Koji What?

This article discusses what koji is and what it contributes to sake.

The most mysterious ingredient use to make sake is koji. What is it? Why is it so important? What does it contribute to sake? Well, these are all important questions we will address here. Koji is a general term that is almost always used as a specific term by those talking about sake. In the general case koji is some kind of substrate with some kind of mold growing on it. How’s that for a technical description. Koji used for making sake is, in most cases, yellow koji consisting of  Aspergillus Oryzae growing on milled rice.

Yellow koji is also used for making Shochu, a distilled beverage, but has been mostly replaced by other forms of mold and substrate. The two most common molds now used for koji in the production of shochu are Aspergillus Kawachi (white) and Aspergillus Awamori (black). In the general case the substrates also very quite a bit. Substrates of buckwheat, sweet potato, barley and rice are common. Rice is always the substrate used for sake. Continue reading “Koji What?”

Sake Yeasts

Discusses yeast, sake yeast and what yeast need to do a good job fermenting.

Yeast: a single cell fungus whose activities have been known to man for far longer than we have known about yeast itself. We have evidence of yeast being used as far back as four thousand years ago in Egypt. They used yeast for both baking and brewing. Wine was also present in this period.

In 1857 Louis Pasteur proved that fermentation was the results of living yeast rather than a chemical reaction. In this work, Pasteur showed that as oxygen is added the growth of the cell count increases and fermentation slows. Not only did this show the significant of yeast but also its two distinct modes of operation: the aerobic and the anaerobic. In the aerobic mode, yeast reproduce by budding, a process of a child cell being created and split off from the parent cell. The anaerobic mode proceeds with little to no growth in the number of cells but with increased alcohol and CO2 production. Alcohol and CO2 are produced in equal amounts based on the following formula:

C6H12O6 -> 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2 Continue reading “Sake Yeasts”

Brewing salts for your sake brewing water

This article talks about how to adjust you sake brewing water for better sake.

The question I will address this week is one related to water and how to convert the water we have to the water we want. Let’s assume we want to brew our sake with water that is equivalent to Miyamizu, the heavenly water from Nada. For this example the water we will start with is from the Bull Run Reservoir.

You may recall from “Miyamizu – Heavenly Water – The Gold Standard?” that the mineral content of the miyamizu water is:

Miyamizu (ppm)
Potassium 20
Phosphoric acid 5.2
Magnesium 5.6
Calcium 37
Chlorine 32
Sodium 32

Continue reading “Brewing salts for your sake brewing water”

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?”

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”

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”