What’s in a name, Futsu, Ginjo?

This article discusses Yaegaki sake and Trader Joe’s sake and expectations.

I recently picked up two different Sakes on two different trips to the grocery store. The first was from Trader Joe’s and was the Trader Joe’s Sake Junmai Ginjo Sake (<$11). The second was from New Seasons and was Yaegaki Sake (<$6).  Now, I did not know anything about either of these sakes before trying them; though I must admit that the Junmai Ginjo on Trader Joe’s label caused me to expect more from it before I tried it. Frankly, I was disappointed. It was not bad but it was not “really good” either. It was too watery with little substance and a little chalkiness. This stuff was not nearly as good as I expected.

While still feeling the disappointment in the ginjo, I ran across YAEGAKI sake in the cooler at New Seasons with a sign under it recommending it from the staff. I thought what the hell, its cold so I can give it a try when I get home. This sake had much better mouth feel. It was full bodied and flavorful. I like this sake. (I will never make it as a sommelier, I know what I like but I am not good at describing it for others.) This is just Futsu (table sake) but I like it sooo much better than the ginjo. Now, I thought, do I like it so much just because I disliked the ginjo? Well, no, a few days later I finished it up and was still enjoying it greatly. Continue reading “What’s in a name, Futsu, Ginjo?”

Miyamizu – Heavenly Water – The Gold Standard?

This post describes the Heavenly water, Miyamizu.

Water is the main ingredient in all sake but it usually gets the least attention. Despite getting the least attention, water is important and does play a huge role in the quality of sake. The story that is told to demonstrate this fact is told so often that it has become like a legend.

The legend (no, the real story): Back near the end of the Edo period, 1840, Yamamura Tazaemon owned two breweries. One in Nishinomiya and the other in Uozaki. Tazaemon-san noticed that the sake made at Nishinomiya was always better than that made at Uosaki.

His two breweries were part of the Nada Go-go region or the five sake-brewing towns of Nada. The five districts lie in a line on the coast running west to east: Mishi, Mikage and Uozaki lie in Kobe while Nishinomiya and Imazu lie in Nishinomiya.1 The Nada Go-go region made its fame shipping sake to Edo (Tokyo) by ship, a 20 day voyage. The five districts of Nada produced a little more than 25% of Japan’s sake in 2003. But I digress.

The Nada go-go, i.e., the five sake-brewing districts of Nada
The five brewing districts of Nada, i.e., the Nada Go-go.

Continue reading “Miyamizu – Heavenly Water – The Gold Standard?”

  1. https://web.archive.org/web/20120211075120/http://www.phontron.com/en/nada/about.php Nada map

Is Doburoku Sake?

Often when you search around on-line, looking for a recipe for sake you find recipes for Doburoku (濁酒). No, they don’t say they are for doburoku.

Often when you search around on-line, looking for a recipe for sake you find recipes for Doburoku (濁酒). No, they don’t say they are for doburoku. But if you brew them you don’t end up with what we in the U.S. think of as sake; I would venture to say the world. In Japan, “sake” is a much broader term. It is really for any type of alcoholic drink. However, outside of Japan, sake is the same thing to us as Nihonshu (日本酒) and Seishu (清酒). Even, in Japan, if a westerner asks for sake, it is mostly assumed he is not asking for just any alcohol.

Doburoku is kind of a farm house or home brew style of sake. It is, well, rustic and unrefined. This is the point Fred is making at the top of his recipe when he explains “refined.” If you are interested in making the beverage we think of when we say sake, the one in the store or at the restaurant, then you don’t want doburoku. It will never live up to your expectations. However, it does have its place. The fact that it is unrefined also means it is easy or easier to make than its more refined cousin. Continue reading “Is Doburoku Sake?”

Sakamai – Rice for making sake

This article catalogs Japanese and US rice that can be used to make / brew sake.

In this article I will catalog the rice used for making sake by both commercial kura (sake brewery) and home brewers. I am sure I will not include all the rice that should be included so I am planning to update this particular post in place as new rice or information comes to my attention. In fact, since I am compiling this information but have only limited experience with most of these, I beg you to correct my errors and mistakes and to add whatever information you can.

While the sakamai used by commercial Japanese brewers are specific strains of Japonica (short grained) that are known for their shinpaku (soft white center). It is not generally true that the rice used by sake brewers outside of Japan have much shinpaku. For example, in the US, Tropical Japonica (a.k.a. Javanica, medium grained) rice is typically used for sake brewing. This includes Calrose, the most popular medium rice cultivar grown in California. Continue reading “Sakamai – Rice for making sake”

Sake Brewing: Cleanliness is next to godliness

This article covers the basic information needed for sake brewing and preventing bacterial infections.

For making sake, as with other fermented beverages, cleanliness and sanitation are extremely important. The reason for this is that a goodly part of the flavors come from the bugs in the ferment. When the bugs are the ones we want we get the flavors we desire but when others invade the party they produce off flavors that lower the quality or even ruin the beverage altogether.

In sake using the sokujo-moto method there is one player (bug) that we want to encourage while restraining all others. The player we want is the yeast we introduce ourselves. When using the yamahai-moto method there are two main players; lactobacilli and yeast.

Given this, how do we go about restraining all the other bugs? Well, restraining these other bugs is a key part of sake brewing. It begins before we even start to prepare the ingredients; it starts with the cleaning of the equipment. Once clean, we sanitize the equipment as needed throughout the process. We control the pH and temperature to provide an environment discomforting for most bugs and finally, when not making namazake or unpasteurized sake, we pasteurize the sake at least once, usually twice. Continue reading “Sake Brewing: Cleanliness is next to godliness”

SakéOne Brewer’s Tour, last week

I describe a tour the lead brewer at SakeOne gave to a group of brewer from the Oregon brew crew.

This last weekend I joined a group of brewers for a brewer’s tour of the SakéOne Kura. Greg Lorenz, SakéOne’s Sakémaster gave the tour to a group of brewers from the Oregon Brew Crew.

As we gathered in the tasting room, we sampled the current nama on tap, a junmai ginjo genshu namazake; wow, very nice. What a way to start the tour. Once everyone had gathered we topped off our glasses and headed out with Greg in the lead.

Stopping in front of a picture of Mr Murai, Greg explains how Mr Murai was a man ahead of his time and how he thought that it was time to establish a Kura in the US. How he had pushed this idea for some time without success, until one day on a flight when he sat next to Grif Frost.

Mr Murai of Momokawa Brewing, Inc.
Mr Murai of Momokawa Brewing, Inc.

Continue reading “SakéOne Brewer’s Tour, last week”

Rice kernel make up

Last week we looked at a sketchy version of the history of rice leading to the rice we use for making sake at home. This week, we’ll look into the rice kernel itself. Brewing refined sake requires that we remove many layers of the rice, but why? Well before we get to that, let’s look at what these layers are.

Rice De-constructed
Rice De-constructed

Illustration by Namazu-tron 1

(1): Chaff (2): Bran (3): Bran residue (4): Cereal germ (5): Endosperm Continue reading “Rice kernel make up”

  1. All Illustrations / pictures in this post are taken from www.wikipedia.org.

Intro to rice, sake rice – where do we start?

This article gives a brief history of the rice that is important to sake brewers from the beginning to present (10,000BC to now).

OK, so what about rice? Isn’t it all the same? Well, I guess there is brown rice and white rice. Isn’t this all there is to it? No, it’s not, there’s much more. While we are interested in sake rice, I will cover some basic background, history and such to build a foundation we can use to better understand rice, its differences, and what is important for making sake.

The scientific name for the species we call rice is Oryza sativa. Within this species are three subspecies: japonica (short grained rice), indica (long grained rice) and javanica (a medium grained rice). Javanica is now known as tropical japonica. While japonica seems to imply that it originates in Japan, this is not the case. In fact, it appears that its origin is China. Continue reading “Intro to rice, sake rice – where do we start?”

Want to brew sake? Where ya’ gonna get your koji?

This article discusses whether to use ready made koji or to make your own koji for Sake Brewing / Sake Making.

What is koji anyway? Well koji is rice with a white mold covering it. The mold is Aspergillus oryzae and it is the key to sake because of the enzymes it creates. These enzymes primarily break down the starches in the rice creating sugars needed for fermentation. So how do we get koji?

Koji is available in most good sized Asian markets. While this is not the best koji for sake, it is serviceable. Then there is sake brewer’s koji. The one I carry is here. You can also make your own. To make your own you need to start with the Aspergillus oryzae spores. Tane-koji (dried koji that was let go to spore) is one source of these spores. Another is koji-kin which is a processed tane-koji to separate out the spores. Technically speaking I believe tane-koji and koji-kin are the same thing but for the products I have seen it seems to separate out as whole rice vs. powder. In any case we can use these spores to inoculate steamed rice to culture up some fresh koji. Continue reading “Want to brew sake? Where ya’ gonna get your koji?”

Sake Yeast Mash – The Moto

This article looks at the three types of Sake yeast mashes, also known as moto and shubo. The differences between these three moto are examined.

Moto (元), Shubo (酒母), Yeast mash are all names for the Sake yeast starter. In this article I will only use the term “moto” but the three can be used interchangeably. Moto is where the number of yeast cells is increased to the needed level. The moto is used to inoculate the main sake fermentation, the Moromi (諸味). To build the moto we start with rice (米), koji (麹) and yeast (酵母). These three ingredients along with water were the only ones used for moto originally. The method to produce this original moto is known as Kimoto. It features a vigorous mixing, taking many hours, to produce a puree of the ingredients. It was thought this vigorous mixing, called Yama-Oroshi, was needed for the ingredients to properly work together.

In 1909 a modification to the Kimoto method was developed. The modification was to drop the vigorous mixing. As it turned out, the mixing was not really needed. The modified process was called Yama-Oroshi haishi moto or Yamahai moto for short. Continue reading “Sake Yeast Mash – The Moto”