• When considering the taste of sake, values to look at are nihonshu-do (sake meter value=SMV, indicating sweetness) and acidity. Sake with higher acidity is quite sharp and refreshing taste, while one can enjoy taste of rice with lower acidity. Values of acidity is indicated with pH. Sake usually has pH1.2-1.5 avarage, and the higher the pH is, the dryer the sake gets.
  • Amazake is a nutritious beverage to be nicknamed as "drinking IV", which is also beneficial for beauty. As a fatigue recovery drink, it has been consumed in summer since ancient times.
    There are two major methods to make amazake; made from sake lees and from rice koji. There are various recipes and the mainstream method seems different depending on the region where it is made.
    With rice koji method, amazake is made by putting rice koji in rice porridge cooled to about 60 degrees Celsius. As koji is still in the process of fermentation, it tastes sweet but has no alcohol content. On the other hand, amazake made with sake lees, a by-product of sake, contains alcohol with no sweetness, so some sweetness such as sugar is added to enjoy it. If you make your own amazake, it would be easier to follow a sake lees recipe. However, as it contains alcohol, rice koji recipe is recommended for children, though the sake lees method has also a way to get alcohol evaporated.
  • Sake traditionally has an annual cycle where it is brewed in winter, marketed in spring, and empties out within a year. When sake passes one year old, it is classified as “koshu” or “Jukusei shu,” meaning ‘old sake’ and ‘aged sake’ respectively. Sake is quite delicate, and its quality is susceptible to storage conditions. Back when brewers did not have sufficient storage facilities, they brewed a type of sake that stored well at room temperature, and sold later as aged sake. In recent years, with the development of better storage facilities, we can now enjoy delicate sake like “Ginjo” and “Namazake (unpasteurized sake)” that are aged for a long time as well.
  • Arabashiri / Nakadori / Seme
    The final process of making Seishu, the clear sake, is to press moromi (fermenting mash). There are several methods such as machine-press, funa-shibori (using cloth bags and boxes called fune), and bag-hanging. In either way, in the process, liquid oozes due to the weight of the moromi itself. This very first sake, which naturally flows out before pressing, is called Arabashiri.
    At this point, sake is still young and slightly murky, tasting rough, yet has an enjoyable fresh and delightful scent. Since it is the first sake to be produced, Arabashiri is often shipped out as the season’s first specialty.
  • Cask sake is a way to enjoy sake along with wooden scent of the cask for instance in a cerebration as kagami-biraki (the lid is hit to break open) to offer excitement, or to be sold in a cask, being left in it for a few days to transfer the wooden scent, or sold in a bottle transferring sake from the cask with wooden scent. While the scent plays the main role, it also influences the taste, so sake that is reasonable such as honjozo or junmai-shu with less flaver is used as cask zake.
    Before enamel or glass bottles became common, sake was fermented and transported in a cask made of cedar wood. In these days though, cedar casks have become very rare.
  • A fune is a tool used to press sake in the joso (pressing) process. The name fune or sakabune came from the long box shape, resembling wooden boats. In these days, use of automatic press machine is mainstream, with which vertically line-up bags are automatically pressed, though fune method was more common in the past.
    In this method, bags stuffed with moromi are horizontally piled up in the irebune (the main part of fune), and sake that oozes out due to the weight of the bags gets out of tarekuchi, or a hole on the bottom. Although the system is simple, this process is manually performed, so it is a hard work, especially with a large fune, where bags have to be carefully laid in the deep bottom by bending down. There are Sase method and Yaegaki method, which derived from Sase method. It is quite common for breweries to possess more than one fune and some brands of sake have “fune” in the name such as “Kariho Rokushu Junmai Ginjo - Six Boats”
  • The Laboratory of Alcoholic Beverages at Department of Brewing and Fermentation of the junior college in Tokyo University of Agriculture led by Professor Nakatakubo et. al. succeeded in isolating yeasts from flowers after trying to produce yeasts from the natural environment. Hana-kobo, or flower yeasts, were then cultivated from such yeasts taken from different flowers. The hana-kobo study group of Tokyo University of Agriculture is leading the use and promotion of hana-kobo, which is taken from fringed pink, begonia, trailing rose, rosebay, and so on.
  • Hi-ire is heat sterilization. In Muromachi Period, by the year of 1560,, when hi-ire is said to have been conducted, it had been developed from experiences gained by brewers over years.
    The operation of heating sake at the temperature of 60℃ for 10-15 minutes kills micro-organisms without changing the sake quality. This is the same operation as the low-temperature sterilization that Pasteur discovered in 1866 to prevent wine’s decay, which is called “pasteurization”.
    The sake in those days was nama-zake (unpasteurized sake) of today, so it easily deteriorated. This heat sterilized realize the long storage of sake by killing off the micro-organisms that deteriorate sake. It has also enabled the shipment to distant places, which has contributed to a rapidly increasing demand of sake.
  • When sake is properly matured, fragrant aroma of matured sake is emitted most of the time. However, if sake is stored in unfavorable temperature or environment, sometimes foul odor is emitted when drinking, which is called hineka for pasteurized sake and nama-hineka for unpasteurized sake. Some people, though, think it is still fragrant.
  • Alcohol content of most sake is adjusted to be around 15-16% before shipping. Although sake has comparatively higher alcohol content among brewed alcoholic beverages, thus germs and bacteria do not increase too much, hi-ochi bacteria, which are a kind of lactic acid bacteria and tend to increase in sake and make sake look muddy, taste too acidic and smell foul.
  • Usually, sake is brewed from winter to spring and pasteurized (hi-ire) to be shipped out on a rolling basis. Since the quality changes easily in spring and summer, unless providing as nama (fresh) sake for summer, most of sake is pasteurized twice before shipping. However, sake that is fermented in kura with one hi-ire right after shibori (pressing) in winter and spring is enjoyable in autumn with its perfectly matured taste in the cooling down climate of autumn. Such sake, shipped out without a second hi-ire, is called hiyaoroshi.
    Recently, breweries compete with each other to produce hiyaoroshi earlier year by year, so Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council proposed that the start of the hiyaoroshi season should be on September 9th, one of the five seasonal festivals in Japan, following the tradition. The Council also proposed the definition of hiyaoroshi as “type of sake that is brewed in the coldest season and fermented through the entire summer to be shipped out at the best condition of fermentation in early autumn,” though it will continue to review the definition.
  • Association for Long Term Aged Sake calls sake that has been stored for maturity for five years or longer hizo-shu (treasured sake).
  • Rice for sake brewing is steamed and used for koji making, shubo making and shikomi (preparation). Among all the uses, part of the steamed rice to be cooled and directly added to tank for shikomi is called kakemai.
    Since koji rice and kakemai have different roles for sake brewing, variety of rice to be used for each roll could be different, including usage of relatively inexpensive edible rice for kakemai. In the whole amount of rice used for sake brewing, about 20% is koji rice for making koji, about 10% for making shubo, and about 70% for kakemai; this kakemai exercises considerable influence over the taste of sake. For this reason, sake breweries tend to use sake-exclusive rice for premium sake.
  • In modern days, some sake breweries are built like a large refrigerator to create an environment for year-round brewing. This environment makes brewing possible all through the year, even in summer time by providing low temperatures that are suitable for brewing. On the other hand, based on the opposite concept, sake brewing in the middle of Edo Period seemed to have been performed all through the year even though there was no refrigerator, maybe because they did not pay much attention to such a delicate processing as the modern one. Since sake brewed in winter season tasted better than other seasons, it looks like sake brewing in the coldest season had a good reputation in those days.
    As time goes by, high-class or premier sake has begun to be brewed mostly in the midwinter when the temperature goes down, and this is also called kanzukuri.
  • It is a sake with moromi solids that are left after moromi is pressed by using a coarse cloth or filter. When pasteurized, it becomes Nigorizake (cloudy sake), and when unpasteurized, it becomes kassei seishu. Though the flavor depends on the existence of pasteurization, unpasteurized sake keeps on fermentation at room temperature, so it may spill over when the bottle is opened. Keep the bottle in a refrigerator and take enough time to open it.
  • The quantity of sake cake in relation to the original white rice. In recent years, sake cake has been often used, valued and focused on. For sake manufacturers, it’s natural that they want to make sake as much as possible. Unfortunately, depending on the weather of the year, sometimes harvested rice may be too hard to be solved, or koji may not be good enough or too weak to solve the rice. In such cases, kasubuai gets higher.
  • Jumai-shu, Junmai-ginjo and Junmai-daiginjo that are brewed at a single location. Even if brewed in the same brewery, if the location is moved or something from another kura is added, the sake cannot be called ki-ippon.
  • Kijo-shu is what tastes similar to noble rots or ice wines, and this is made with a different brewing process from that of usual sake. Sake is normally brewed with a starter made of koji, steamed rice, and water, but half of the water is replaced by sake when making kijo-shu. Kijo-shu, therefore, is a type of sake brewed with sake. Its complex sweetness and lasting aftertaste makes it perfect as an aperitif or with desserts. It also tastes wonderful when poured over fruit or ice cream just like port wine.
  • To brew sake using shubo (yeast starter) made with kimoto style yeast raising, where an environment friendly for lactic acid to grow is created to wait until the acid starts growing naturally. The lactic acid is produced using bacteria taken in from the natural air, and has property to prevent unwanted micro-organisms from growing. However, it is such a hard work to create the environment by mashing and griding rice and rice koji with large paddles. This process is called “Yama-oroshi” or “Motosuri,” a brewing method believed to be completed by the beginning of the Edo period.
  • A kojibuta is a shallow wooden tray-like box used to make koji in the koji-muro, or koji-making room. After sprinkling tane-koji (koji mold) over steamed rice and being cultivated, the koji rice is divided into small portions and cut and turned over (to mix the entire koji rice). Each portion is then laid out in kojibuta and five boxes are stacked on top of each other, rotating the stacking order so that koji is cultivated evenly in each box by controlling the temperature. This procedure is called kojibuta method, or tray koji method.
    Kojibuta boxes are made of cedar or cypress wood, with dimensions of around 55x34x7cm. One made of natural Akita cedar wood with a hand-axed single bottom plate should be inevitably expensive, due to its high quality and master’s technique for production. Since process of koji making takes are a lot of hands, in these days, larger wooden boxes are used, or koji rice is often cut and turned over as it is laid out on a table called toko (bed) in the koji-muro. Many breweries use kojibuta only for brewing ginjoshu or higher type.
  • Some alcohol is brewed slowly through multiple parallel fermentation, which enables brewed liquors/beverages to have a high alcohol content, such as 19-20%. At this point, as the self-made alcohol kills yeast, an increase of alcohol content stops, and the sake at this level can be categorized into Seishu under the relevant law which defines Seishu as an alcoholic beverage of less than 22% alcohol. Some breweries dare to increase the alcohol content almost to the limit.
  • Sake using not yellow koji but white koji or using lactic acid bacteria, so as to increase the acidity level in the sake. In old days, acidity used to be considered as a cause of bad sake, however, in modern days, depending on the finish of sake, some acid sake go well with meat dishes and have been preferred.
  • Sake brewed within the season is called shinshu (new sake), and one brewed during previous seasons or before is called koshu, or aged sake. Association for Long Term Aged Sake calls “Sake that has been matured at the brewery for three years or longer, except saccharide -added liquor” matured aged sake.
  • The last stage before sake is squeezed out is moromi, or fermenting mash. After mixing shubo (yeast starter) and koji into shikomisui (mashing water), steamed rice is thrown in the mizu-koji (the above mentioned mixture or water and koji) and stirred. This is the first shikomi (mashing) called hatsuzoe (first addition). The second day is “Odori (dancing).” It is a resting day for kobo (yeast) to propagate well. Watching the temperature carefully, shikomi is performed two more times, on the third day “Naka (intermediate),” the fourth day “Tome (stop),” three times in total.
    Afterwards, starch of rice changes to glucose, then to alcohol, thus sake. The time period from tome shikomi to pressing is moromi stage, and the number of days for moromi stage is usually 15 to 20 days for regular sake, and 35 to 40 days at low temperature for ginjoshu. After pressing moromi, it is separated into sake and sakekasu, or sake lees.
  • As the name explains, nama-chozo-shu is stored before pasteurization. And hi-ire (pasteurization) is performed before shipping for heat sterilization. That is, only a second hi-ire, instead of regular procedure of twice, is performed. When stored unpasteurized, sake is fresh and with koso (enzymes) still remained, so the flavor gets matured while stored. In order to maintain the flavor, hi-ire is performed before shipping to stop further fermentation. It is also called nama-cho in short.
  • Nama-zake is shipped out before hi-ire (pasteurizing) after pressing. Its freshness of new-born sake is enjoyable, though it used to be only available at each brewery. Basically it is shipped out as soon as pressing, but after maturing for several months at a low temperature, summer sake is also getting popular in recent years.
    Due to remaining kobo (yeast) and koso (enzymes), as the taste changes, carbohydrate gas emits. Opening the lid sometimes requires careful attention. Also, since there may be some remaining bacteria which could deteriorate the quality, it must be stored in a low temperature.
  • Nama-zume-shu is shipped out without a second hi-ire (pasteurization for heat sterilization). Although it is getting more popular to store such sake in bottles, it is generally stored in tanks and bottled at the time of shipping, omitting a second hi-ire. In fact, it is not exactly nama (unpasteurized) because a first hi-ire is performed. The name may have come from the omission of a second hi-ire. By performing a first hi-ire after pressing, sake is matured in the condition where hi-ochi bacteria which may deteriorate the quality of sake are killed and further change of quality caused by koso (enzymes) is prevented. Hiyaoroshi is a type of nama-zume-shu.
  • Arabashiri / Nakadori / Seme
    Also called nakatori, nakakumi, or nakadare.
    Nakadori is obtained after arabashiri before pressing sake. After arabashiri, clearer sake flows out in the process of pressing sake bags by gradually applying slight pressure. Nakadori has the most balanced aroma and taste. Sake labeled "Nakadori" on the bottle is relatively good in quality. Thus, sake that enter competitions is often nakadori. Especially, the pressure-free portion of nakadori is regarded as the highest quality.
  • Sake brewed within the current year. As a brewing year (BY) indicates one year between July 1st and June 30th, sake shipped during the period is the new sake. This means, generally, rice harvested in fall is used for sake brewing and it is pressed before spring, so the sake shipped until June is the new sake.
  • Sake that is pasteurized after pressing the fermented moromi by using a coarse cloth or filter. It is like Doburoku which is not brewed by pressing the moromi, but Doburoku belongs to “Other fermented liquors (beverages)”, while Nigorizake belongs to Seishu. Unpasteurized sake is called Kassei Seishu.
  • A degree of sugar calculated by the specific gravity of sake. A specific gravity of sake at 15 degrees Celsius shall be ±0. It is measured by floating a hydrometer in the sake. The higher the sugar content, the higher the specific gravity becomes, then the hydrometer floats higher and the value reads lower. On the other hand, dryness comes from the amount of alcohol, so the higher the alcohol level, the lower the specific gravity becomes. Then the hydrometer sinks, and the value reads higher. The value range for the most sake is between 0 and +—5.0.
    Even so, since the actual taste has relations with acidity, umami and various kinds of elements, we cannot assume that the sake is sweet or dry just based on the value. However, this can be a rough standard.
  • It is generally called Origarami, which might be more popular among people. Traditionally, there is a stage called oribiki, being almost the last processing of sake brewing. It is to urge settlement of white floating substances that inevitably remain after the moromi is pressed, and then to remove the sediments (ori). Orizake is the sake having sediments that are purposely left by using a coarse cloth or filer for pressing the moromi. So this sake, of course, is bottled without removing sediments. Though the taste and flavor depend greatly on the existence of pasteurization, orizake seems to be often pasteurized.
  • The desirable components for sake brewing are locked in the core of a grain of sake rice. The outer portion of the rice, therefore, is milled away to make clear-tasting, good quality sake. The “rice polishing rate”, in other words how much of the rice grain is remaining after the polishing, is an important indicator for sake’s character, and can be found noted on its label. For example, when it is noted “rice polishing rate: 60%”, this means the grain was polished down to 60% of its original weight, and 40% of the outer portion has been milled away. There are also some special sake using rice polished at less than 10%. The more the rice is polished, the clearer the sake tastes; however, when the rice is polished, it loses the genuine umami – the flavor of the rice. In order to brew a more full-flavored sake, now, an increasing number of brewers are using less of polished rice, going against the latest trend of high rice polishing rate ranging from 60% to 80% in recent years. (Refer to “Specially Designated Sake”)
  • Sakabayashi, or sugitama, is hung at the entrance of sake breweries in late fall. As its name suggests, it is a large ball made up of cedar twigs and tips. A green sugitama tells us new sake had been made, and when it dries and becomes brown, it indicates that the sake has been matured. When wooden buckets were mainly used for sake brewing, barrels were made of cedar wood. For breweries that deal with microorganisms, bacteria that affect sake brewing are natural enemies. It is said that breweries hang the sugitama with hopes for cedar to keep away such enemies with its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. The origin of sugitama is said that Oomononushino-ookami, the main shrine father of Oomiwa Shrine, in Nara, which worship Miwayama (Mt. Miwa) covered with cedar trees as the spirit of a deity, hung a bundle of cedar leaves at the entrance of a sake cellar. After the prayer festival for the safe sake brewing in November, ‘shirushi-no-sugitamas’ are bestowed as a token of the prayer to all the attended brewers across Japan to be delivered nationwide.
  • Most sake is brewed with “sake rice”, a specific variety of rice that contains components suited for sake-making. Sake rice is different from those selected for eating, and counts over 80 varieties in its own category. One of the most popular sake rice amongst sake brewers is Yamada Nishiki, which is sometimes called the “king of sake rice.” Most of this prized rice is cultivated in Hyogo Prefecture, with some in Okayama and Fukuoka Prefectures. Other popular varieties include Gohyakumangoku, Omachi, and Miyamanishiki. In addition, each prefecture promotes a few varieties of their original sake rice as well. With today’s technology, however, ordinary staple rice eaten with meals can also be brewed into delicious sake.
  • Arabashiri / Nakadori / Seme
    Also called seme, semetori, or oshikiri. Seme is the last part of the pressing after collecting nakadori. The proportion of arabashiri, nakadori, and seme is not fixed. Although it depends on toji’s judgement, seme is said to be about the last 5% that can be obtained by applying high pressure at the end of squeezing. Although seme has some unfavorable taste and is not well-balanced, thus being inferior in quality, you can still enjoy the umami and originality of the sake. Unlike arabashiri and nakadori, seme is rarely distributed alone. It is often mixed with other sake on the market. But recently, some breweries began to bottle seme without mixing it with other sake to let consumers enjoy its uniqueness.
  • Sensory evaluation allows to rate the quality felt by people’s senses, such as taste and vision. This application was developed based on specialists’ unique ingredient analysis and evaluation for rating the tastes and fragrances. The technique of the analysis made for this sensory evaluation is set in accordance to the Japanese National Tax Administration Agency’s standards, and the expressions used for its rating is based on the guidelines of Japan Sake
  • In order to brew sake, a large amount of yeast is required. Therefore, shubo is cultured in large quantity from high quality yeast in a smaller tank than brewing tanks. Shubo is also called moto, so shubo making is also called moto-date.
  • A total rice amount used for brewing one tank of sake. Rice is steamed to be used for different kinds of purposes; kojimai (rice used for making koji), shubomai (rice used for making the yeast starter), and kakemai (rice used for mashing). Somariryo is the total amount of these rice.
  • Sparkling sake is generally called sparkling sake or happo seishu. There are several types, such as one with in-bottle secondary fermentation method ation to obtain carbohydrate gas like champagne, simply unpasteurized sake bottled with kobo and koso (enzymes) remaining, roughly filtered sake bottled in the middle of fermentation called kassei-nigori (active unclear sake), and one with carbohydrate additive after hi-ire (pasteurization).
  • Most exported sake is made with utmost care, polishing up quality rice, then managing the brewing with precise temperature control, and this is what gets labeled as “specially designated sake.” Sake is classified into eight different categories based on many strict rules and guidelines. The quickest way to understand this, however, is either to look at the rice polishing rate, or to check how much the Sake contains added distilled alcohol, because most classifications are based on Sake a combination of these two factors. When the rice polishing rate is lower than 60%, the sake is classified as “Ginjo”, then when the polishing rate is lower than 50%, this is classified as “Daiginjyo.” When the sake is made only with rice, koji and water, without any distilled alcohol, it is classified as “jummai.” In addition, when the ginjo sake is made without distilled alcohol, this is classified as “jummai ginjo.” Similarly, “jummai daiginjo” is when the daiginjo sake had been made without any distilled alcohol. On the other hand, when the sake is made with distilled alcohol, and the polishing rate is lower than 70%, this is classified as “honjozo.” Jummai and honjozo can be further specified either as “tokubetsu jummai” or “tokubetsu honjozo” respectively if their polishing rate is lower than 60%.
  • Sake has a higher alcohol content in the category of fermented liquors/beverages. Because of this, some people find it too harsh to drink. Even when the alcohol of sake is decreased to 16% by adding water, generally, quite a lot of people think it still has a high alcohol content. Also, the alcohol content can be further lowered by adding water, however, it has a risk of becoming watery. So, there are many low alcohol sake made by suspending the fermentation in the middle of the stage.
  • Even roughly classified, sake quality gradually changes during press such as from arabashiri to nakadori to seme. When pressing, some premium sake is directly poured in a tobin (18-litre bottle) instead of regular tanks, which enables quality evaluation for each tobin, as well as easier temperature control.
    When sake is entered in a competition, the best quality portion from the volume that is pressed using hanging-bag method without giving any pressure is selected for submission. Tobin-tori means to take dripping sake after press directly into a tobin, while Tobin-kakoi is to keep such sake as is in a tobin.
  • A toji corresponds to a master carpenter. They are chief executives who produce sake for the specified quality and amount to meet expectations of the kuramoto. At the same time, they organize, take the leadership of, take care of, give directions to and manage kurabitos for a brewing team. So a toji needs to be a person with high integrity.
    Sake brewing used to be performed all year round (shikijozo). However, in the Edo Period, it changed to a kanzukuri style and the brewing work became a winter seasonal work for those who were engaged in agriculture and forestry. A toji used to find kurabitos from the local area and work for the brewery he was hired.
    Nowadays, as a seasonal work system may be inappropriate in the society, there is a variety of patterns, such as a kuramoto working as a toji or an increasing number of annually hired tojis, manufacturing managers or kurabitos.
  • The Yamada Nishiki rice is known as the finest and most preferred rice for sake brewing. It is essential for brewing ginjo-shu.
    The major reasons for such high reputation are; it is a large and hard grain having the size of 1.3 times as large as table rice, which makes the rice grain hard to crack even with the higher rice-polishing ratio; the shinpaku (white core) gets bigger and clearer with the size of grain; it has less zatsumi (unrefined taste) because of a low protein content; and it is more soluble than other rice. For these reasons, some of tojis say they choose Yamada Nishiki to be on the safe side.
    This strain was created by cross-breeding Tankan Wataribune as father and Yamadaho as mother in 1923 at the time when rice strain improvement was promoted by the national government. It was authorized by the Hyogo Prefectural Agricultural Research Institute in 1936 and become well known with the ginjo-shu boom.
    The rice grown in the special A district including Miki City and Kato City is highly regarded as the finest of all.
  • A method of kimoto-style shubo making. In the late Meiji period, instead of the traditional way of making kimoto by mashing and grinding rice and rice koji, it was discovered that the same effect is obtained when adding steamed rice into mizu-koji, which is made by mixing koji enzyme in a tank of water. Then the hard work of yama-oroshi is omitted (“haishi” in Japanese), and this new method is called yamahai and the shubo made this way is called yamahai-moto. It called Yamahai-Jikomi that brew with this method by using yamahai-moto.
  • Sake has higher alcohol content among brewed alcoholic beverages. Drinking water along with sake helps soften the stimulation of alcohol in the body. Such water is called yawaragi-mizu, equivalent to chaser for western liquors. Although each person has difference in the amount of enzyme to help digest alcohol, some say that drinking water two or three times the amount of sake is good.
  • With regard to food additives for sake such as jozo alcohol (refined alcohol) or saccharides to add taste, when brewing specially designated sake, it is allowed to add only 10% or less of the total weight of rice used for brewing, while using up to 50% of the weight of white rice is allowed for zojo-shu. It is a kind of futsu-shu (regular/table sake).