-shigoto {ljl{±• The middle work. The fifth stage in k/5ji production.

naka-zoe {ljl~~ Middle addition, when building the moromi using the 'three stage addition' method.

Nada ;II A ward in Kobe city (Hyogo Prefecture) that is a major production area for sake.

Nagano :&ff A prefecture in central Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

nama ~ Unpasteurised.
GLOSSARY OF JAPANESE WORDS 99

Japanese word Kanji, hiragana Simple def inition


orkatakana

nama-hine 1:.~ An out-of-condition nama-zake.

nama-hine-ka 1:.~~ The aromas of an out-of-condition nama-zake.

nama-choz/5 1:.ll'ril A sake that has been stored without pasteurisation but is pasteurised at the time of
shipment.

nama-zake 1:_jffi An unpasteurised sake.

nama-juku 1:.~ An unpasteurised sake that has been deliberately matured.

nama-zume 1:.~s A sake that has been pasteurised once before bulk storage.

Nanbu ififfll A samurai clan that once ruled part of what is now Iwate Prefecture, and gives its
name to a famous toji guild.

Nara ~& A prefecture in southern Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

nigami =t,s=P* Bitterness.

-~
nigori ill LJ A sake that has been roughly filtered and therefore remains cloudy.

nigori-zake ill LJjffi A nigori sake.

N5ky5 Japan Agriculture (JA). A national network of local farming co-operatives.

nihon -shu l3:.$;;ffi One of the two official Japanese names for sake.

nihonshu-do 13;;t;;;@f.t Sake meter value. A measurement of the density of sake compared with water.

Niigata ¥.lr~ A prefecture in north-east Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

nuka

nuru-kan

jJll',\tf'ii'I
The rice dust generated by rice polishing.

Term used to describe sake heated to 40°C, 104°F. Literally means, 'the warmth of a
relaxing hot spring bath'.

nuri-haze ~LJ~~ Uneven mould growth in ki5ji making.

o-choko 1ftllffi
IJ A traditional sake cup.

odori llffiLJ The second day of the four taken to build a main fermentation during which nothing
is added.

Okayama !li'ilLl.J A prefecture in southern Japan.

omachi

roka

Saga

saka-gura

sake-kasu

sandan jikomi
~-
1':IBT
jJt~

jffijl
;@*s
.::$:i±iM1-
The number 5 variety of sake-specific rice.

Charcoal fining used to remove colour from filtered sake.

A prefecture in south-west Japan. The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

Sake brewery.

The solid cake of rice particles left over after filtration.

The three stage addition used to build the main fermentation.

san-do Mf.t A scale for measuring the level of amino acid in a sake .

sasa-nigori ~~illLJ A nigori with a small amount of sake lees remaining.

seimai-buai ~*~ii Polishing ratio.

sei-shu j~jffi One of the two official names for sake in Japanese.

seme ftd.) The final filtration fraction.

shibumi ;~Jj. Astringency.

Shikoku 11:!l~ A region in southern Japan that has the same name as the large island it occupies.

shimai-shigoto iUf~'i±$ Final work. The sixth stage in keiji production.

shinpaku ,1)8 A well-defined starch core at the centre of grains of sake-specific rice.

shinshu ¥.lriffi 'New sake'. An unpasteurised sake that is released in the early summer.

Shizuoka ff!li'il A prefecture in central Japan . The capital city of the prefecture has the same name.

shizuku-zake ~jffi Sake made using the drip method of filtration.

sho 71- A traditional sake measurement equivalent to 1.8 L or 3.8 US pints.

shi5ch0 ~lM A traditional Japanese distilled spirit made from either rice or sweet potatoes.

shubo jffif!J: The fermentation starter.

shuz/5 ;ffiil'i: Brewery.

shuzei ki5teki mai Jffiil'i:HiM* Sake-specific rice.


100 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Japanese word Kanji, hiragana Simple definition


orkatakana
A traditional Japanese measurement equivalent to 1.8 L or 3.8 US pints.
sho

so-haze
*t.tMi~ A style of koji. The mould covers the entire grain.

sokujo-moto iil!Hit A technique for the fermentation starter that involves adding lactic acid.

sugi ~ Japanese red-cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). Used to make masu, the barrels for taru-zake.
and also sugidama.

sugidama ~.:Ii Ball of sugi branches hung over the entrance to breweries during the brewing season.

tone-kiri ~i;J] LJ The second stage in koji production.

tanrei-karakuchi ;JUii $ □ A style of sake promoted by the Echigo Toji guild. Light, dry and very pure, with a
short clean kire finish.

taru-zake tt,:;@ A sake that has been matured in Japanese cedar barrels.

to -4 A traditional Japanese measurement equivalent to 18 L or 4.8 US gallons.

to-bin -il-llE 18 L glass jars that are used to collect sake filtered using the drip method.

to-bin gakoi -il-llHIL' The name given to a bottling that only uses the middle filtration fraction taken from a
drip filtration.

Tochigi Wi* A prefecture to the north east of Tokyo.

Tohoku ~~t The region that covers the north of the main island of Japan.

toji tt.1£ Master brewer, head brewer.

toko ~ A large shallow bed that is used to make koji.

toko-koji ~~ Bed koji. Koji that has stayed on the toko throughout its production.

tokkuri ffiflj A carafe used for serving sake.

toku i~ The second grade of sake-specific rice.

tokubetsu honjozo mi11*1m~ A special honjozo made from either: rice polished to 60% or less; only sake-specific
rice; a process the brewer has had legally recognised.

tokubetsu junmai ~,JIJ*ili* A special junmai made from either: rice polished to 60% or less; only sake-specific
rice; a process the brewer has had legally recognised.

toku-jo i~...t 'Above special'. The highest quality grade for rice used to make sake in Japan.

tokutei-meisho-shu i~:JE:~f/1;;@ Premium sake.

Tokyo ~* The capital city of Japan.

tome-zoe il~x Third addition, when building the moromi using the 'three stage addition' method.

tsuki-haze ~~~:ffl A style of koji. The mould grows only in a lightly spotted pattern over the rice grain.

usu-nigori jW;ljLJ A nigori with a small amount of sake lees remaining.

Yabuta -'<?,5~f=- A leading brand of the modern filtering machines using in sake brewing.

yabuta-shibori -\?,5~f=.}~
LJ Filtration using a yabuta.

yamada-nishiki LlJEBjlil The number 1 variety of sake-specific rice.

Yamagata LlJJft A prefecture in northern Japan where nearly all of the dewa-sansan sake-specific rice
is grown.

yamahai Lll~ A development of the kimoto method of fermentation starter that did away with the
pounding of the steamed rice into a paste.

yama-oroshi Lllffn 'Pounding with poles·. The technique that is central to the kimoto fermentation starter.

yama-oroshi haishi Lllffn~.Jt 'The end of the laborious pounding with poles'. The descriptive phrase that got
contracted into yamahai.

zatsumi $IP* A word used to describe unpleasant roughness and lack of harmony in a sake.

Zenkoku ~ OOf.li;@irn
1~ New National Sake Contest that is run by the National Research Institute of Brewing
Shinshu (NRIB).
Kanpyokai
101

Acknowledgements

A book of this size and complexity requires a collaborative approach. The WSET would
like to thank the following people for their contributions.
Toshie Hiraide was instrumental in encouraging the WSET to expand into sake and
has worked tirelessly with the sake industry in Japan to secure their support and
understanding. Without her unique contribution this project could not have achieved so
much so quickly.
The material that forms the kernel of this book was originated by Natsuki Romano-
Kikuya m~ .b..5 4 (Sake Samurai) and, from WSET, Antony Moss MW 5'@-lj- .b..5 4 (Sake
Samurai) in 2014. Further important contributions from WSET colleagues have been made
by Harriet Furze, Nicholas King and Pauline O'Connor. Other vital contributions have come
from Melinda Joe, Anna Greenhous, Honami Matsumoto, Hitoshi Utsunomiya and Kenichi
Ohashi MW.
The WSET would also like to acknowledge the very generous support of the staff at the
National Research Institute of Brewing for providing a technical edit of Chapters 1 to 15.
We would also like to than Kenichi Ohashi MW for graciously agreeing to write the
Foreword.
With regards to production thanks are due to Debbie Wayment, Rosalind Horton,
Bev Zimmern, Jo'e Coleby, Pete Dolton, Robert Calow , Ruth Coombes and Alan Grimwade .
102 UNDERSTANDING SAKE: EXPLAINING STYLE AND QUALITY

Index
This index is not designed to be comprehensive but as a simple navigational aide for those studying for the Level 3
Award in Sake. Entries are limited to terminology and key processes that are listed in the Specification. For each
entry, the page selected reflects the point in the text where it is explained or described in the greatest detail.

Additions Heated sake 29 Premium sake 11


acidity 66 Hiroshima 87 Protein fining 72
ji5zi5 alcohol 66 Hanji5zi5 11-12, 84 Rice cultivation
sweetness 66 Hyogo 87 Ideal soil conditions 37
umami 66 Initial mould growth 48, 50 Ideal weather conditions 40
water 75 Japan Agriculture 90 Rice grading 40
Appearance of the ears 39 Japan Sake and Shoch0 Makers Association Rice-growing year 38-9
Arabashiri 70 89 Ripening 38
Assakuki 67 Japanese domestic market for sake 90 Re-breaking up 48, 50
Atsu-kan 29 Ji5zi5alcohol 66 Sake kasu 71
Basic sake 11 Junmai 11-12, 84 Sake specific rice 34-5
Batch steaming 44-5 Junmai daiginjo 11-12, 84 Sedimentation 72
Bed keiji 49, 51 Junmai ginjo 11-12, 84 Sei-shu 14, 84
Black keiji 46 Kasu 71 Seimei-buai 41
Blending sake 75 Kasu-buai 71 Seme 70
Blending yeast 56 Kijoshu 14, 78 Sending out SO,51
Bottle pasteurisation 73 Kiki-choko 17,29 Service temperature 28-9
Box koji 49, 51 Kimoto 12, 58-9, 84 Shubo 57-60
Brewing Society of Japan 88-9 Koji aroma and flavour 46 Shinpaku 36
Brewing Society Yeast 54-5 Koji mould 46 Soaking 42-3
Bringing in 48, 50 Koji production 47-52 So-haze 47
Bulk pasteurisation 73 Kojiroom 46 Sokujo-mato 57-8
Charcoal fining 72 Kaku 30 Sparkling sake 14, 76
Commercial factors 85-93 Koshu 14, 74, 84 Spreading the spores 48, SO
Continuous steaming 44-5 Kyoto 87 Starch 36-7
Daiginjo 11-12, 84 Other yeast 55-6 conversion 37
Dewa-sansan 35 Proprietary yeast 55 gelatinisation 37
Dilution with water 75 Regional, prefectural yeast 56 Steaming 44-5
Draining & re-flooding the paddy field 39 Machine washing 42 Stopping the fermentation 66
Drying and removing the husks 38 Main fermentation 61-5 Storing sake 27
Enzymes Masu 30 Table rice 34
protein to amino acid 46 Maturation 74-5, 77-9 Taru-zake 14, 79
starch to sugar 37 Middle work 49, 51 Temperature control:
Export markets for sake 91-3 Miyama-nishiki 35 Fermentation starter 57
Faults Moromi 61-5 Koji making 46-52
Hine-ka 18, 27 Mato 57-60 Main fermentation 62
Light damage 19, 28 Mounding 48, 51 Soaking 43
Microbial spoilage 19, 28 Muroka 12, 72 Steaming 44-5
Noma hine-ka 19, 27 Naka-dori 70 Temperature and style 62
Open too long (oxidation) 18, 27 Naka-gumi 70 Three stage additions 61-2
Fermentation starter 57-60 Nama-chozo 12, 74 Toji guilds 87-8
Filtration 67-9, 72 Nama-zake 12, 74, 84 Tokebetsu honjozo 12, 84
Final filtration 72 Nama-zuma 12, 74 Tokebetsu junmai 12, 84
Final work 49, 51 National Research Institute of Brewing 88 Tokkuri 29
Fourth addition 67 Nigori 12, 76 Transplanting seedlings 39
Fukuro-shibori 69 Nihon-shu 14, 84 Tray keiji 49, 51
Funa-shibori 69 Niigata 87 Tsuki-haze 47
Fune 69 Nuka 42 Washing 42
Futsu-shu 11 Nuru-kan 29 Water 53
Genshu 12, 75 O-choko 29 White koji 46
Ginjo 11-12, 84 Omachi 35 Yabuta-shibori 67
Gohyakuman-goku 35 Once pasteurised 74 Yamada-nishki 35
Growing seedlings 39 Pairing sake and food 31-3 Yamahai 12, 58-9, 84
Hand washing 42 Pasteurisation 72-4 Yeast 53-5
Harvesting 38 Polishing 41-2 Yellow koji 46
Health issues 30 Polishing ratio 11
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