Koji-kin from Scratch, well sorta

How to make koji-kin for sake on your own.

One question I get fairly regularly is how to make koji-kin. Despite this I have failed to take the time to write up a good explanation for all of you. Well, no longer. In this article I will explain just what it takes and how to do it. Almost all you need to know is in my “Video Series and Instructions for making koji for sake” at: link. The only thing missing for making koji-kin from that source is that you need to sustain the last stage longer. That is, don’t spread out and cool the koji once it has completed its coverage of the rice. Rather, continue to monitor the koji so it does not get too warm or cold. It will start to show signs of a greenish yellow tint. This will progress into a darker greenish yellow color and begin to cover each grain. Once fully covered, carefully spread out the koji to cool. The green covering has lots of tiny spores that will come off so you’ll want to minimize disturbing it. After it has cooled, it needs to be dried so that other contaminates will not find it to be a nice home. Once FULLY dry, and I mean dry, you can place it in a shaker for later use.

The following picture is some koji-kin rice I have made. Some people will grind this into a powder but I’d use it as is.

Koji-kin rice
Koji-kin rice.

One way to use it is to put it into a shaker like the one in the following picture. It was purchased at a kitchen supply store and is often used for powdered sugar and the likes. It works well for koji-kin rice.

Koji-kin rice shaker.
Koji-kin rice shaker.

Using this shaker and koji-kin rice to shake over a piece of paper I get the pattern in the following picture.

Koji-kin from shaker.
Koji-kin from Shaker.

If you regularly make koji for your sake, you can, as needed, increase the batch size by 50% and after collecting and cooling the koji when ready, let the rest continue on as described above. This lowers the extra effort required for making your own koji-kin sense you were doing all most all the work needed already. Care must be taken to ensure the koji intended to continue on to koji-kin does not lose its warmth. Its smaller batch size will not hold its own generated heat as well as the larger batch.

Let us know if you make your own koji-kin and what your experience has been like!

New Kura!

It has been quite a while since I have updated the information here on Sake Breweries (Kura) outside of Japan. There have been a few additions that I am aware of and possibly others that I am not aware of. As always, if you have more or better information please share it with us. The two main pages for this information are:

–          US Sake Brewers (Part 1 – Sake Breweries)

–          Sake Brewers outside the US and Japan (Part 2 – Sake Breweries)

I will update the above pages with this new information so it is all in one (or two) places and is more easily found. Here are the changes / additions:


Nipro, a small sake brewery in Richmond British Columbia, Canada has sadly closed with no details as to what happened or when that I could see. Now, thankfully to Yuki Kobayashi and Yoshihiro Kawamura the old Nipro brewery and its Toji, the brew master Yoshiaki Kasugai has been resurrected as YK3.

Starting sometime around November 2013 YK3 will be offering three sakes: A standard Junmai, an all koji Junmai and a nigori style sake.

Elise Gee documents the interesting details of the transition from Nipro to YK3 in her post: Giving Nipro brewery new life as YK3 Sake Producer.

Cedar River Brewing Company

Cedar River Brewing Company (CRBC) is Seattle’s own Sake kura with Jeff James as brew master. CRBC has just recently started shipping their sake to a few restaurants and bottle shops. Initial shipments to restaurants were exclusively in 3 gallon buckets; pretty nice.

CRBC’s Junmai release party was held at the brewery and at Sake Nomi in December 2013.

Blue Kudzu Sake Company

Blue Kudzu is a small sake brewery that will most likely begin offering their sake in early 2014. However, Blue Kudzu is more than a sake brewery; it is also a restaurant with a large sake menu and a mission to teach others about sake.  Blue Kudzu is located in Asheville, North Carolina.

Ben’s American Sake

Ben’s American Sake will live at Ben’s Tune up, an Asheville, North Carolina restaurant that is also planning to offer their own sake in early 2014. Jonathan Robinson will serve as Toji.

Blue Current Brewery

Blue Current is a micro-brewery in Maine. Dan Ford and John Sygowski own and run Blue Current. I don’t believe they are shipping sake yet but I have requested and update to provide more accurate information here.

That is currently all of the new kura that I know of. Did I miss any that you know about?


FYI: Elise Gee also has recently written posts for the other two Canadian Kura, they are:

–          The pioneer of Japanese sake in Canada: Artisan Sake Maker

–          Find rare sakes at Ontario Spring Water Sake Company


How Big Are They?

Review of US sake production.

A little while back I realized that I have no idea what the relative size of the US Sake brewers are. How do they compare with the Japanese brewers? While I regularly see production information on particular Japanese brewers I have not seen it for non-Japanese brewers. Given this I started looking around to see what I could find. I searched around but found nothing. I sent notes to each of the breweries outside of Japan and waited to see if they would reply; three of them did reply but only one of them shared their production level: Masa Shiroki, owner of Artisan Sake Maker of Vancouver BC.

I check distribution channels and was pointed to SakeOne. Steve Vuylsteke, SakeOne’s president was very gracious and shared some of his time with me. They do their best to track the industry but the data he shared are only estimates. However, this is exactly the data I was looking for when I began my search. I was just trying to understand the relative size of the US breweries. I have only visited my local Kura, SakeOne, so I had not been able to get a sense for the size differences.

US Sake production by company
US Sake production by company

What you don’t see in this chart are the smaller non-Japanese brewers. For North America this includes: Moto-i, Texas Sake both in the US, Artisan Sake Maker and Nipro both in the Vancouver BC area, with Spring Water Sake of Toronto rounding out the Canadians and finally Nogne0 of Norway and Go-Shu of Australia.

I find this very interesting. My local reference point, SakeOne, while not tiny is the smallest of the US Kura that have been around for a while (more than 5 years). The next largest, Yaegaki has about 4 times the production levels of SakeOne, Ozeki has almost 5 times as much, Gekkeikan USA almost 7 times as much and Takara more than 13 times as much as SakeOne. The only other non-Japanese brewer I have data for is the Artisan Sake Maker which comes on the board at just over 1% of SakeOne’s production level with 9,000 liters. Yoed Anis, the owner and Toji of Texas Sake, while not wanting to give their production numbers guest that they might be around the same size or a little larger than Spring Water.

Together the US Kura produce about 20 million liters of sake. Compare that to the amount of wine produced in the US, about 2,500 million liters; that’s less than 1%. But how does this compare with Japanese kura and production? Well, the two largest Japanese sake producers are Hakutsuru and Gekkeikan.

Top Japanese sake production by company
Top Japanese sake production by company

As you can see from this chart, the top two producing Japanese kura produce quite a bit more than their American counter parts. They each come in at more than 7 times the size of the largest American kura, Takara. As compare to my reference point, SakeOne, Hakutsuru produces a little more than 100 times as much while Gekkeikan is just a little bit less than 100 times as much. However, while these guys are big they give a distorted image of the average size of a Japanese kura.

John Gauntner provided me with all the data on the Japanese kura including a distribution of kura to production levels. As we can see from the chart below, more than 60% of all Japanese kura produce less than 100,000 liters of sake. So, from this we also see that SakeOne has a higher production level than 90% of all Japanese kura. Said another way, SakeOne would rank in the top 10% of sake producers worldwide. Takara USA ranks in the top 1% worldwide.

Sake production distribution
Sake production distribution

Sake production from all US kura is about 20,000 kiloliters. We supplement that with around 7,000 kiloliters of import sake. These imports represent only 0.6% of Japan’s sake production. About 3,600 kiloliters consumed in the US, 13.3%, both domestic and import, is premium sake.

Production data
Production data

What fraction of import sake is premium sake? What fraction of US produced sake is premium? For me, these are still open questions.

Have a wonderful Nihonshu no hi (Sake Day) October 1!

A new US Sake micro-brewer?

A new US Sake micro-brewer?

Blue Kudzu Sake is just beginning their journey to become a Sake micro-brewery in Ashville, North Carolina. Ashville, like my native Portland, is a hot bed for small breweries, so it is no surprise that this team of three friends have emerged from this location. They had experience brewing beer and making some wine so sake seemed like a reasonable beverage to try their hand at. After a few batches they were pleased with the consistency of the resulting sake. Their success gave them the confidence to imagine opening their own place. Taking it to the next level they put together a business plan and are going for it. Want to help out? Go to their KickStarter site and read about how you can help.

The Blue Kudzu Sake Company blog started in July and should be a good way to follow their progress. I know I will be following their progress and I hope they succeed. Let the revolution continue…

Update 3-12-2019:
At this point the list of US Sake brewers is badly out of date, I plan to do a consolidated update but until then I will point out a brewery in Southern California. It started back in 2013 I believe and is unique as both a winery and sake brewery, Thanks Jim for mentioning this below.

Yellow Wine – Shaoxing Wine

Yellow Wine – Shaoxing Wine

Several years ago I was visiting Shanghai a couple of times a year and I read about a famous local drink from the Shaoxing area of China, just south of Shanghai. I became very interested in this drink becoming more and more curious. It was a drink made from rice and a local koji that was more than just Aspergillus oryzae but also Rhizopus and lactobacillus as well as yeast and wheat or barley flower.

Two Shaoxing Wine Bottles and a Glass of Shaoxing
Two Shaoxing Wine Bottles and a Glass of Shaoxing

My colleagues, not being drinkers were unfamiliar with the drink but agreed to locate some for me. They got me the bottle on the left in the above picture. When I tasted it, it was vary salty and I wondered whether this was meant for cooking rather than drinking but my interest waned over time. However, this would not be the end of it.

Recently, I was again in Shanghai and was having dinner with a couple of colleagues. One of them was looking at the wine menu and asked: yellow wine? What is yellow wine? Bing, bing, bing, bing… my mind lit up! Yellow wine, I know what that is, I was recalling Shaoxing’s famous drink; made in a similar way, but different to sake. I explained the little bit that I knew about Shaoxing’s yellow wine. Getting no help from the staff I chose one pretty much at random to try. Two of us gave it a try, it was very similar to sherry and it did not last very long. A small 500ml bottle does not go a long way between two people.

Later that night I realized that I had made a mistake in not keeping the bottle to show others, for example you. Now, realizing how to find it, I looked for it at the next dinner and there it was on the wine list. This time it was under Shaoxing wine rather than Yellow wine but there it was none the less. Having a little more experience I chose another bottle, still mostly at random I chose: Shi ku men No. 1 Red Label. This is the bottle on the right side of the picture above. This time we had several more people try it so it again did not last, but I did keep the bottle as you can see. Shi ku men was very similar to what we had the night before, very sherry like.

Interestingly enough, there is always speculation about how sake making developed and how much impact China had, based on its own traditions. Yellow or Amber wine goes back farther than does sake so it is reasonable to believe that the original ideas or some of the refinements came from China. Even the early Japanese Wo people of Japan may have originated in China from the Kingdon of Wu. Incidentally the Kingdom of Wu was just north of Shaoxing.

All in all, this was a happy coincidence and makes me even more curious about what is…

Tasting Kip’s black rice sake

A friend, Kip, shared some of his freshly made black rice sake with me. He packaged it nicely in a small green bottle with a cool label. See for yourself:

Black Rice Sake Bottle


Nice huh. The sake in the bottle looks completely clear but when pored into a glass it shows its pinkish purple color.

Black Rice Sake in a Glass
Black Rice Sake in a Glass

Sweet heavy aroma, like fermented black rice maybe a little like a rose, but is light and uncomplicated on the palate. The initial draw of sake into the mouth carries the full force of the aroma with a flavor that matches. Round and full bodied as it enters the mouth but almost completely disappears as you swallow, leaving vary little, if any, after taste. This is a very drinkable sake.

Kip documents is brewing of this sake in two posts, part 1 and part 2, at

I see Sake’s possibilities through beer and wine colored glasses

I see Sake’s possibilities through beer and wine colored glasses

Having grown up in the Portland area I witnessed a huge transformation in the local wine industry as Oregon began to establish itself as a premier Pinot growing region and wine producer. Closely following on the heels of this revolution was changes in the beer seen. While Oregon had homebrewers as witnessed by a local writer, Fred Eckhardt, publishing in 1969 his book “A Treatise on Lager Beers,” it wasn’t until 1979 that Oregon made homebrewing legal. Well practiced homebrewers were brewing their own versions of German and British beers and began going commercial in a big way with the Widmer Brothers (Widmer Brothers Brewing) and the Ponzis (Bridgeport Brewing) both in ’84 and the McMenamins brothers brewpubs in ’85.

These changes were not alone, Jack McAuliffe had started the New Albion in California in ’76 and  Anchor Brewing of San Francisco had begun their own revolution under the leadership of Fritz Maytag beginning in ‘65. Shortly after Jack started New Albion, Ken Grossman, a homebrewer that had started a homebrew supply store in ’76, saw both Jack and Fritz’s operations and decided to follow suit with Sierra Navada in ’79.  Across the country, Jim Koch opened Samuel Adams and began brewing in ’84.

These early movers inspired many many more who followed in their footsteps. Many if not most of those who followed first caught the brewing through homebrewing. Homebrewers who did not, themselves, go commercial became huge supporters of the new small craft brewers. Now, some 30 years after those early beginnings, craft beer is a given. There is not a grocery store or restaurant here in Portland that does not carry an array, if not a vast array of craft beer.

So, why am I going on and on about beer in this, a Sake brewing blog? Because I see no reason why sake can’t go the way of craft beer and explode with popularity. The more we brew sake, the more we learn about how to make really great sake and the more we share what we learn the more will follow igniting the fire that will burn like the sun.

Update 5-10-12: I just wanted to add the first two brew pubs in the US were Bert Grant’s in Yakima, Washington in 1982 which was followed a few weeks later by Bill Owens with Buffalo Bill’s Brew Pub in Hayward, California in 1983.

Rice shinpaku structure or not?

Rice structure or not rice structure? Extending the review from last post with three more papers.

Key to sake production is the shinpaku or white opaque center. The shinpaku is generally important because of its increased ability to gelatinize during steaming, has a softer center for koji to invade once it breaks through the firmer outer layer, and is more highly convertible by the koji enzymes. All of this is true no matter the milling rate. For these reasons much of the breeding of new rice varieties has involved attempts to improve the significance of the shinpaku. However, as ginjo and daiginjo become more important types of sake, high millability is also becoming more important.

In particular, the papers analyze why some are better suited for high polishing levels while others are not. This characteristic is hugely important for ginjo and daiginjo styles of sake which have been on the rise in importance for some time now. This week I will look at three more articles on the same basic topic. However, before covering the additional papers, I would like to clear up a loose end from the last article.

The papers discussed in the last article, discussed the characteristic type of shinpaku each varietal has. These characteristic types include: non-lined (I think no-shinpaku would be a better name), lined, bellied, dotted, and ellipsoidal. As I mentioned in the article I was not sure what was meant by lined. Actually, I was thinking that it was a dense shell around the shinpaku. However, this was wrong. The lead author on the three papers, Masahiko Tamaki, sent me some nice pictures that make it clear. I don’t have permission to post the pictures so I will attempt to provide a diagram that gets the information across.

In the following diagram there are five characteristics represented with each having a side angle view of a rice kernel on the left and a cross section view looking down the long axis on the right. The first characteristic pattern, non-lined, represents rice without a significant shinpaku (white area in the center of the rice). Most eating rice has this characteristic. Next is the lined shinpaku which is the best structure for high milling levels. The bottom two bellied and ellipsoidal both have larger shinpaku but they are also more brittle. This gets in the way of milling and creates more broken rice. Dotted, is the final characteristic and is somewhere between non-lined and lined in terms of its suitability for high milling levels.

Rice kernel characteristics of shinpaku

OK, now that we have cleared up what was meant in each characteristic it is time to move on to the three additional papers. Masahiko Tamaki is the lead author for this set of papers as well. They are:

The first of these three papers looks at differences between rice kernels with shinpaku and without where the kernels are of the same variety. Two varieties (Senbon nishiki, Yamada nishiki) were analyzed each of which were grown in three different areas of Hiroshima (Shobara, Takamiya, Miwa).

The hardness of the center of each type kernel was measured with no significant difference between the three plots but quite significant difference between the shinpaku and non-shinpaku kernels within the same type. Other locations, four more, were also tested with similar results. In addition, starch characteristics were analyzed finding again, no significant difference between the shinpaku and non-shinpaku kernels. Given all this the conclusion continues to be that the differences in the structure of endosperm cells are responsible for all the properties of the shinpaku.

The second paper looks closer at the differences in hardness of the rice kernel and its shinpaku and their likelihood of breakage. They considered four types of rice: Kairyo omachi, Hattan nishiki No. 1, Senbon nishiki and Yamada nishiki. The first two of these have a significant higher breakage rate as compared to the second two. Very cool pictures taken with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) show that Yamada and Senbon nishiki have much more tightly packed starch than does Kairyo Omachi and Hattan nishiki. This tight packing makes the rice harder and less susceptible to breakage.

Paper three analyzes the same rice varieties as paper two but compares starch properties rather than hardness. This study suggests that the shinpaku tissue may also play a part as well as the temperature of the early ripening period. This is, of course, in addition to the endosperm structure’s demonstrated impact on millability.

Hiroshima’s Hattan Rice Varieties best for Futsu shu but not Daiginjo

Hiroshima’s Hattan Rice Varieties best for Futsu shu but not Daiginjo

This week I thought that I would review a couple of papers on Hiroshima rice. I came across these papers on the analysis of Hattan rice which is grown only in Hiroshima. This piqued my interest because this rice, while only grown in Hiroshima, is sold to 32 Prefectures in 2003 and 24 Prefectures in 2006. I had never heard of this rice (not that this means anything) until I came across the papers so I kept reading to learn more. As it turns out Hattan varieties are well suited for futsu shu (standard table sake) because of the shinpaku (starchy white center in sake rice) but are not as well suited for Daiginjo because of the fragile nature of that shinpaku.

Masahiko Tamaki is the first author on each of the papers I will discuss today. Rie Kiharra and Takao Tsuchiya are also authors on all three papers. There are several other authors but they vary paper to paper. The three papers are:

  1. Varietal Difference of Polishing Characteristics and Suitability for Sake Brewing in “Hattan-Type Varieties” of Rice Suitable for Brewing Original Hiroshima Sake
  2. Properties of Starch and Protein of “Hattan-Type Varieties” of Rice Suitable for Brewing Original Hiroshima Sake
  3. Varietal Differences in Endosperm Structure Related to High-degree Polishing Properties of “Hattan Varieties” of Rice Suitable for Brewing Original Hiroshima Sake

Hattan type rice goes back to at least 1875 when private growers were breeding rice based on Hattanso.  Not long after this in 1907 the Hiroshima Prefecture Agriculture Experiment Station began working on producing better strains of Hattan-type rice. The primary goal for the improved strain was to produce rice with a more prominent shinpaku, better disease resistance, lodging resistance and higher yield. Initially, in 1921 this led to the development of Hattan No. 10. It had a low yield, was susceptible to lodging and rice blast and had a long culm, none of which are advantages. Despite these disadvantages it was used for breeding material. In 1962, this continued work produced Hattan No. 35 from Hattan No. 10 by introducing rice blast resistance. Later in 1965 Hattan No. 40 was bred. Much later, or much more recently, in 1984 two new varieties were bred from Hattan No. 35 by improving its yield; Hattan-nishiki No. 1 bread for hilly areas and Hattan-nishiki No.2 bred for altitudes above 400m. These last two both have the same high yield and lodging resistance as does table rice (non-glutinous rice).

The breeding program has succeeded in producing rice with larger grain size, higher percentage shinpaku and a higher percentage of the grains having this characteristic shinpaku. It also resulted in rice characteristics that are advantageous of sake brewing; better absorption of water and higher digestibility (that is the koji enzymes can convert more of their starch to sugar and protein to amino acids). These characteristics have made Hattan No. 35, Hattan-nishiki No. 1 and No. 2 well suited for sake brewing.

However, both Hattan-nishiki No. 1 and No. 2 are easily broken during polishing while Hattan No. 35 has a smaller harder shinpaku that is not easily broken. The level of breakage for No. 1 and No. 2 make them unsuitable for ginjo and daiginjo brewing, so only Hattan No. 35 is used for this. But Hattan No. 35 is by no means ideal because its cultivation characteristics are lacking.

It seems that one characteristic of the shinpaku between those that are fragile and those that are less so, is a “lined-white-core” or, in the terminology I have been using, a “lined-shinpaku.” I am not sure what a lined-shinpaku is, I will have to watch for more on this. Yamada-nishiki also seems to have just such a shinpaku, a lined-shinpaku that is.

The analysis in these papers show that the starch and protein composition of the various Hattan varieties are virtually the same so the composition does not account for the fragility. Maybe the endosperm structure can account for the fragility? The final paper looks at just this question. It concludes, yes, the structure seems to be the main cause. Hattan-nishiki No. 1 and No. 2 both have large shinpaku but also large number of interstices (gaps in the structure) while Hattan No. 35 has fewer gaps. In addition Hattan No. 35 has a lined-shinpaku while Hattan-nishiki No. 1 and 2 do not.

Comparing the Hattan-type rice with Yamada-nishiki the authors find that Yamada-nashiki has the same lined-shinpaku as Hattan No. 35 but with even fewer gaps. All of this (lined-shinpaku with low number of gaps) leads to less fragility for Yamada-nishiki than Hattan No. 35.

So, while a large shinpaku is important for sake brewing it is not enough by itself to make a rice type suitable for daiginjo.


P.S. Furukawa, S. is referenced in the 2ed paper 🙂

I finally did it! My book, Brewing Sake, is out.

I finally did it! My book, Brewing Sake, is out.

Brewing Sake hit Amazon around the 20th and is making it into the channels. It can take up to 6 weeks to fully make its way through the channel. I am told that at least one person has been able to order it in Denmark through a standard retailer, so it is working its way into the channel nicely; a bit quicker than I had expected.

Brewing Sake: Release the Toji Within is here on Amazon and interestingly enough, the used copies are asking 2.5 times the price of the new copies. J Are there really any used copies? I wouldn’t think so.

I believe that I have pulled together a lot of material that is pretty hard to come by for those of us who don’t speak, and more importantly don’t read, Japanese. The table of content is below. The overall layout is a quick introduction on sake brewing and the equipment needed as well as a step by step walk through to begin with. This is followed by details on each of the ingredients and chief measurable characteristics. Next, is a bit about how to protect the sake. Then I dive head long into each step of the process. After this we look into the details of analyzing your sake for each of its measurable characteristics. This is followed by a brief look at sake’s enemy, Hiochi-kin. I have then provided a significant glossary containing more than 170 entries. Finally, I give a list of links to places where you can find specific pieces of equipment.

If you get a copy I hope you will also write a review on the Amazon page on what you think about the book.

Table of Contents:
Introduction 1
How Saké is Brewed 5
Brewing Equipment 11
Quick Start Saké Brewing 23
Rice – Kome (米) 37
Koji (麹) 47
Yeast – Kobo (酵母) 57
Water – Mizu (水) 65
Nihonshu-do (日本酒度) or Saké Meter Value (SMV) 71
Sando ( 酸度 ) – Acidity 77
Amino Sando (アミノ酸度 ) – Amino Acid 79
Protecting your Homebrew Saké from light 81
Sanitation 85
Seimai (精米) or Rice Milling / Polishing 89
Rice Preparation 101
Koji Making 105
The Moto 111
The Buildup – San-Dan-Jikomi (三段仕込み) 135
The Main Ferment – Moromi (諸味) 145
So you like the Honjozo (本醸造) 151
Time for Shibori ( 搾り ) 157
Final Steps in Saké Brewing 161
Measuring Your Homebrew Saké 163
Spoilers and Trouble Shooting 189
Glossary 191
Links and Contacts 209