Local drinkThe art of brewing sake starts with creating a strong link with the land
What exactly is Japanese sake?
Sake is one of the greatest drinks the world of beverages has gifted to us. Sake is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Prepare to learn about how extraordinary people, known worldwide for their art and ceremonies, give rise to sake. We might just change your perspective on this delicious drink. But what exactly is sake? It is an alcoholic beverage made from rice, koji, yeast, water… and wisdom.
The process of sake making is similar to beer making in some respects, as the rice for sake is brewed like barley for beer. However, when it comes time to enjoy and taste sake, it seems more similar to wine due to its delicate yet complex aromas and flavors it can present.
Sake is a world to be explored; we will encourage our readers to approach this world and to prepare a legitimate space for a good bottle of sake in their drink shelves selection.
We would like to say thank you to “Obata Shuzo Sake Brewery” for providing us with all the images you see in this article.
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Sake making – the art of Japanese brewers
The process of sake making begins with washing the rice. It’s a delicate process that can affect the quality of the final product.
The following day, the rice is ready to be steamed. It takes about an hour to steam the rice – the condition of the steamed rice is checked by squeezing a handful of rice into a patty-like form called a “Hineri-mochi.” The steamed rice is quickly cooled. The main process of sake brewing starts here.
The three main pillars of sake brewing are:
1- Making koji
Steamed rice is carried into a special room: the “Kojimuro”.
Here the temperature and the humidity are kept high. Koji mold spores are sprinkled onto the spread-out rice. The rice is wrapped in cloth and allowed to sit for a full day to allow for thorough mold propagation.
The next morning the clumps are gently broken up and divided evenly in special wooden trays called “Kojibuta.” These tasks require concentration, patience, and great skill.
In three days the Koji is ready.
2- Preparing the yeast starter
Making sake requires high-quality, pure strains of yeast that will multiply to incredible numbers, these yeasts play a major role in sake fermentation.
The koji created in the previous step is added to water along with steamed rice and yeast.
The temperature is precisely controlled to help the yeast multiply smoothly.
3- Creating the fermenting mash
The completed yeast starter is transferred to a larger tank and more koji, steamed rice, and water are added.
The next day is known as the “Odori” and nothing is added. The following day however, larger amounts of koji, steamed rice, and water are added again and the same process and is repeated on the fourth day. This is the end of the fermented mash preparation called “Moromi.”
From this point on the “Moromi” will go through drastic changes. The Koji will convert the starch into glucose with the yeast will then use to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. The conversion of starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol takes place in parallel and in the same tank. This is known as multiple parallel fermentation and it is unique to sake.
The fermented “Moromi” is placed into cloth bags and the completed sake is separated from the remaining rice solids.
After this, the sake will be filtered, pasteurized, and matured, creating a well-rounded and richly aromatic sake. Sake brewers can chose to add some alcohol to their final product and others chose not to go through the pasteurization process.
Credit info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dVYS00TwfE
The producer – a small sake brewery on Sado island
Rumiko Obata is a 5th generation sake brewery owner. Obata family runs a sake brewery which is located on Sado island in the eastern part of the Sea of Japan. This small sake producer has been making sake since 1892.
The brewery has a deep sense of community as they work synergistically with local farmers and the environment to create a quality product and at the same time respect nature.
They buy rice from the farmers on Sado Island who deal with the mountainous landscape inaccessible for modern farming machinery. Small rice farmers cohabitate the island with toki, an endangered bird species. Therefore, their agricultural practices have been developed to protect and coexist with the toki and their habitats as the island became Japan’s first World Agriculture heritage site.
In 2014 they turned a beautiful old wooden abolished school into a sake brewery. They also give the sake-making experience program.
The school is based on four main principles:
What makes a good sake?
There’s not only one type of sake out there. There are hundreds of kinds of rice and hundreds of kinds of yeast, and the combination of these components can lead to a huge range of sake profiles.
Polishing determines the quality ratio of sake and fermentation is the process that mostly contributes to the style and flavors of sake.
It can be consumed warm or chilled depending on its characteristics and it can pair not only with Japanese food but with a variety of international dishes.
Sake has a wide range of styles as it can go from sparkling to aged sake, and with different levels of sweetness, however, we in this article will go through to the three mains categories of the world-famous Japanese beverage:
Junmai – base sake –
Junmai means pure rice in Japanese – there’s no minimum ratio of rice polishing required for this type of sake. Sake is made only with rice, water, koji, and yeast. Therefore no other elements such as sugar or alcohol are added. If you see Junmani followed by the terms Ginjo and Daijinjo, that means that no alcohol has been added.
Ginjo – premium sake –
60% polishing ratio, this means that at least 40% of the rice grains have to be milled away. Some alcohol can be added to enhance the flavors.
Daijinjo – super-premium sake –
50% polishing ratio, most sake of this type have a portion of distilled alcohol added. This sake is the most refined, it has the most pure and delicate taste.
Sado Island, a perfect place to brew quality sake
Sado island, with 55,000 inhabitants, is located in the Prefecture of Niigata which is around two hours from Tokyo. To get there a traveler needs to first take the bullet train and next a ship. This island that has a rich and diverse history and natural beauty has earned the appellation of “microcosm of Japan”.
The symbol of Sado island is the toki which is the Japanese crested ibis. The toki is an endangered species in Japan, and they can only be found on Sado island.
The island offers a variety of activities to travelers. These are many experiences that can make the visit unforgettable. One can explore the famous Sado Kinzan Gold Mine and its different tunnels or be amazed by the stunning scenes that lake Kamo has to offer.
Sado Island is also a place to satisfy your palate. This gorgeous microcosm is home to some of the rarest fruit in the world. Seafood lovers will find paradise while enjoying the catch of the day in one of the local restaurants. Sado Island oysters are a must-have which combine perfectly with local sake.
Visit Sado island and learn about sake
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