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:

YK3

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, http://larebeldewines.com. 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 bierkast.com.

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.

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

How much moisture? How dry is dry?

How much moisture? How dry is dry?

I decided to do a quick experiment to determine the amount of moisture in my soaked rice. It had been a while since I looked up how to do this and I miss remembered how much time was required. I was thinking that it required 6 hours but in fact the procedure takes 16 hours for the drying phase. This is more than twice the time I was planning. Well, I got started and weighed out two 30g samples each of Hitomebore 90% seimaibuai, Calrose 90% seimaibuai and Calrose 60% seimaibuai. Recall that the seimaibuai is percentage of rice remaining after milling the outer portion away. Having weighed the samples, I added water to one of each of the types of rice to soak for an hour. At the end of the hour, I drained and weighed the rice again and prepared it all to go into the oven at 265°F.

With 10 hours in the oven, I removed the rice and weighed each sample. While 10 hours is a little short of 16 hours I was not willing to stay up till 3AM to complete the experiment. If 10 hours is close enough I’d expect that the dry weight of the wet and dry samples of each type should be the same. This is close to what I found but not quite. The final weight of the wet sample for the 90% seimaibuai was a little lower than the dry samples. Well, at least I know that there was enough time to remove the water weight from the wet samples.

Init Dry Weight (g)Wet Weight (1 hr. soak)Final Dry Weight (10 hr. @ 256F)
Hitomebore 90% Seimaibuai

30

27

30

39

26

Calrose 90% Seimaibuai

30

27

30

39

26

Calrose 60% Seimaibuai

30

29

30

48

29

Based on this data we can see that both the 90% seimaibuai types had 3-4 grams of water weight. This works out to be about 13% of the wet basis (Init Dry Weight). This is well within the range of expectation for table rice. Rice milled to 60% seimaibuai would be expected to have a much lower moisture level after milling and until it has had time to absorb enough moisture to come back to the 10% expected level. The 60% rice used here was milled by SakeOne and shortly after bagged bye Steinbart’s in a sealed plastic bag. So, it is not given the chance to absorb much moisture after milling. This is just what we see in the data as well; only 1 gram of water weight. One gram works out to be only 3% of the wet basis.

Init Dry Weight (g)Wet Weight (1 hr. soak)Soak % increaseSoak % Water
Hitomebore 90% Seimaibuai

30

39

30%

33%

Calrose 90% Seimaibuai

30

39

30%

33%

Calrose 60% Seimaibuai

30

48

60%

40%

As discussed in “Steeping to hit the numbers,” this data shows that having a lower initial water weight results in a higher rate and amount of moisture uptake. Both samples with 13% initial water weight gain only 30% while the 3% initial water weight sample gains 60%.

A moisture content of about 38% after steaming is considered optimal for ginjo-shu koji. Assuming steaming adds 10% moisture content (this is another experiment), we would like to high 28% water weight after soaking on a wet basis. Notice that, the 90% seimaibuai rice is closer to this ideal than the 60% seimaibuai rice.

Based on this it would be a good idea to lower the steeping time some or raise the initial moisture content of the 60% rice to be more on the order of 15% before steeping. Tweaking this a little could improve your sake.

 

Shio-koji?

Shio-koji? What it is and how to make it.

Recently, there have been a few different articles and mentions of shio-koji. I had never heard of this until these articles. I came across shio-koji through a chain of retweets from @seishu and @theprovenance originating with @ChrisPellegrini Anyway, these tweets were pointing to an article by Makiko Itoh  in The Japan Times: Kōji — Japan’s vital hidden ingredient. Of course the thing that caught my eye was the use of koji. I am familiar with amazake but shio-koji with a third of the koji’s weight in salt? That seems like a lot of salt to me but most of the articles seem to imply that shio-koji used as a replacement condiment for salt would reduce salt intake.

Having read Makiko-san’s article, I thought it was interesting and that I should give it a try some time. Really was not thinking about doing this anytime soon though. Then I saw another reference and another… What is going on with this stuff. Finally @keyope put up a page (now gone) with the amounts of all three ingredients, koji, salt and water. This matched very closely with almost every other recipe I see so what the heck, I’ll give it a try.

I didn’t want to make a lot so @keyope’s recipe size seemed just about right to me; only 30g of salt, 100g of koji and 150ml of water. I combined this together this morning and stirred them up. They are sitting on the counter now.

It turns out that 150ml of water is too much for use with my fresh koji. It would probably be a better amount for use with koji like Cold Mountain’s. I guess the best advice here is to add a little, maybe 100mls worth in this case and then add more if needed.

This stuff is pretty salty tasting but we will have to wait about a week to see how it turns out with the koji enzymes transforming the basic ingredients. I’ll add and update in a week.

Sake Pressing: what method to use?

Sake Pressing: what method to use?

Recently one of the youtube channels I follow, SakaguraKaetsu’s channel, has had a few short videos on pressing. Specifically, they have a couple on filling a fune (P1020493.MOV, P1020548.MOV) and a couple showing the Fukurozuri – 袋吊り- drip process (P1020495.MOV, P1020553.MOV). Watching the great care taken to fill the bags with moromi is really impressive. They leave no wrinkles at all in the bags as they lay down one bag at a time; again, very impressive and labor intensive.

As an aside, SakaguraKaetsu’s channel has hundreds of short videos on just about every aspect of the brewing process. Some are very good while others are not, but all in all, their willingness to take these videos and make them available is a huge service to the community.  Back to the topic at hand…

When it comes to pressing, if you want to get the absolute best sake out of a batch you should use the fukurozuri method to produce Shizukazake – 雫酒 – or Shizuku – 雫 – for short. This method is very simple, just fill a bag with the fermenting moromi, tie it up so that it hangs above a collector for the dripping sake and let it drip. The resultant sake, slightly greenish yellow is by no means clear. Time will clear much of this as suspended matter precipitates out of solution. Sake, separated from the kasu (lees) in this manor is the best it can be!

The use of the fune – 槽 – is more common than the use of the fukurozuri method. It was once the main method used for pressing the moromi, shibori – 搾り- but has now been mostly replaced by the Assaku-ki. Fune pressed sake is second to shizuku in quality. It is close though and extracts much more of the sake than can be collected using the drip method. The first extracts of the fune, shown at the end of the second video, is very similar in color and clarity to what is produced in the fukurozuri method. However, what we are looking at in this case is sake only under the weight of other bags of moromi. Eventually a lid will be placed on the fune with a tremendous force used to press down on the lid and squeeze the sake from the kasu.

Joso -上槽 – the more formal name for shibori, is now most commonly done using an assaku-ki -圧搾 機 – press. The most well-known producer of assaku-ki is Yabuta. This method is far more efficient in pressing the sake from the kasu than these other two methods but still maintains a reasonably high degree of quality. There is almost nothing to see when a Yabuta is in use but I did find one video of an active Yabuta and one with the kasu being removed (Yabuta in action, P1000134.MOV). The reason there is nothing to see is because of the way the Yabuta works. It uses air pressure to squeeze the kasu, forcing the sake out through the mesh. The loud noise is the air compressor. Yabuta’s chart on the functioning of their machine is quite informative. For the most part, a pocket between two filters is filled with moromi and a bladder is then filled with air to force the sake from the lees. With the sake removed, the kasu is scraped off the filter and the process is repeated until all the moromi has been processed.

Homebrewers are unlikely to have an assaku-ki available for their use but the other two methods, modified for scale are well within reach. The fact that these methods tend to produce better sake does not hurt either. The only down side is the lower efficiency but in small batch production quality over efficiency is usually a good trade-off.