Skagway Brewing Company, 1897

Short note on Skagway Brewing Company.

Correction: In my haste to publish the article below I screwed up the details and got it wrong. Briefly, Michael Healy is the person who started the brewery in 2007 while Trevor Clifford is the brewer. My original, faulty, article follows:

OK, I know this has nothing to do with sake nor sake brewing but I have not been able to find any sake on this trip …so far… and I don’t have access to my regular materials. I wanted to do a short note about something light from the trip, so here it goes. Skagway Brewing Company, 1897? Yes, no? I say no not really, at least not under the eye of the current owner and brew-master Trevor.

Several years back, 2006 or 2007, Trevor decided that he wanted to open a brew pub in Skagway, Alaska. Skagway has an ordinance that only those who have hotel(s) with at least 12 rooms can own alcohol licenses and there can only be two licenses in the city. The Skagway Brewing Company held one of these licenses but had been driven into the ground by previous management. Having been dormant and out of commission for around 5 years, Trevor was able to negotiated a deal to reinvigorate the Skagway Brewing Company and carry the heritage forward. From this deal he got a 4 barrel brewing system along with the brewery and pub. Trevor asked his cousin Deland, who had earlier completed culinary school, to come and open up the kitchen of the pub.

We went in to see the place and of course to see what was on tap. On tap was:

–          A barley wine

–          A pale ale

–          An IPA

–          A Spruce Tip Ale

–          A brown ale

–          And two they don’t brew:

  • Pike’s Kilt lifter
  • PBR

All in all not a bad line up. I had a pint of the IPA, pretty nice with good Chinook hop aroma. I then had the spruce tip ale. This was the first time I have tried this type of beer and was pleasantly surprised with the flavor. Not piney at all. More of a mildly sweet fruit hint in the background. At first the hint of fruit drew all my attention but after a while I noticed more of the hop bitterness. All in all two very nice beers; this is a place I can whole heartedly recommend!

Nihonshu-do (日本酒度) or Sake Meter Value (SMV)

This article discusses Nihonshu-do (SMV), Buame, Plato and specific gravity for sake Brewing.

Nihonshu-do also known as SMV is the way we measure the sweetness to dryness level of a sake. The word nihonshu-do itself can be broken down into three words Nihon Shu Do with the English counter parts being Japan Alcohol Degree (as in position on a scale). So Japanese Alcohol is Sake and Degree or Meter Value taken together represent the main metric used to characterize sake. At first glance this measure is relatively simple and this is as it should be for sake aficionados. A -4 SMV value for a sake implies it is quite sweet while a value of +10 would be very dry. Its use in brewing reflects its more complicated nature.

SMV was originally based on the Heavy Baume scale created by a Frenchman in the late 1700s. However, the heavy baume scale is only valid for liquids that are equal or heavier than water and this is not the case for sake. For this reason nihonshu-do has the same slope as the heavy baume scale but is not the same. When nihonshu-do and heavy baume are used to evaluate the degree of sugar in water they directly represent the amount of sugar by weight in the solution. While the baume scale is pretty much obsolete today, similar scales like the Balling, Brix and Plato scales are all attempts to measure the amount of dissolved solids in solution with more accuracy, i.e. the grams of solids in 100 grams of water. However, where Baume was working with a sodium chloride solution Balling, Brix and Plato specifically worked with sucrose solutions. Continue reading “Nihonshu-do (日本酒度) or Sake Meter Value (SMV)”

Final Steps in Sake Brewing

The final steps in the sake brewing process is discussed.

After moromi is complete we have only a few more steps to go in our process. These are: secondary ferment, racking, fining, pasteurization, amelioration and bottling. Conditioning and maturation are also terms for the secondary ferment. For the most part the secondary ferment begins after the sake has been pressed out of the lees. At this stage the sake can be anywhere from milky white to relatively clear. However, in all but unusual cases, more, finer lees will settle to the bottom as the sake completes its ferment and rests.

As the ferment completes, alcohol production ceases but the yeast are still active. During the early stages acetylaldehyde, diacetyl and esters are produced and cleaned up, however the clean up follows production by a good amount of time so when there is no more alcohol to produce there is still a sizable amount of these compounds remaining. At this stage the yeast complete their work and clean up remaining levels. It is also at this time that the sake flavors start to come together for a more integrated taste. Continue reading “Final Steps in Sake Brewing”

Preparing Your Rice for Sake Brewing

This article discusses the process of preparing rice for brewing sake or making koji.

An important step performed several times during the sake brewing process is the preparation of the rice. We prepare rice for the moto, then again for each step of the san-dan-jikomi, the three step addition of rice, koji and water to build up to the moromi or the main fermentation. Another addition is sometimes done new the end of moromi called yodan. The preparation of the rice is the same for each of these additions.

Rice preparation consists of washing, rinsing, soaking, draining, packing, steaming, cooling and finally adding it to the brew. Rice for koji also goes through the same process except rather than adding it to the brew it is inoculated and then incubated. But this will be covered in another article. Let’s cover each of these steps separately. Continue reading “Preparing Your Rice for Sake Brewing”

The Main Ferment – Moromi

Discusses the main fermentation stage of the sake brewing process, moromi.

Once san-dan-jikomi is complete and the final addition has been made we enter into moromi. Moromi starts the day after the final addition, which is tomezoe. It lasts until fermentation is almost complete. This can take anywhere from 2 weeks to about a month.

The time needed for moromi is based on both temperature and koji characteristics. In particular the characteristic diastatic power the koji can muster at the moromi temperature.  The yeast work faster at the low temperatures of moromi than do the koji enzymes.

At the end of the moto the alcohol content was anywhere from about 5% to 10%. With the san-dan-jikomi additions the concentration of alcohol was also cut in the same way as the yeast and acid. However, as some yeast has been reproducing some have been producing alcohol. So by the start of moromi we have regained much of the alcohol concentration we had at the end of the moto. Continue reading “The Main Ferment – Moromi”

The Buildup – San-Dan-Jikomi – Transition from Moto to Moromi

A look at the process of building up a sake batch from the moto (yeast mash) to moromi (main ferment).

After the moto has completed, four days are taken to buildup the brew from moto to moromi. The four days are made up of three additions and a day of rest:

  • Hatsuzoe – the first addition, day 1
  • Odori – The dancing ferment, day 2, day of rest
  • Nakazoe – the second addition, day 3
  • Tomezoe – the third and final addition, day 4

I have also seen hatsuzoe called soe, nakazoe called naka and tomezoe called tome. However, my lack of Japanese limits my understanding of how these might correspond. Naka means inside or middle, as in the middle addition. Tome means stop or remaining, as in the last or final addition. Continue reading “The Buildup – San-Dan-Jikomi – Transition from Moto to Moromi”

How Sake is Brewed

Brief introduction to how sake is brewed.

Sake is brewed in a strung out process that can take quite a long time but none of the steps are particularly difficult. In the traditional method, brewing sake starts with the rice and its milling. The objective is to remove the outer layers of the rice which cause sake to be less stable and to have harsher flavors. These layers contain the bran and the highest concentrations of oils, fatty acids, proteins and minerals like magnesium and iron. Table rice (white rice) is generally milled to around 93% of its original size. Sakemai (Sake Rice) is usually milled somewhere between this for futsu-shu (table sake) and 35% for the most refined Daiginjo. Removing these components leads to a more stable and refined sake.

Once the rice has been milled to the proper level we need to steam the rice. We used steamed rice both for making koji and to directly add to the brew. In order to steam the rice properly we need to first wash the milled rice to remove the outer layer of rice flower, talc or whatever may be on the rice. After a good washing the rice is soaked to absorb the needed amount of water for proper steaming. This amounts to about 30% by weight. The higher the milling rate the faster the rice will absorb the desired amount of water. Kurabito (brewery people) working with the most highly polished (Milled) rice often use a stopwatch to time the soaking period so the rice does not take on too much moisture. Here the goal to get enough moisture into the rice so that the steaming process gelatinizes the rice by heating the water already there. If the rice has too much moisture it will become soggy / mushy during the steaming process and will not form a nice home for koji. Continue reading “How Sake is Brewed”

Shirozake (白酒) – White Sake – not Seishu

Shirozake is described in this article

Shirozake is a case in point where a drink is call sake while it is not Nihonshu or Seishu. That is it is not the refined sake we think of as sake in the US.

Shirozake was created sometime around 1600 to 1650 when the founder of Toshimaya, a sake merchant and food company, had a dream in which a paper doll told him how to make shirozake. He carried out the instructions producing the first shirozake.

Shirozake was very popular through the 1800s. For example in 1880 270,000 liters of shirozake were sold. Shirozake became tied to the Hina Matsuri (雛祭り) or Doll festival (March 3rd) where it is mostly drunk by women. In order to meet these high demands, Toshimaya would focus exclusively on shirozake sales from around the end of February each year.

Shirozake is a sweet white sake like drink made by combining rice, koji and shochu to form a liquor. To make shirozake the rice is steamed and mixed with koji and shochu and then left to age for a month. Once aged the mixture is puréed into a consistently smooth drink about 45% rice extracts and having 8-9% alcohol.

Toshimaya Shuzo in Tokyo still sells shirozake after 400 years though there are other producers now.

Sake Brewing in the 19th Century

A quick look at the differences between the sake brewing process of the 19th century and today.

I have been reading a little about brewing in the 19th century and find it to be quite similar to current brewing methods. The current brewing method consists of the following steps:

  • Rice milling
  • Koji production
  • Moto – yeast mash (Any of kimoto, yamahai moto or sokujo moto)
  • Hatsuzoe – first addition
  • Nakazoe – second addition
  • Tomezoe – third addition
  • Moromi – main mash
  • Yodon – stabilization
  • Joso – pressing
  • Hi-ire – pasteurization & bottling Continue reading “Sake Brewing in the 19th Century”

Some Koji History

A little history on Koji

Koji has been used in the orient for two to three thousand years. Its use on a substrate of rice, soybean and wheat bran seems to have originated in China. Use of koji migrated to Japan in the Yayoi period around the change in the western calendar from BC to AD. Somewhere in the Heian and Muromachi period between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries AD koji became commercially available.

This was, in part, possible because of the use of hardwood leaf ash. These leaves where burned in an environment with limited oxygen to produce an ash/charcoal that was protective for the koji-kin. Koji-ken base packed, layered, in boxes with a layer of koji-ken then ash and repeated. The use of ash in packing to preserve the koji-kin led to the discovery that adding the ash directly to steamed rice produced more consistent koji production. We now know the alkaline environment from the ash prevents other micro-organisms from getting a foothold and that the minerals in the ash help mold growth.

Moyashi or fermentation starter suppliers, two of them, were established in the Muromachi period about 1400AD. The Koji-za did not license more than these two prior to 1700AD. Currently, there seems to be about five such producers.