Sake,which is originated from the same root of Japanese national food, rice, has become a new symbol of Japanese culture recognized by people worldwide. With the development of past 2000 years, Japanese Sake finally starts to walk into the world and enters into everyone’s life, nowadays, it’s not rare to find Sake from a five-star hotel in America, as well as a Japanese restaurant in Australia. However, Sake, being served as a normal drink in Japan, in most foreign people’s eyes, is still very mysterious. In this article, we will unveil the mystery of Sake and provide some basic Sake knowledge for you.
I believe before wine got popular around the world people’s first question on it is what is wine? To solve this doubt that you may also have on Sake, here in the first part of the article, we will give you a brief introduction on Sake.
In Japan, people call Sake Nihonshu. It can be also called as Japanese rice wine, it’s a kind of alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice which has been polished to a certain point of rate. The main ingredients to make Sake are quality of Sake rice, water, koji and yeast. The brew process for Sake is different from beer and wine, where the conversion from starch to sugar and then from sugar to alcohol occurs in two distinct steps. For Sake, it’s a sophisticated production method called parallel fermentation that combines the processes of saccharization and fermentation, which is the alcoholic content between 16%~20%.
Below is an average alcohol content chart of different alcohol.
Many new kinds of Sake have been made during the past 100 years with the development of sake making technology. Based on different criteria, Sake can be mainly classified as below:
Classify from the degree of polishing
Rice grain needs to be polished before using as Sake rice, generally speaking, the more polished the rice is, the premium the Sake will become. The polish is to remove the outer layers of the grain, which contains an abundance of vitamins, fats, and protein. It is especially important to reduce protein, because during fermentation, protein breaks down into amino acids that can taste bitter. More polishing results in lighter, cleaner tasting Sake.
For premium Sake, normally polish rate is around 40%. Below are two kinds of primary premium Sake. (Polish rate = the percentage of remaining rice)
Ginjo, at least 40% of the grain has been polished away.
Daiginjo, at least 50% of the grain has been polished away.
Classify from the addition of alcohol
In order to reduce the process time of the Sake and increase the Sake shelf-life, sometimes, brewers choose to have a little added, distilled alcohol (often listed as “brewers’ alcohol” on the bottle) in the Sake. This will not only help to stabilize the Sake quality but also increase Sake’s taste and aroma differently based on the alcohol been added into. Under this criterion, there are mainly below 2 kinds of Sake.
Junmai, no alcohol has been added to the Sake.
Honjozo, a small amount has been added to fasten the speed of Sake brewery as well as improve the flavor.
Besides above, there are other popular Sake as well. Their making process as well as taste are more special due to the specific brewer process. Here is the introduction.
Above is a roughly introduction of different kinds of Sake (Nihonsyu), we can learn that the producing process and ingredient varies within different Sake. As mentioned earlier, Sake has started walking into the world and showing up in many high-level hotels or restaurants. A report posed in 2018 states that the Japanese Sake exportation has been at a record high for the last 8 years, and America remains the primary export partner. But what can make people except Japan start to love Sake, and what are the differences between Sake and other alcohol beverage?
The main ingredient for Sake is rice, and Japan is the country of rice. Rice can be divided into mainly 2 kinds here in Japan; One for food use while the other one for Sake specific use. The special Sake rice only exists in Japan makes Sake taste richer and original. This is the key factor makes Sake special than other alcohol or Sake made in other countries. The original Sake made in Japan is famous for its taste of Umami and Kokumi, which has been called as the fifth and sixth taste existed except sweet, salty, sour, bitter.
Umami is a loanword from the Japanese (うま味), umami can be translated as “pleasant savory taste”. This neologism was coined in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda from a nominalization of umai (うまい) “delicious”. The compound 旨味 (with mi (味) “taste”) is used for a more general sense of a food as delicious. Kokumi was a more recent discovery also by the work of Japanese researchers in 1989. It was found that the addition of a pure, tasteless water extract of garlic evoked the kokumi sensation in a dilute solution of glutamate and inosinate.
Both umami and kokumi taste sensations are activated by amino acids or small peptides. Researchers postulate that umami and kokumi are evolutionary sensations that point to the presence of proteins and amino acids in a food, much like sweet is an indicator for carbohydrates, sour for acids, salts for minerals, and bitter for poisons. Umami flavor is strongly associated with the presence of the amino acids’ glutamic acid and aspartic acid. The extract alone possessed no flavor at the concentration threshold used, however, the addition of the two synergistic umami components brought out a noticeable garlic flavor to the extract with the characteristic mouthfulness associated with kokumi. That is to say, Umami means the savoriness, Kokumi means the richness and deliciousness of the food and drink.
With such a compatible rich and delicious flavor, Sake can pair well with most of the food and dishes. The birth of Sake in Japan proves that the match between Sake and Japanese cuisine is the perfect. That is why you can see there are always Sake available in Japanese restaurant. The fresh Japanese sashimi, and sushi are no doubt the best partner of Sake. However, Sake can also pair well with other food rather than Japanese cuisine. Taking Nigori Sake for example, it can pair well with spicy food, as the milky texture and creaminess can reduce the strong sensation of the spiciness and improve the food taste. Namazake, with the fresh and fruity flavor, can pair well with heavy dish, such as fried dish or creamy dish. Sparkling Sake, which has caused a boom in Japan market in recently years, is famous for pairing with juicy, crisp fruit salad. You can choose the fruit like apples, pears, grapes, melon, and strawberries in your bowl or design it based on your personal likes, topping it with yogurt or honey. Sparkling sake will also give you a different fruit salad enjoyment. The fizziness will ease the weight of the yogurt, while the fruity, subtly sweet palate will aid to enhance the flavors of the fruit.
Above are just some common pairing suggestions for Sake. There are no absolute pairing rules since people’s tastes are different and the richness of Sake flavor is different as well. You will have to try different Sake on your own, and we are sure that you will find one kind of Sake you could fall in love with definitely.
But probably you will ask, there are so many kinds of Sake and how could I know which one I should start with? Well, don’t worry, we’ve thought about that. In the next part, we’ll give you some recommendations.
There are actually two categories of Sake in Japan: 1. tokutei-meisho-shu, which literally means specially designated Sake. 2. futsu-shu, which literally means non-premium Sake. Some of the Sake we talked about above are Junmai, Ginjo, Honjozo, which are all categorized as tokutei-meisho-shu. Brewers have to follow certain guidelines when making tokutei-meisho-shu to ensure a higher quality product. Futsu-shu is Sake that has not been made up to tokutei-meisho-shu standards and contains more additives and distilled alcohol than tokutei-meisho-shu as well. You will find that a lot of cheap restaurants and izakaya serve cheap futsu-shu in Japan.
For beginner who doesn’t know the taste of Sake, it’s better to start with premium Sake with strong Sake aroma and taste, such as Ginjo, (only 8% to 9% of all Sake brewed is Ginjo grade), with at least 40% polish rate, or Junmai Daiginjo, which is regarded as the highest-grade Sake. The best products in this class deliver a good blend of refined taste with acidity and umami.
Another reason why we suggest Ginjo is going well with wine glass. You don’t need to be worried about that the Sake from Japan must be drank in a Sake cap called Ochoko. When served slightly chilled in a wine glass, it can delight the novice drinker to feel more taste such as fruits or flowers aroma in the Sake. Ginjo is the one which is easy to let Sake beginner appreciate Sake and also not too strong for a start.
Maybe you’ll ask, why should we enjoy Sake in wine glass? Sake and wine are so different, will wine glass work fine for Sake? The answer is totally yes, I guess the knowledge you have before tells you that Sake should drink only with Japanese Sake cup. But in our recent interview with the American Sake expert Gordon Heady, who has lived in Japan for over ten years, he suggested us to learn to enjoy Sake in wine glass. His reasons for choosing wine glasses over the traditional Ochoko or cup is because the wine glass allows the complex aroma of Sake to unfold fully. This is a nice thing for wine drinker because you don’t need to buy a Sake cup on purpose in order to drink it. A wine cup will be good enough.
So far, we talked about the basic information of Sake, to make you better understand the difference /characteristics of Sake, let’s have a comparison between wine and Sake.
The biggest difference in taste comes from the actual raw ingredient used in creating these drinks. Wine uses grapes as its main ingredient, and Japanese Sake mainly uses rice. Especially in their sweetness, contrary to what many people believe, Japanese Sake is sweeter than wine. And as such, Sake also has more calories than wine. A glass of Sake of 100 grams contains 103 calories whereas wine has about 83 calories for the same amount.
Sake is not put under controlled temperature like wine which is stored in cellars. The name of different types of Sake will also differ depending on the way it’s been drunk. There are more ways to enjoy Sake than drinking wine depending on different seasons with different temperatures. In the spring and fall, Sake is traditionally drunk in room temperature. In the summer, Sake is prepared as “Reishu”, or refrigerated Sake. While chilled Sake is the way to go in the summer, heated or warm Sake “Atsukan” is enjoyed in the winter.
Compared to wine, the special drinking way and the aroma of Sake may attract your taste buds and open a new experience for you. As an alcohol drink, Sake has been identified as less harmful and can generate good benefit to our body when we drink in moderation. The rich amino acid included in it will help improve our body immune system to some extent, and we will give you an introduction on this in another article. However, if you drink too much it will only generate bad rather than good. So, it is really important to enjoy Sake in a relaxed with a self-controlled spirit.
Japanese Sake, with a history of over 2000 years, shares a deep bond with Japan’s national food, rice. It has been praised as the most amazing invention in Japan by the American Sake expert, Gordon Heady, who has lived in Japan for over ten years. Gordon also mentioned that he used to be a wine drinker, but when he first tasted Sake, he fell in love with it immediately.
Not only the taste of Sake is as appreciable as wine, but also it is said that the Sake is less harmful to the body compares to other alcohol drinks and may generate good benefit to people when drink in moderation. As the old Japanese saying goes[酒は百薬の長], Which means the right amount of Sake can be as effective as medicine in the past.
With the development of modern medical science, we know this old saying is not hundred percent right. But this old saying does make sense to several kinds of diseases to some extent based on recent years study on alcohol. Actually, alcohol has been widely used in many aspects of our life already, if you observe carefully, you’ll find the alcohol (Isopropyl alcohol), which has been used widely in sanitizer, medical treatment for cleaning the wound, etc. However, drinking alcohol, which is known as Ethyl alcohol, scientific studies have found that the consumption of it is actually the root cause of some severe disease that human are likely to have. But considering from the social and culture side, ethyl alcohol is an Indispensable part in human history development and our daily life. So, learning how to choose the right alcohol which can harm the body the least is the most important thing to do. In this article, we are going to introduce you one of the healthiest alcohols that currently mainly consumed in one of the world’s cleanest countries, Japan. It is called Sake, or in a more precise way, Nihonshu.
As a drink existed in Japan for over 2000 years, Sake has been used in many ways. It’s served not just as an alcohol drink, but more like a cultural and social bond Infiltrated in Japanese people’s everyday life. During the Sake production process, people cooperated with each other, they learn about the rice growing knowledge, and with the knowledge they gained, it enriches Japanese rice agriculture. On the other hand, studies have found out that Sake has been proved to include around 700 kinds of nutrition ingredients, such as amino acid, vitamins, minerals, selenium, enzyme, peptide, etc. It’s true that people don’t need to drink sake to get these nutrients especially when they can also find these nutrients in other foods. But for alcohol drinker, if they can drink in moderation, Sake should generate more health benefits than other alcohol drinks when drinking in the same amount. Below is a comparation chart among Sake, beer and white wine from Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association.
(A Comprehensive guide to Japanese Sake by Japan Sake and Shochu makers Association. 2011,3)
As we all know, a strong immune system has been considered as the best protector for the human body. The job of immune system is to detect and destroy. It can protect us from getting the flu and decrease the duration of illness. Scientific studies have found out that there are many factors will influence the construction of immune system. Such as hygiene, sleep quality, nutrition intake, cortisol levels and Supplement Intake.
As one of the key factors that influence the composition of immune system, nutrients intake is what we are going to talk about in this article. From the factor of nutrition, for alcohol drinker, it is better to choose alcohol with higher nutrition. According to the WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2018, there are 2.348 billion people (43% of the population) are current drinkers. And Alcohol is consumed by more than half of the population in only three WHO regions – the European Region (EUR) (59.9% of current drinkers), the Region of the Americas (AMR) (54.1%) and the Western Pacific Region (WPR) (53.8%). In all these top regions, people mainly consume beer and wine. But as we can see from Table 1.1, the amount of Glutamic acid content that can generate a lot of health benefits included in Sake, is the highest compared with Beer and white wine. (Almost five times or more in Sake than wine/beer). If we analyze different alcohol from the view of nutrition factor, it means that Sake should be the wisest choice.
Glutamic acid is an amino acid used to form the protein, protein takes about 20% in the human body and it is one of the key factors in constructing the immune system.
One of the amino acids compound found in the highest concentrations in sake is selenium, a mineral that straightly connects to people’s metabolism. Study has shown that immune cell function and metabolism are closely linked. The alterations in cellular metabolism influence immune cell function, and conversely, immune cell function determines the cellular metabolic state.
Since Sake has the highest nutrition content (Glutamic acid) inside of it, so when you consume the same amount of alcohol, it will benefit your immune system and metabolism system at the largest percentage compare to wine and beer.
There are many chemical skin care products that have been used by women around the world. It’s true that using them can make your skin look shiny and smooth. But the consequences of using chemical cosmetics might cause many skincare issues. When you take off your make-up, it will hurt your skin, make your skin look dark, and cause rough pore, age spot and acne problems, etc. Instead, non-chemical skincare products, as they’re from plant-based sources, are really skin-friendly and gentle. You’ll be able to achieve the same brightening effects from natural ingredients instead of exposing your skin to harsh, toxic chemicals. In this article, we will introduce the Japanese Sake, which mainly comes from rice grain, is also one of the natural healthiest materials for skincare as well.
The rice, which has been used as the main material for Sake production, is full of minerals, vitamins, amino acids. As we discussed earlier, the content of amino acid on itself has many good effects. It can brighten, tighten, and soften the skin, and these benefits remain intact even when rice is converted into rice water. The slightly acidic pH levels created during the rice fermentation process support cell regeneration, minimized pores, and brighter skin.
As we mentioned that Sake has been served as a national drink for about 2000 years, it is also said that Sake has been used as a skin toner for centuries in Japan. A fun fact is that Koji mold, which containing skin-pampering kojic acid, is the national mold of Japan! The process of making sake dates back to about the third century AD. From way back when, the skin beneficial properties of rice were obvious. It’s no folklore that sake producers were known for having the most beautiful and softest skin in town.
The Sake lees and Koji have a variety of substances that inhibit performance of melanin, which is the main culprit of sun spots, age spots and freckles. The kojic acid in Sake can help moist your skin. Alcohol in Sake can also be a useful addition to help ingredients penetrate the skin, preserve the product, and make it feel lightweight in applied. For Sake added cosmetics, normally they will also add other nutrients such as fruit acids or vitamin C, it will give the thirsty skin cells a much-needed hydration boost.
Sake added cosmetics can also help ease the symptom of acne because they can help tighten your pores. Acting as a natural astringent, it can help reduce inflammation and redness of severe acne as well as reduce appearance and size of pores.
Since sake is good for our skin, besides adding sake in cosmetics, you can also add sake into your bath to give yourself a treat. Normally around 700 ml should be enough for a good Sake bath. If you also like to drink Sake, it will be the best match to enjoy sake with a sake bath!
For alcohol drinker, sometimes it is inevitable that the over drink situation can happen and cause hangover. A hangover is the experience of various unpleasant physiological and psychological effects following the consumption of alcohol, such as wine, beer, and distilled spirits. Hangovers can last for several hours or for more than 24 hours. Typical symptoms of a hangover may include headache, drowsiness, concentration problems. The severity of a hangover is closely linked to how much alcohol the person has consumed and how much sleep they have had. In the vast majority of cases, hangover symptoms are resolved after about 24 hours. There is no absolute cure, but people can take steps to relieve many of the symptoms. One way to avoid hangover is to choose your alcohol wisely.
1. Be sure to drink the same amount of water as sake. Since sake’s alcohol content is pretty high, if you drink an equal amount of water, it will neutralize the alcohol content in your body. There’s actually a culture of drinking water called “yawaragi” in Japan, which is to use water soften the sake’s alcohol impact on the drinker.
2. Be sure to drink slowly. Similar to wine, it is not the kind of alcohol that you want to gulp down. It’s best to enjoy one little taste at one time and whet your tongue and not your throat.
3. Try to warm the sake up. Alcohol only begins to take effect to body temperature after warmed up. That’s why it can seem like it’s easier to get drunk off of hot sake. However, you also sober up faster from hot sake as the sake in your body cools down. From the point of view of avoiding hangover, it is actually recommended drinking hot sake to people who have trouble pacing themselves drinking sake. All in all, after discussing benefits of drinking sake to decrease the chance of getting hangover, it is better to control the amount of Sake people should drink. Drink in moderation should be the first rule no matter what kinds of alcohol drink.
Above we discussed about the health benefits of Sake compared to other drinks when drink in moderation. According to Japanese Nutrition institution, the right amount for people to drink Sake is around two go, which is around 360ml. For alcohol drinkers, instead of enjoying wine and beer, we believe that sake is a more comparatively healthy choice for you. So why don’t you start your journey with sake and enjoy alcohol in a healthier way?
Founded in 1675, Masuda Tokubee Shoten, with the longest Sake brewery history in Fushimi area, has been seen as the original Sake brewery for Nigori Sake and Aged Sake.
In 1964, Masuda Tokubee Shoten became the first in the world to work on brewing Nigori Sake, and in the same year, they also released “Tsuki no Katsura” series Sake, which is a popular Sake brand now. The genre of “Nigori Sake” was established by succeeding the secondary fermentation within the bottle, which at that time no one has ever done. It was the moment when the so-called sparkling Sake came to birth.
The reason of Nigori Sake’s birth comes from the question of “why are there many kinds of wine such as red wine, white wine, and sparkling wine instead of Sake? Similar to wine, there should also be different styles of Sake, so why not let the old-fashion “Doburoku*” revive in a modern style”? Junichi Masuda, who is a brewer, mentioned that this was their start point of developing Nigori Sake”.
* Doburoku is the original state of Nigori Sake.
To realize the wish of letting Sparkling Sake be appreciated all over the world, and letting people who don’t like Sake to appreciate the special characteristics and seasonality of Sake, the brewery of Nigori Sake got started.
Now, Masuda Tokubee Shoten is also working on developing the Kyoto original yeast for Sake. They want to research and develop the Kyoto specific yeast to let people in the world enjoy the original Kyoto taste Sake. Meanwhile, they are also working on producing new Sake flavor that can pair well with food by using the mixing method of wine.
In this story, we will unveil the secret of Masuda Tokubee Shoten, who has the longest history and highest technology in Sake brewing, how they make Sake and why they can thrive until today.
First, in terms of the water, Masuda Tokubee Shoten can obtain abundant of water (underground water) from where they are located. It is even not an exaggeration to say that this is the greatest advantage in Sake brewing (you can find detailed information about the water condition in Fushimi area in our other articles).
Second, the Sake rice that Masuda Tokubee Shoten uses mainly comes from local paddy around Kyoto and most of them are cultivated without pesticides. The brewer works together with local Fushimi farmers (producers) from rice planting to harvesting, so they can understand the rice grow environment as well as the climate of each year. Through this, they can not only know the Sake rice quality but also support the local people to cultivate and revive local rice agriculture.
In Masuda Tokubee Shoten, as we learned, the Sake rice they use comes from two ways. One is the home-grown rice and the other is contract-grown rice. There is no difference between the home-grown rice and the contract-grown rice, but normally they use one type of rice to make one product in one preparation.
In terms of the process of Sake brewing, as introduced in the above picture, for different types of Sake, it is the same, but the preparation time differ from type to type depending on the temperature control and fermentation condition.
For example, Tsuki no Katsura pure-rice Sake (Junmai) needs 70 days to prepare from polishing to pressing, however, Nigori Sake (Junmai) needs about 55 days, and low alcohol percentage Sake only needs about 45 days for the same process. In addition, for Sake brewing method, Kimoto zukuri and Yamahai zukuri, the 3-step preparation, the 4-step preparation, sparkling Sake, aged Sake and extra, based on the different Sake types, the production time is different. So, it is hard to conclude the general process of Sake in one simple method as they all have their own characteristics. All the procedures are important and you cannot make tasty Sake if you lack even one of the making steps. Regarding the raw material processing, for example the steaming condition of rice, the next process is determined by how well the process before steaming the rice works.
It is because Sake is brewed while they control the fermentation of microorganisms, and it is difficult to make adjustments or changes during preparation.
“Besides, the temperature control during preparation period is also important. After the completion of pressing process, bottling, sterilization, cooling, logistics control of brewery and deliver to final customers, you should be careful of all process”, mentioned by Mr. Masuda.
Traditionally, it is said that Koji is the most important factor more than mash and brewing. Regarding this saying, it is just paid attention to the final Koji, but overlooked other procedures. We should know that all the process matters the same during or before preparing to make Koji. The rice planting, weather, rice harvesting, rice milling, water preparation for rice washing, rice soaking and rice steaming are all included in koji making process. Therefore, everything is linked together and it is important to make sure all the processes are in good place.
All in all, if you would like to make good Sake, you have to be cautious at each step of the Sake brewing process. In Masuda Tokubee Shoten, each of brewers shares the common goal on Sake brewing. Through this, they have built a cooperative system in the brewery. At the same time, they also pay attention to the health management of all the brewers.
The hygiene of the brewery is strictly controlled by daily disinfection, machine cleaning, and thoroughly sterilization by using an Ozone generator and Ozone water. Most of the Sake are sterilized after bottling and stored under cooling condition. However, if it is for aged Sake, it is normally storing in porcelain jar at room temperature. Mr. Masuda mentioned not only you had to pay attention to the storage environment, but also you had to keep the quality of Sake in order not to be influenced by the environment.
What is the motivation that keeps the brewery thrives for 345 years? — It lies in compassion for the next generation. Mr. Masuda said that the secret is that he devoted himself in constantly innovating on the basis of retaining traditional culture of Kyoto, and he has been thinking about how to pass the culture and technology to the next generation in a valuable way. He also thinks it’s important not to focus on trying to do something special but to enrich their current knowledge and innovate from it.
Mr. Kinichiro Sakaguchi, who was very knowledgeable about Sake, wrote in his famous book, “Japanese Sake”. In this book, he said, “the virtue of sake is that it has rich tastes and exists as natural as water”. Mr. Masuda agrees with this praise on Sake’s simpleness and richness as well as natural existence status. He hopes it’s not only about enjoying the Sake or food, but it’s about letting people’s appreciation and curiosity on sake come out naturally while they drink Sake. He also hopes the Sake he made can help people relax and improve the taste of the food.
It is hard to find Sake that goes well with food and makes people smile. But as a way for people to try it, Mr. Masuda recommend that sometimes you shall find a Sake that pair well with food by yourself like a sommelier.
Even for people who are not familiar with Sake, it is easier for them to drink the low alcohol Sake such as Tsuki no Katsura, Kasegigashira, Hofukuzetto, and sparkling Bikkuri gyoten. But for Nigori Sake, although it has a relatively high alcohol content around 17%, as a beginner of Sake, it has been recommended for women who rarely drink Sake and young people due to its special taste.
In addition, Mr. Masuda insisted that he really proud of the fact that in their brewery, everyone values the “seasonality” and “Individuality “of Sake the most. The “seasonality” refers to Nigori Sake, which is normally made around Nov and Dec and can be drank around New Year. It is the Sake that can let people taste the new Sake the earliest during the year, and thanks to this, Nigori Sake has been seen as the symbol of Sake’s seasonality.
“Individuality “of Sake refers to the specialty of Tsuki no Katsura, such as Nigori Sake, aged Sake, and Sake brewed by special rice. He hopes people who enjoy Tsuki no Katsura feel the specialty when drinking and consider Tsuki no Katsura as a symbol of “Individuality “of good Sake.
He also hopes people drink Sake not only based on other people’s suggestion or comments, but to try different Sake and find the one they can enjoy the most in their own way.
In the long term, Mr. Masuda predicted that there might be an increase of the Sake brewery around the world, and one of the plans he has for the future is they can start Sake OEM manufacture abroad.
Sake is considered to be the easiest alcohol drink in the world to pair with food, so they will keep working to develop new flavors of Sake that can pair well with food from all over the world, and they aim to average the sake exports amount (increase the proportion of exports) and domestic sales. In addition, remodeling the brewery to create an experience-based auberge is also envisioned in their future vision.
With the 345 years of Sake brew history, Masuda Tokubee Shoten has always stick to their original commitment on their Sake brewing. Their Sake includes not only traditional Japanese culture taste, but also Japanese spirit of new era.
We are sure that after knowing the history of Masuda Tokubee Shoten, you might be able to discover a new different taste when drinking their Sake!
One of the Sake series we recommend you this time is called “Tsuki no Katsura”, the manufacture of it is Masuda Tokubee Shoten which locates in Fushimi, Kyoto. As a Sake brew hometown, Fushimi, Kyoto has many famous breweries, such as Gekkeikan, Kizakura, Kinshi-Masamune, and Takara-Shuzo, same as Masuda Tokubee Shoten, they are all listed in the Fushimi Sake Brewery Association, which has been recognized as an important Sake manufacture group.
We all know the basic ingredients for Sake are rice, Koji (malted rice) and water. Among them, water is a major component of Sake. In this article, we will explain why Fushimi is popular in Sake brewing and why it is possible to make delicious Sake from the perspective of Fushimi’s topography and water quality.
Let’s start with the history of Fushimi. Fushimi, as the southern gateway of the ancient capital Kyoto, was the villas area for imperial family in Heian period. In Azuchi-Momoyama period, Fushimi Castle was built and the castle town was formed with it. During Edo period, it was also one of the key points of water transportation. In recent years, the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, which is famous for its Senbon (one thousand) Trii, has attracted tourists from all over the world.
The content of water is also one of the major factors.
The hardness of water is categorized depending on the amount of contained minerals. According to the WHO guidelines of water quality, hardness 0-60 is soft water, 60-120 is slightly soft water, 120-180 is slightly hard water, and 180 or more is very hard water. Based on this guideline, most of the water in Japanese rivers is considered as soft water.
On the other hand, underground water has a hardness of around 80 and belongs to slightly soft water. It has little iron content with good balance of Kalium, phosphorus and magnesium by natural filtration.
In Japan, tap water is safe enough to drink, but especially in urban areas, in order to keep the safety on high position, activated carbon is added and water is purified by ozone treatment. This treatment removes minerals and makes the water tasteless and odorless. If the amount of mineral content in Sake brewing water is high, yeast works actively and Sake becomes dry. On the contrary, if the mineral in the water is inadequate, alcoholic fermentation cannot be performed well, so it can be said that the hardness of water related to the contents is one of the most important factors.
Underground water, as we mentioned above, has little iron content that can cause loss of the aroma and flavor of rice. On the other hand, it contains an appropriate amount of minerals, which lets the fermentation process happen smoothly, and produce the Sake sweet and mild. This is the best requirement for Sake brewing.
Naturally, in order to continue to ensure the best conditions of Sake brewery, it is necessary to protect the surrounding environment as well from the perspective of water quality conservation. Sake breweries carry out the inspection about water quality every year and the quality standard of underground water is stricter than that of tap water. Masuda Tokubee Shoten, which is famous for “Tsuki no Katsura”, also uses underground water to make Sake, and they take great care of the wells that pump underground water.
If you have opportunities to visit Japan, you should be also interested in the quality of the water, taste the water and enjoy the Sake which made from clean water in this area.
－Ground Water Artery Beneath the Surface of the Earth for a Thousand Years Sleeps in Kyoto Underground
Generally speaking, the process of making Japanese Sake is by putting moromi into a Sake bag, squeezing the bag with pressure, and then separating moromi into Sake lees and liquid. The clear liquid, which comes out after the filter process, is the ordinary Japanese Sake.
Before we learn about the details of Nigori Sake, let’s learn about a word that has been often used in Sake world, it is “moromi”. Moromi is the form of alcohol-fermented rice before final Sake been made. According to The Society for Nada Sake, moromi has below definition: “This is the name for the fermenting mass made by mashing shubo (or just yeast in the case of kobo-jikomi), steamed rice, koji and water together. Immediately after mashing, moromi is like a solid mass of swollen rice grains, but it begins to soften as saccharification proceeds.”
As the fermentation goes, the state of Moromi will start to change from sweet and hard to alcohol dry and soft, and the final status of it will become totally liquid. In the middle of fermentation, the mixture which has been produced is called doburoku. This is the form of liquid with some left rice, and an original form of what we want to introduce to you today, the base of Nigori Sake.
For Nigori Sake, instead of using the normal Sake bag, breweries will choose to use rough Sake bag to let some of the rice mix in the liquid on purpose. During the squeezing and separating process, Nigori Sake remains amounts of sediment which separated from Sake lees. The sediment turns to be cloudy status and the liquid becomes “Nigori Sake”.
Generally speaking, Japanese Sake uses the heat-treated method, called “hiire”, which is to stop the fermentation in order to postpone the Sakes’s storage lifetime. Different from this, the Sake bottled with yeast alive without hiire is called “Active Nigori Sake”, and similar to champagne, it has a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Thanks to the second fermentation, it will give the Sake a foaming feeling when you drink it.
Therefore, it is important to distribute and store Sake at a lower temperature than wine. Without the cold chain system, Japanese Sake, especially “Active Nigori Sake” which maintains a rich quality among Sake, had not been able to be enjoyed outside of Japan for a long time.
While Nigori Sake is difficult to manage in distribution and sales, it is expected to be paired with various dishes and consumed in many scenes thanks to its refreshing foaming and fruity flavor. Since the limitation on how to maintain the quality of Nigori Sake is quite strict and the flavor of Nigori Sake is very special compared to other Sake, Nigori Sake is normally rare in the market and much more expensive than normal Sake.
For Nigori Sake or Sake without “hiire” treatment, it is essential to store them at ice temperature from-5 to 5 degrees Celsius.
Especially, if you want to fully enjoy the aroma of the “Active Nigori Sake”, it is suggested that the sales outlets can have cellars where they can store the Sake at the appropriate temperature and serve it with glass bottles. To put it in an easy way, it is similar to the methods of how to store good wine.
If the sales outlet doesn’t manage the storage of Sake properly, the original taste of Sake will be damaged, and most importantly, the deliciousness of Sake will not be recognized by customers. To see this in the long run, it will influence the sales of Sake in a bad way due to people’s miss recognition of its taste.
In the time of no cold chain distribution, Japanese Sake is famous for warm served, which is called “Atsukan”, but actually, it was completely different from the original taste of Japanese Sake.
If we take this example on wine, it will be same as letting someone who never drink wine drink the wine without proper temperature control, and when you serve hot wine you will make him/her think this is the right taste of wine. And they will not appreciate the real taste ever as the first impression they have is the wrong one. So, for sales outlets it’s important to be careful about the Sake storage.
When you open the stopper, Nigori Sake might spill out, so it’s better to open the stopper slowly and gently.
There are two ways to enjoy it, one is “drinking the sediment and the supernatant separately without mixing”, the other way is “Shake the bottle evenly to mix the contents inside”. The bottle should be tilted slowly as it might also spill out when drinking in the mixing way. Normally you store it in the refrigerator and drink it chilled, but you can also enjoy it at room temperature or by warming it up.
Besides, just like wine, the taste will start to change after opening, so it is suggested to finish the Sake as early as possible.
Compared to wine, Sake has a higher amino acid contents, and it is said that the amino acid makes it more enjoyable to pair well with food. In particular, since the main component of Nigori Sake is the sediment contained in rice and Koji which is an undecomposed part, Nigori Sake contains much of amino acids and can boost the Umami. (you can find detailed explanation on Umami in our other article)
Sake itself is a fermented drink and it goes well with fermented foods such as cheese and yogurt. Also, since Nigori Sake has thick and lactic acid taste, it can coat the spice stimulus on the tongue and remove the fat with acid when you have a heavy meal.
According to a survey, we found that it seems people likely to consume Nigori Sake in the restaurant as well as at home. As Nigori Sake is easy to enjoy, why don’t you grab a bottle of Nigori Sake and give it a try?
Nigori Sake is a special kind of Sake among Japanese Sake, and is favored by many people due to its special texture. In the first part of this article, we are going to give you a very detailed introduction on the brew process on Japanese Sake and Nigori Sake.
Generally speaking, alcohol can be classified into brewed liquor, distilled liquor and mixed liquor. Same as wine, Sake is recognized as brewed liquor, which is normally made by fermenting raw materials with yeast. However, the process is different from wine, the Sake brewing is a more complicated method than beer and wine, below is a general process for Sake production.
Since the raw material rice does not contain sugar, the first step is to realize the saccharification of sediment contained in rice and the second step is to make the fermentation of alcohol being carried out at the same time of saccharification in the same container. Such brewing method is called parallel double fermentation and this is peculiar to East Asia. By performing parallel double fermentation, it can boast the highest alcohol content of any brewed liquors in the world, and this is a remarkable technical featured in Sake brewing.
Japanese Sake is made by steaming rice after polishing, washing and soaking. Steamed rice is used in making koji, yeast mash, moromi, which is raw unrefined Sake. By putting moromi into a Sake bag, squeezing the bag with pressure, and then separating the Sake lees and liquid. The liquid is the original form of Sake, after the filter process, liquid becomes clear and it forms the ordinary Japanese Sake. Nigori Sake is made by using rough Sake bag, it will remain amounts of sediment in the liquid in separating from Sake lees. Then the sediment will turn to the cloudy status and the liquid becomes “Nigori Sake”.
Below is a detailed chart of Sake production.
There are about 20 types of Amino acids contained in Sake. Lysine, tryptophan, isoleucine, leucine and histidine are essential amino acids and cannot be generated by our body itself. Alanine is needed during exercise. Arginine, tyrosine and serin can adjust the function of internal section and circulatory system, and stimulate secretion of growth hormone. Glutamic acid can maintain immune function and retain digestive organs.
Sake has a charm point which cannot be found in the distilled liquor nor the same brewed liquor, wine. This is “Umami”. Compared with beer and wine, the content of Amino acid, which is the main Umami ingredients exits 80% in Sake, while in wine and beer it is only 10% and 30% respectively. Sake, especially Koji, which is the main component of the sediment in Nigori Sake contains the richest Amino acids and Vitamins. This makes Nigori Sake more appealing than other Sake as amino acid is necessary for human body.
The amino acids that consisted in the human body can help increase the production of immune cells. By strengthening their functions, it is very helpful to enhance immunity and build a body that is less susceptible to disease. Especially the three amino acids, glutamine, arginine and histidine can help to restore the immune system which tends to collapse. It is said that almost 20% of human body are made from amino acid.
In terms of taste, Nigori Sake has a thick and lactic acid feeling, it can coat the spice stimulus on the tongue and remove the fat with acid. Although due to the second time fermentation within the bottle, it’s hard to control the quality of Nigori Sake. But Nigori Sake can pair well with sour and spicy dishes since it has carbonic acid taste as well as the sweet and fruity taste thanks to the second fermentation.
Beer and wine have lots of charm points, but sake also has many interesting features.
So why don’t you dive into the world of Sake?