Sake in a carton – I’ll give it a try

Sake in a carton – I’ll give it a try – Hakutsuru Junmai

While I was last at Uwajimaya to pick up some sake I noticed a couple of cartons of sake; two different brands. I recalled reading a piece by John Gauntner on boxed sake and thought this might be a good thing to look into and post my thoughts and findings. So, I picked up a carton of Hakutsuru Junmai, 1.8L for US $15. I looked for but did not see the same sake in a bottle for comparison.

A carton of Hakutsuru Junmai
A carton of Hakutsuru Junmai

Continue reading “Sake in a carton – I’ll give it a try”

Saké: 6th Annual Saké and Japanese Beer Show – The really hard advanced class

Saké: 6th Annual Saké and Japanese Beer Show – The really hard advanced class

Marcus Pakiser invited me to come to the Young’s Market Annual Sake Show and attend his advanced saké course. I did not know what to expect but I was very interested in attending, so I blocked out the time on my calendar. While waiting anxiously, I wondered what the class could be that would make it as difficult as Marcus said it would be. There was to be a tasting test. I don’t think I am very good at understanding what I taste or detecting what is there. Given this, I was both excited and nervous.

When the 16th finally rolled around, I went to the show which was being held at Saucebox in Portland. This venue was nice and intimate; much nicer than the Rose Quarter venue where I attended the show in the past. The introductory class was being held in a room in the main area not far from the bar. The advanced class was in a room that seemed not to have any internal door way to the rest of the restaurant so we all were going out into the rain to make our way back and forth to this room.

The room that held the advanced class was filled with chairs and had three, maybe four, tables around the room with 8 full decanters on each. Some of the decanters could be mistaken for having water while others showed a yellowish tint or some cloudiness that you would not have with water. Hey, they must be filled with saké, right?! Each decanter had a number in front of it; from 1 to 8.

Marcus called everyone in and brought the class to order. He began a short discussion on the 8 categories we were going to be looking for in our tasting test. There were:

  1. Junmai
  2. Honjozo
  3. Yamahai
  4. Kimoto
  5. Modern Yeast
  6. Domestic
  7. Dry
  8. Omachi (this is one of, if not the, oldest know native rice strains in Japan)

He then introduced us to Israel from Wafu. Israel explained to us how they do tastings at Wafu and presented the “Wafu Saké Tasting Grid” to us. The grid starts with appearance at the top, moves to aroma, then palate and final assessment. Thinking about these, while tasting, often helps to notice aspects that might be easily overlooked.

With this background, Marcus explained our task. We were to evaluate each of the 8 saké in front of us and determine which one matched each of the categories above. That was it. Wait, what?? You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve never heard anyone describe what is unique about domestic sake as a group; there all different, right… Aaah, now I see why Marcus said this was going to be so hard.

Well, we all got started, each move to a table and started with the nearest decanter. For me this was decanter number 4. Kind of harsh, dry, very dry – ah, this one is probably the dry sake. I guessed that the SMV was +8. I next tried decanter number 6; candy cane aroma, sweeter side, SMV +2, rough finish maybe the yamahai. Moving on to decanter number 7; candy cane sweet, +2, clear, honeydew melon, a little creamy – possibly the Junmai. Next up for me was decanter number 8; very light, delicate, can’t smell a thing – Honjozo, I think this is the honjozo.

Having hit the end of the table, I needed to go back into the fray where it was pretty crowded. The next decanter I sampled was number 5; very subtle flower aroma, +4 low acid, melon – may be the domestic. Squeezing in, I reached decanter number 3; Taste of sweet water, sweet but not cloying, +1, Simple, Domestic? Two domestics? No, I need to change one of them. At this point Marcus gave us an 8 minute warning. Just move on, two to go. I moved to a side table were the low numbered decanters were in the open. Now, decanter number 2; Lots of acid, +4, +5, Yamahai…Times out, I did not have a chance to try decanter 1.

Marcus sat us all down again and reviewed the saké. They were:

  1. Kimoto – Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai
  2. Junmai – Tyku Silver
  3. Modern Yeast – Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo
  4. * Dry – Kan Nihonkai “Ring of Fire” Junmai SMV +15
  5. * Domestic – Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo
  6. * Yamahai – Yuki no Bosha Yamahai Junmai
  7. Omachi – Rihaku Origins of Purity Omachi Junmai Ginjo
  8. * Honjozo – Murai Tokubetsu Honjozo

Wow, I got 4 of them, the ones with the stars. That is much better than I thought I would do. I would have guessed that I would get only 1, maybe 2, from sheer luck. I am very pleased with my performance on this. Some of those present were able to pick out the specific saké being used in each category; that’s outstanding. Maybe someday with lots of practice, I too will know sake that well.

Anyway, this was a great experience for me. The class was followed by sampling saké from many of the companies that Young’s Market Distributes for. All in all, I believe there around 120 saké represented. Everyone involved did a great job!

Sake Tasting Score Sheet
Sake Tasting Score Sheet

This week just a bit of babble

This week just a bit of babble

I want to apologize for missing my last post and not having something more topical for this post. I have lots going on so I have not been able to live up to my schedule. I was trying to complete my book: Brewing Sake – Release the Toji Within by the end of 2011while at the same time changing jobs. I didn’t make any of this work as planned.

I did get the book to the proof stage and am working through the proofs now. It is so exciting to see the proof. They are just a very limited printing of the book itself. Seeing the cover I designed and that I worked on with my son on an actual book is just about hart stopping. It took me over a day of adding little post-it notes in the book for things that needed to be corrected before I could bring myself to actually just write in the book. It is meant to be a proof right? It is meant to be marked up. Anyway, it should not be long now before I have completed it and it is available for sale.

I have a few ideas for future topics but they are not ready yet. One of the topics is sake oxidation. Many beer brewers that begin to brew sake are very concerned about oxidation and how to avoid it. However, many of the practices for making sake seem to actually encourage oxidation. This juxtaposition of concern and flagrant abuse confuse many brewers and so, warrant some discussion.

Another topic is the use of charcoal filtering. I need to do lots of work on this one but I have heard that there are 6 to 9 different types of charcoal that can be used to get specific types of results.

I am working on more information on special types of koji for making very high grade sake; that is the daiginjo. I have written about this before but need to firm up some of the details. Writing this last statement reminds me that sake brewing is done very differently by different people. One will insist on the need to stir the koji to break it up and get air to the koji while another, just as good brewer, will leave the koji in a single undisturbed bundle until done; creating one big clump that has completely grown together.

Another topic that I have worked on, off and on, but have not cracked yet is the different ways that sake brewing changes with different types of water; that is soft vs. hard water. The old stories of about how water differs across japan and how regions went from having, at best, so-so sake to having really good sake all hangs on learning how to brew with soft water. As this knowledge spread so did the number of areas with good sake. Despite this, it has been very hard to get the specifics of the differences. Well, I am pushing on this area again and believe that I will make more progress this time.

What would you like to know more about? Is there something you would like me to cover? Are you interested in writing a guest article? A little while ago Elise Gee provided an outstanding article. What is on your mind?

Verifying the concentration of your Sodium Hydroxide solution

OK, so you have some Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) solution that you have been using to measure your sake or wine’s acidity but it has been a while. Maybe even a long while. You want to make a measurement but will it be accurate? Will it have absorbed too much CO2 to give an accurate measure? How do you know? Well, with a dilute solution of Hydrochloric acid (HCl), 0.1 molarity is good, you can answer your questions and get back to the task at hand.

Unlike Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid is stable so it can be stored and used over a long period without degradation. This stability makes HCl ideal for determining the actual concentration of your NaOH solution.

Using HCl to determine the concentration of NaOH depends on the reaction:

Acid and Base to Salt Reaction
Acid and Base to Salt Reaction

which converts an acid and a base to water and a salt. This reaction along with the following equality can be used to determine the actual concentration of the NaOH solution if we have accurate knowledge about the other values.

Basic Concentration Equilibrium
Basic Concentration Equilibrium

Knowing the HCl solution molarity (0.1 for our work) and using a specific sample volume of the HCl solution (say 10ml) along with the fact that the molar ratio1 in the above reaction is 1:1 leaves only the NaOH volume to be determined in order to calculate the NaOH concentration. Let sample1 be the HCl and sample2 be the NaOH. This gives:

Filled in known values
Filled in known values


Rewritten for concentration
Rewritten for concentration


And Simplified
And Simplified

Given this, if we titrate to neutralize 10ml of a 0.1 Molarity solution of HCl and it takes 11ml of your NaOH solution to neutralize the HCl then the molarity of the NaOH solution is 0.0909… M or about 0.091 M. Now that you know the molarity of the NaOH solution that you are using, you can substitute this value into the equation you are using to determine the acidity of your sake while following the standard titration procedure.

One additional benefit of being able to determine the molarity of your NaOH solution is that you can actually make your own. With this you are no longer dependent on your lab supply store for NaOH solutions with an accurately known molarity. The mole mass of NaOH is roughly 40 grams. So to create a 0.1 molarity solution of NaOH we start with 1 liter of distilled water and add 4 grams (0.1 x 40) of NaOH granules. This gets us very close to the 0.1 molarity solution we want but with the accuracy of our equipment it is not close enough. With the above procedure we can get the needed accuracy.

[This article is related to the “Measuring your sake” series which starts here]

  1. That is, one molecule of HCl to one molecule of NaOH is all that is needed to allow the reaction.

Measuring your Sake – Part four: Amino San-do (アミノ酸度)

Measuring your Sake – Part four: Amino San-do (アミノ酸度)

In part one I talked about how to measure the Nihonshu-do or Sake Meter Value (SMV) or your sake. In part two I covered how to measure the Arukoru bun (アルコール度数) or Alcohol percent by volume (%ABV). In part three I covered how to measure the sando or acidity of sake. In this part, part 4, I will cover how to measure the amino sando of your sake.

As is the case for measuring the sando, you will need some Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) solution usually at a concentration of 0.1 Molarity (M), phenolphthalein, a small beaker to mix the sample and chemicals in, and a syringe to measure with. All of this can be purchased as a wine acid test kit. In addition you will need some formalin1 solution. As is the case in measuring sando, you can use the phenolphthalein as an indicator or a pH meter to determine the point at which the pH reaches 8.2.

The method used to measure the amino sando is very similar to the method for measuring sando. In fact, it incorporates the sando method as the first step in measuring the amino sando. This is because amino sando is just a specialized acid that is locked up and hidden in the structure. To measure the amino sando we must first remove or neutralize other acids so that they are not counted along with the amino acids. This is accomplished in the first titration step which determines the amount of base require to neutralize the acid. After our sample solution has been neutralized there are no more extra H+ to worry about and we can focus on how to make the amino acids visible, or at least measurable in some fashion. This is done with a formalin solution. The formalin solution reacts with the amino acid freeing an H+ from each amino acid structure. This free H+ can then be locked up using a base just as we did to measure the acid levels. So, one more round of titration using our base solution, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) will give us the level of base needed to neutralize the newly exposed acid so we can calculate the amount of amino acid as glycin, the simplest amino acid.

If that seems a bit intimidating, don’t worry, we will take it step by step from here.

OK, first we need to measure out 10ml of sample sake to evaluate. Place this in a beaker and add a few drops of phenolphthalein. The drops are not needed if you will use a pH meter. Load the syringe with about 10ml of NaOH and record the exact amount in the syringe for later reference; call it R1.

At this point, it is time to add, drop by drop the NaOH from the syringe to the sample watching for the indicator to change color to a light ping for at least 30 seconds. Swirl the sample after each drop as you go. If on the other hand you are using a pH meter you should gently stir the sample with the meter probe to get a correct reading. Once the color changes and holds its light pink color for at least 30 seconds you have neutralized the sample. Record the NaOH level now present in the syringe; call it R2. The difference between this and the earlier recorded level, (R1-R2) can be used to determine the sando (acidity).

Up until this point the procedure has been the same as measuring the sando. It is at this point that we depart from the sando method. Set the neutralized sample aside for use once we have a mixture based on the formalin ready.

Mix 50ml of formalin with 50ml of distilled water. Using the same titration procedure, neutralize the mixture at a pH of 8.2 or where the indicator turns light pink for at least 30 seconds. Remember to add several drops of phenolphthalein if you are using the indicator. There is no need to record the amount of NaOH used for this procedure.

OK, we are ready for the final step. Measure 10ml of the neutralized sample and 10ml of the neutralized formalin mixture and place in a beaker for a total of 20ml. Reload the syringe with NaOH and record the amount contained; call it R3. If you have been using phenolphthalein there should be enough present without any addition. Titrate this 20ml sample until it reaches neutrality at pH of 8.2 or until the color changes to a light pink for at least 30 seconds. Record the final level of NaOH in the syringe; call it R4. The difference between this and the previous recording will be the amount of NaOH required to neutralize the amino acid; (R3-R4).

Having completed all the measurements, it’s time to calculate the levels. First, as before for sando:

TA(g/L) = MoleRatio* (BaseMolarity * BaseVolume * MoleMass) / SampleVolume


Sando = TA(succinic g/L) = ½ * (0.1M*(R1-R2)ml*118) / 10ml

And similarly for amino acid:

TA(g/L) = MoleRatio* (BaseMolarity * BaseVolume * MoleMass) / SampleVolume


Amino Sando = TA(glycin g/L) = 1 * (0.1M * (R3-R4)ml * 75) / 20ml

Where the BaseMolarity is the concentration (moles / liter) of NaHO in distilled water, BaseVolume and SampleVolute are the amounts of NaHO and Sample solutions in ml.

Succinic acid, along with malic and lactic acid are the most abundant acids in sake. As discussed in part three, succinic acid has a reaction ratio, MoleRatio, with NaOH of 1:2 giving rise to the ½ in the Sando equation. The amino acid glycin reacts with NaOH in a 1:1 reaction giving rise to the multiplier 1 in the Amino Sando equation.

The molecular mass (MoleMass)of succinic acid is 118 while the molecular mass of glycin is 75. As you see, these have been substituted in the equations above.

Using a pH meter can be slower and more tedious than using phenolphthalein but the pH meter will be more accurate. In either case, any amount that you are off on any of the titration steps, first for sando, second for formalin or the final step for amino sando, will throw off the following step or be thrown off by the previous steps; that is, the error will accumulate with each step.

Another thing that should be understood and kept in mind when working with NaOH is that its concentration will change over time. NaOH reacts with CO2 in the air neutralizing its base character.  You can use Hydrochloric acid (HCl) to determine the strength of the NaOH solution. HCl is stable so, while NaOH is changing, HCl will remain constant and able to measure the new/ current strength of the NaOH concentration using the same titration methods used above. Maybe I will discuss this in more detail in a future article. [12-10-11, well I added a post on this. You will find it here]

Well, there you have it, the procedure to measure the sando and amino sando of your sake.

  1. Formalin is a saturated solution of formaldehyde at 40% by volume or 37% by mass.

Memories from a pioneer – Elise Gee recalls how they created moto-i

Well over a decade ago, I became smitten with nihonshu at NYC sake bar and drinking institution, Decibel.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my experience there–its hidden-away, speak-easy location; a secret grotto showcasing a depth of sake that I had no idea existed–would lead me on a pilgrimage to learn more in Japan and eventually to brewing sake commercially.

In January 2006, I travelled to Kamakura where I met eight other foreigners interested in sake. We gathered at a local art space to learn and discern the drink with John Gauntner, preeminent American sake expert and author, who has lived in Japan more than half his life.

Blake Elise and John at moto-i
Blake, Elise and John at moto-i

Little did I know I was in the company of several pioneers who would spread the gospel of sake to their respective cities and countries in the years to come. Among them was Nancy Cushman, my tatami mat buddy. She and husband, Tim, would later open Boston’s o-ya, one of the best modern Japanese restaurants in America. Johnnie Stroud was in attendance, before he and wife, Taiko, opened Sake Nomi—a premium sake retail shop in Seattle. Kjetil Jikiun owned a micro-brewery in Norway called Nogne-O, which gained considerable traction in recent years with the craft beer boom. Kjetil dreamt of making sake, and last year began brewing “Hidaka Jima” at Nogne-O’s facilities. And there was this guy named Blake Richardson, who owned a brew pub and had lofty ideas of creating the first sake brewery restaurant outside of Japan—in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Continue reading “Memories from a pioneer – Elise Gee recalls how they created moto-i”

Sake Filtering – Is this Muroka (無濾過)?

Sake Filtering – Is this Muroka (無濾過)?

OK, so the bodai moto based sake I am working on, rested for about 1 month after pressing. Normally, I would have racked it after a couple of weeks but the lees were just not dropping out. I have not had a sake that was so slow to drop its leas before. After one month the sake appeared as in the picture below:

Bodai-moto One Month After Pressing
Bodai-moto One Month After Pressing

Not very encouraging in turns of being able to recover a large percentage of the sake as clear sake. Anyway, I had been thinking about filtering sake and thought that this maybe a good batch to give it a try with. You may recall that the fermentation went very slow and I pressed it too early despite it having had more time to ferment than most. The moromi went through stages of smelling like green apples, strawberries and finally banana’s. These aromas have been very strong and are very evident the minute I open the cooler. At one month after pressing the banana aroma continues to be very strong; Ginjo-ka on steroids.

The equipment I used for filtering consists of a 5 gallon Cornelious keg, and a plate filter with a 7 micron filter paper. I also have 3 micron and 1 micron filter paper but I was afraid that the filter would clog and I would lose too much sake. As it turned out the filter was very close to being clogged if not actually clogged at the end of pushing about one gallon of sake with leas through it. The following picture shows the front and back sides of the 7 micron paper filter and the back plate of the filter housing. Continue reading “Sake Filtering – Is this Muroka (無濾過)?”

Ode to the rice farmer

Ode to the rice farmer, 2011 California Rice Farming

This week I thought that it would be interesting to look at the rice production in the US. This quick look will actually be narrower than the whole of the US in that I am using material exclusively from the Sacramento Valley in California. However, many of the themes will be true for the US and are in stark contrast to what we often see related to rice for sake, our primary interest.

I have been watching the youtube channel RiceNews for a couple of years now and find it to be very interesting. All of the videos here have been selected from their offerings.

While the rice farming families in the US can’t go as far back as those of Japan can, many of those in the Sacramento Valley go back to the beginning of California production.

In the following, I have pulled together views into each stage of rice growing. There was nothing on drying, husking, milling and bagging so that is a missing piece. Maybe I can fill that in some time in the future. Continue reading “Ode to the rice farmer”

New US kura, the “Texas Sake Company” grand opening on Nihonshu no hi!

New US kura, the “Texas Sake Company” grand opening on Nihonshu no hi!

Today, Nihonshu no hi or international sake day, is not only a day to celebrate sake but, beginning this year, also the opening day for a new kura, sake brewery, in the great state of Texas. Texas Sake Company becomes the 7th currently active US sake brewery.1

Using a strain of organic Texas rice that is said to have a heritage that traces its roots back to rice from a Japanese delegation that came through Texas in 1904, The Texas Sake Company will specialize in local organic ingredients. Yoed Anis, the founder and Toji of Texas Sake is truly excited about using Texas grown rice with roots that go back to Japan.

Texas Sake has actually been operating for some time while getting ready for the grand opening, October 1, 2011. They began at least as early as February to produce test batches of sake which they gave away to their followers in Texas; a nice way to build the following. Their grand opening is being held at the brewery: 5501 N Lamar Blvd, A115, Austin, Texas.

It is wonderful to see a new kura starting up; welcome Texas Sake Company.


  1. I have documented the other US sake brewers here.

Possibly the first ever Bodai moto made outside of Japan!

Possibly the first ever Bodai moto made outside of Japan!

I have just completed the pressing of a sake made with a bodai moto and while the story is still not complete I think this may be a good time to look at what we have so far. The bodai moto is the original method of creating a moto. As I have written before in this venue, the bodai moto was created from a sake brewing method known as bobaisen. Bodaisen was sake made using the same method used for bodai moto but there is no additions added later. For bodaisen you put all the ingredients together at the beginning and then ferment to the end with no additions. Over time it was found that adding a bit of the mash of a good brew to the beginning of a new brew helped make better sake as well as make it more reliable. As the properties of the sake improved while adding a “starter” from a good batch, this became the norm and even the first batch needed to have a starter and this push for better sake is how the method for making bodaisen became the method for making bodai moto.

Bodai moto is also called mizumoto or water moto. The name mizumoto makes a lot of sense once you begin to look at the method used and what it produces. The outcome of the first step of the method is a special water called soyashi-mizu that contains, along with the water, lactic acid that will protect the moto and the ferments made with this moto. There are also other compounds from various bugs that became active before there was enough lactic acid to kill them off. These bugs and their effect on the moto bring distinctly different contributions to sake. Similar to yamahai moto sake, bodai has its own funk.

To start a bodai moto we need to make the soyashi-mizu. Soyashi-mizu is created in the soyashi process which consists of mixing a small amount of cooked rice with raw rice and water and letting stand until the lactic acid reaches the desired strength. Now I should say that in the original process this is also key to cultivating a good yeast population. Because I will add yeast I am not really looking for this but it may also be a strong contributor to the resulting characteristics. Continue reading “Possibly the first ever Bodai moto made outside of Japan!”