Lifting the Lid on Taruzake

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Outside of the special designation category, there are a plethora of different styles to discover. One of these is taruzake, sake with the aromas and flavors of wood. Sadly, the taruzake that travels overseas is often bandied about as a cheap novelty item, and yet nothing could be further from the truth. In this article, we lift the lid on taruzake, its meaning, history, its characteristics and how it is made.

What is Taruzake?

Taruzake is sake which has been stored or aged in a wooden barrel or cask called a taru. It does not actually have to be sold in the taru itself—although it can be—as long as it has spent some time in it before bottling.

Taru volume

The traditional unit of measurement of a taru is ‘to’, equal to 18L. There are three main sizes: the smallest, 1-to (‘to’ is the traditional unit of volume) measures about 40cm in diameter and can hold up about 18 liters, the next biggest, 2-to is about 50cm and can hold up to 36 liters; while the largest 4-to, which is the size used for the kagamibiraki ceremony, can measure around 65cm and hold up to 72 litres. 4-to provides an Olympic opening ceremony scale volume of sake, while 1-to will still easily provide enough sake for 60-140 people!

Just How Special is Taruzake

While the liquor laws in Japan do not specify an official definition for taruzake, a minimum period of storage in taru is required so that the flavors and aromas develop enough to be recognized as a product of intentional taru storage and not as a result of accidental contact with wooden equipment. However, the length of time is not specified and ultimately varies depending on what extent the brewer wants to blend the taru’s character into the final sake.

Nowadays, sake is brewed and stored in stainless steel tanks, because: they are easy to clean and sterilize at the end of the brewing season; they impart little undesired aromas or flavors; they last, rarely need repairing and are safe and are fireproof. But what were breweries using before steel tanks came around?

The answer is taru. Sake wasn’t just fermented and stored in taru, it was transported in it, in particular in the Edo period. In other words, there was nothing special about putting sake in a taru back then. No, quite the opposite. The sake rarely left the taru. Back in the Edo period, wood was a way of life: the houses were made from it, cooking equipment was made from it. In an age without air fresheners, people’s lives were scented with wood. In Japan, wood is often associated with relaxation, as something which brings you closer to nature, as exemplified by the popular practice of forest bathing or shinrinyoku. Back then the relationship between sake and wood was a very natural one. Historically, there was nothing special about taruzake, but in today’s steel-dominated age of brewing, perhaps there is.

Characteristics of Taruzake

The majority of taru are made with either cedar or pine. Intertwined with the inherent aromas of the sake, these wood types impart a distinct freshness into the sake. Left for longer in the barrel, the sake matures and mellows.

Recommended Types of Taruzake

Yoshino Sugi no Taruzake

Yoshino Sugi is a special type of cedar which grows in the forests of Nara prefecture and sake stored in taru made from it is widely considered to be the pinnacle of taruzake. The taru is made with the inner-core of the cedar, sometimes as much as 80 years old.
If you want to experience something different from the cheap novelty taruzake sold overseas, Yoshino Sugi Taruzake is a great place to start.

Taruzake Yoshinogawa

The number of cedar production areas in Japan is actually relatively limited. Perhaps the second biggest is Oita prefecture. The cedar grown here is called Hida Sugi. It is common to use the largest 4-to taru which brings the sake into contact with more of the wood. It doesn’t get any more luxurious than Hida sugi taruzake.

Beyond the traditional types of taruzake, some breweries have begun to make premium styles of sake in a taruzake style, infusing just a hint of cedar into the background. It is tricky to add a woody scent into sake without it completely overpowering all the other subtle aromas, so when breweries do achieve that balance, it is something very special. Perhaps breweries will find new ways to use taru in the future and impart


Although not strictly taru, kioke are old cedar barrels that were once used to brew sake. After years gathering dust, some breweries bring them out of retirement to create a special type of sake called kioke jikomi. Yeast and other microbes trapped in the nooks and crannies often make their way into the end product during the fermentation imparting unique flavor and aroma characteristics.


The best time to taste taruzake at KURAND is at new year. You can enjoy sake straight out of the taru itself as very kindly provided by one of our partner breweries.
With branches all over Tokyo, each stocking over 100 types to taste to your heart’s content with no time limits, all for one flat fee, there is no better place to discover sake. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Exploring the Various Styles of Aged Sake

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

You may be wondering whether sake is matured like wine and to what extent it benefits from aging. Traditionally, sake is brewed to be consumed young, but aging is a surprisingly common practice nowadays. Even traditional styles often spend a few months in storage before shipping to knit the flavors together and balance out any erratic notes. In short, aged sake is a much more diverse product than you might think, and so, In this article, we will look at the range of styles available out there.

The Definition of Aged Sake

The general Japanese term for aged sake is koshu. The word is made up of the Chinese characters for old (古)and sake(酒). Another common label term for aged sake (although rarely printed in English) is choki jukuseishu, which literally translates to long term aged sake. It is the latter which this article will focus on.

Since the liquor tax law in Japan does not lay out an official definition for either, many brewers interpret these terms with a great deal of freedom. The Jukuseishu Kenkyukai (Vintage Sake Research Institute)—an organization comprised of retail stores, liquor stores, distributors, and sake brewing companies whose goal is to help spread the concept of long term aging and to increase brewing skills—has taken the liberty to create their own general definition for choki jukuseishu. Notice that the organization uses the word vintage, and not aged. This is because, in Japan, aged sake has a negative connotation, but this may be inviting confusion with the concept of the wine vintage.

Definition by Choki Jukuseishu Kenkyukai (Vintage Sake Research Institute)

There are some brewers that put the term on their label after just a year’s aging, but the group’s definition is seishu (sake), excluding sake with sugar added, that has undergone at least 3 full years maturation at the brewery. This is the definition that this article will adhere most closest to.

What to Expect from Aged Sake

So does sake benefit from such long aging and how do the flavors and aromas differ from that of wine, whiskey or any other matured alcohol beverages that you care to think of? First of all, aging sake is not quite as straightforward as aging wine. Due to the much more unstable microbiological makeup of sake, there are no hard and fast rules. Just like with wine, the aging results vary widely depending on the sake’s structure: acidity, body, sugar content, alcohol level, levels of bitterness and umami. For wine, each of these characteristics is determined by appellation, grape type, and production techniques used, but for sake, it is not quite as clear-cut.

Sake is categorized on a very basic level by its rice polishing ratio, but this alone does not determine the characteristics of the sake and with many brewers interpreting the system differently, this has become a very vague way to categorize sake, a vagueness that transcends into aged sake.

The sake service institute has tried to add some clarity by dividing sake up into 4 categories as follows:-

Kunshu: light, elegant sake with a delicate aroma (like daiginjo sake)
Soushu: light sake with a simple palate and a little sharpness (like hon jozo sake)
Junshu: sake with a modest aroma but more body and flavor (like junmai sake)
Jukushu: sake with a more mature aroma and excellent balance of bitterness and acidity

A large majority of choki jukuseishu on the market will fit very neatly into the final, Jukushu category, but there are just as many out there that won’t even come close.

Perhaps, once upon a time, all aged sake in Japan tasted like jukushu, but these days, as brewers play with the aging formula, more and more exceptions are hitting the shelves.

A More Detailed breakdown

The modern incarnation of choki jukuseishu (let’s call it that) can be broken down further into three more categories that take into account the grade of the sake and how it was made. The key difference between the three types is the speed at which oxidation and something called the Maillard reaction happens. The Maillard reaction is the breakdown of sugars and amino acids It is this reaction which causes the sake to change color when it ages.

Kojuku type
Honjozo sake and junmai matured at ambient temperatures. By aging at ambient temperature, the rate at which the color and aroma and taste change is accelerated. It quickly evolves, developing unique flavors and aromas that were not there before. Kojuku pairs really well with Chinese food, oily foods, and food with thick umami and sweetness (bitter chocolate, yakiniku, blue cheese, yakitori with sauce, curry).

Neutral type
This is often found among honjozo, junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo that have matured at both low and ambient temperatures. Combining both low and ambient temperature maturing yields a flavor somewhere between kojuku and awajuku. Good matches include sweet and sour pork, beef shabushabu, raisins, and chocolate. In general, it gets on well with and brings out the umami in foods that have a moderate amount of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness.

Awajuku type
This aging style is achieved by maturing highly aromatic sake like ginjo and daiginjo at super low temperatures. Rather miraculously, it retains the elegance of ginjo sake but the intensity of the aroma becomes slightly muted; the sake may develop bitterness but also more depth. It goes well with French food, sweet/low fat but has lots of umami components (raw ham, squid shiokara, roll cabbage, gratin, cheese).

The Charms of Choki Jukuseishu

Characteristics of Longer Aged Sake

The aroma of the longer aged sake is called jukuseika or koshuka and is sometimes compared to shaoxing, sherry wine, caramel, dried shiitake, and raisins. It is basically an oxidized aroma (a result of the sake coming into contact with oxygen). The color of the liquid is very characteristic and often reminds people of whiskey. Traditionally, sake is rarely aged in oak vessels like wine, but some brewers have begun to explore this too, in which case, you get hints of vanilla, butter, toast, etc.

Easier on the Body?

In fact, aged sake can have a peculiar sobering effect. In documents from the Edo period, it is written that “shinshu goes straight to your head while aged sake intoxicates your body in a much more satisfyingly pleasant way”. Even medical societies have published reports lauding how gentle aged sake is. For those trying to avoid a nasty hangover, aged sake just might be the answer.


The KURAND lineup often includes the odd aged sake or two. In fact, we have even produced original aged sake with our partner breweries. With branches all over Tokyo, each stocking over 100 types to taste to your heart’s content with no time limits, all for one flat fee, there is no better place to discover sake. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

The 3 Types of Fermentation: Where Does Sake Fit In?

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Sake is a fermented beverage made from rice. But exactly how is it fermented and how does the process differ from wine and beer. That is the question this article will attempt to answer. We will look at the three main types of fermentation and reveal where sake fits in.

How fermented alcohol is produced depends on whether or not there is any accessible sugar available in the raw ingredient, to begin with.

There are three main fermentation methods.
Please refer back to the below diagram as you read through this article.

Single Fermentation (sugar to begin with? = yes)

This is the one used to make wine. Alcohol beverages in this category are made with a raw ingredient that contains accessible sugar to begin with, often a form of fruit. With sugar already available, all you need to do is add yeast. The fruit is normally crushed to make it easier for the yeast to access the sugar. The process of making wine is referred to as single fermentation.

Multiple Fermentation (no sugar to begin with? = No)

This is how beer is made. Unlike single fermentation, the raw ingredient, the barley does not contain accessible sugar and this is what the raw ingredient of all beverages made with multiple fermentation have in common.

Multiple fermentation gets its name from the fact that two processes are required before fermentation can take place. The core constituent of barley is starch. Starch is basically the plant’s space efficient way of storing glucose, the energy it needs to grow, but the important point is that starch cannot be accessed as glucose without another step. When the plant starts to grow, powerful enzymes are released from the germ which breaks this starch back down into glucose for the plant to access. Malting is essentially the forced growth of the plant. The scientific term for the process is germination. In fermentation, the conversion of starch to sugar is called saccharification. The saccharified barley is called wort. The word is basically a sugary liquid. Yeast is then added to the wort and alcohol fermentation proceeds in the usual way.
The process of making beer is referred to as brewing because boiling and steeping are required.

So which one of these two categories do you think sake would belong to?

You might think multiple fermentation, and you would be warmer rather than cold, but although sake is much closer to beer than wine—the process of making sake is also referred to as brewing—the correct answer is in fact: neither.

Despite all the similarities with beer brewing, the fermentation method used to brew sake is completely unique.

Multiple Parallel Fermentation (no sugar to begin with? = No)

Whereas in multiple fermentation, the two processes are carried out simultaneously, in the method used to brew sake, they are carried out in parallel. Don’t worry if you are still confused because we are about to elaborate.

The key difference between barley and rice is that the outer layers of the rice grain are nearly always removed to avoid unwanted off-flavors in the end product, a process called polishing. However, this polishing also inadvertently removes the germ. Remember, the germ is where the plant stores its starch-converting enzymes.

Therefore, it is not possible to germinate rice like barley. So how do we convert that starch into sugar?
Luckily there is a mold that can produce the required enzymes. The mold is called koji. This koji is inoculated into steamed rice. Instead of malting, we essentially create moldy rice. The mold secrets its enzymes into the rice. Still with us? It only gets a little bit more complicated from here.

The moldy rice which we conveniently but rather confusingly name after the mold, so, koji, becomes a standalone ingredient in the process that we add to a massive tank together with steamed rice and water a seed fermentation—a smaller baby fermentation we made earlier—that contains a healthy population of yeast.

It is in this tank that a miracle takes place that sets sake apart from both wine and beer. The koji breaks up releasing the enzymes and some already converted glucose into the water. At the same time, the steamed rice breaks up and releases extra supplies of starch into the water. The water acts as a catalyst that brings the starch into contact with the enzymes and vice versa (the process is actually a type of hydrolysis). As the same time that the starch is converted into sugar, yeast eats this sugar and creates alcohol. This cycle repeats itself over and over until the desired product is complete.

It sounds miraculous that these two processes can coexist and play out in parallel, and it is.
The balance and control that is required to keep these two processes from outrunning each other, makes sake production one of the most complex and difficult in the world and is unique to Japan.

The constant supply of glucose throughout the fermentation is why multiple parallel fermentation achieves the highest alcohol strength among fermented beverages and can get as high as 20% alcohol, but it is not a spirit.

So there you have it, sake is not a spirit, it is not a wine, it is closer to a beer, but it is not a beer. In short, sake is a unique miracle of Japan and should be celebrated as such.

Bonus fact: unlike beer, sake is brewed in an open tank which means that, with a few exceptions, all of the CO2 gas dissipates as opposed to dissolving into the final product. Therefore, sake is rarely naturally bubbly like beer, certainly not to the same extent as beer.

If this article has inspired you to learn more, it is never too late to begin your journey into the world of sake.

KURAND provides the perfect setting to discover sake on your own terms, at your leisure, without any time limits and without burning a hole in your wallet.
Why not pop into KURAND the next time you are in Tokyo where you can taste over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from all over Japan. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

10 Sake Vessels You Should Add to your Collection

Greeting Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Switching up the vessel you enjoy sake out of is an easy way to add an extra dimension to any sake tasting, sometimes with exciting, surprising results. Most people are familiar with, and quite happy just drinking out of the small porcelain cups called ochoko, but there is so much more diversity to explore. The variety is as diverse as sake itself.

Just a small variation in size, design, aperture, and material can transform the flavor and aroma of sake or even its aesthetics, or perhaps, it spirits you away to a deeper level of sake enjoyment. The point is that by always drinking from the same vessel, you could be subconsciously limiting your enjoyment of sake and missing out on the depth it has to offer.

So without further ado, here are 10 of our top sake vessel picks that, also make great collector’s items.

1. Fuji Ochoko Type: Tenkai Sakazuki

Difficulty to find: * Available at KURAND (not to buy though….)
There really is no better souvenir to take home than a Mt.Fuji shaped ochoko to show that you have climbed the peaks of your sake journey. This ochoko is just the right shape for making those rough and ready, sharp, dry sake easier to drink.

2. Kikutsunagi (Chrysanthemum Chain) Kiriko Type: Takadai Sakazuki

Difficulty to find: ***

Sake in a cut glass is like a diamond set in a jewel-encrusted ring. There is no better vessel to add a touch of class to your sake tasting experience. To create this level of sophistication requires equally sophisticated craftsmanship, craftsmanship that was cultivated in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district in the turn of the 20th century under the watchful eye of a British glass engineer. It takes years to perfect the skills required to master the intricate cross stitch pattern on the glass from which this style gets its name. Although originally inspired by British glass cutting over the 100+ years of its history, this is a very much Japanese craftsmanship at its absolute best. Makes a great present or little treat for yours truly. No sake loving household should be without at least one kiriko glass in its cupboard. Reserve this one for special occasions and break out your most elegant refined junmai daiginjo/ daiginjo which is a perfect match for the larger aperture.

3. Kokuryu Type: Hirasakazuki (hirahai)

Difficulty to find: *****

The eponymous Kokuryu sake brand in Fukui Prefecture that should need no introduction joined forces with local craftsman to produce the ultimate sake sipping cup. With a larger aperture, this saucer type sake vessel is great for bringing all the flavors in the sake into balance. Even the most aggressive sake are tamed in the delicately cut thin glass. Also great for enjoying warm sake. The glass is quite thin so be careful when warming.

4. Aritayaki Takumi no Kura Type: Guinomi

Difficulty to find: **
It is easy to confuse guinomi with ochoko, but guinomi normally have heavier bases and thicker sides. This set comprises of two differently shaped

We absolutely love this set of Aritayaki ware guinomi for comparing tanrei (light) and houjun (rich) styles of sake—one glass for each. The key feature is the size of the aperture. The wider and more open the aperture the more direct the entrance of the sake, which stops the sake from becoming too thinly spread out the tongue. The convex design of the houjun glass helps to hold back any unwanted sharpness and acidity so that you enjoy the rich flavor of houjun sake without all the background noise. If you can only afford, or only have space for two vessels in your house, nearly all sake can be divided into these two flavor profiles so these two glasses will have you covered.

5. Kutani Type: Gosouka (5 flowers) Type: Ceramic Guinomi

Difficulty to find: ***

A very attractive set of vessels for enjoying sake warm.

6. Riedel Vinom Daiginjo Wineglass Type: Wineglass

Difficulty to find: * (more or less readily available)

Have you ever tried sake in a wine glass?
It’s a question that would probably elicit a similar response in Japan, regardless of who you ask: ‘hang on? don’t you mean Ochoko?’, the de facto traditional drinking vessel of choice for sake. But contrary to that natural assumption, sake actually performs just as well in a wine glass as it does in any other type of receptacle. In fact, there are lots of merits to the experience, as this previous article outlines:

This glass from the renowned Riedel glassmakers is designed for enjoying daiginjo sake, but we find that sparkling sake excels in this glass as well.

7. Wooden Tohka Type: Ochoko

Difficulty to find: **

It is pretty rare to see people drinking from wooden ochoko but it is not without its fans. Wood generally makes the sake softer. Wooden vessels are better suited to non-aromatic styles of sake where there are no delicate fruity, floral notes to clash with. Thinky sawn vessels tend to add a nice sharpness to light bodied sake.

8. Shotoku Usuhari Daiginjo Type: Stemless Glass

Difficulty to find: *

If you are not ready to make the leap to wineglass yet, the paper-thin stemless usuhari glass provides a great entry-level alternative. At 0.9mm, paper thin is not an exaggeration. Rather remarkably, the company behind these glasses claims that they are just as strong as ordinary glassware. Originally, a light bulb blowing factory, Shotoku transferred its skills to glass blowing and quickly established a reputation as one of the masters of its craft. These glasses are so thin, it is like drinking sake out of thin air and removes all the background noise so that you can connect with your sake in a clean space. Perfect for diving into those super shy ginjo sake.

9. Kiki II Gold Leaf Type: Tin Ochoko

Difficulty to find: ***

Combining antibacterial powers and conductive properties, tin provides the perfect vessel for enhancing the freshness of sake and exploring different temperatures; keeping warm sake warm and cool sake cool for longer. Some tin vessels are also extremely malleable so you can bend them into different shapes. Additionally, various scientific tests.

Each cup is painstakingly gilded with tiny gold leaf by hand by the master craftspeople of Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture) of which the area is famous.

10. Aotake Bamboo Irori Set Type: Tokkuri (carafe)

Difficulty to find: ***

What could be more eccentric than warming your sake in bamboo? Well, that’s precisely how sake is traditionally served at the traditional Japanese fireplace banquet setting called irori. While very few people will have their own irori, you could add a touch of eccentricity to your next campfire gathering and who says this would look out of place at the dinner table.
The shape of the vessel helps bring out the rice-derived sweetness in fresh namazake and levels out the acidity.

One of the cool features of KURAND is that you choose your own vessel and our selection is getting bigger and more diverse all the time. Who knows, maybe you will find some Mount Fuji ochoko or something even stranger. Whatever you choose, there is no better way to start your journey into the world of sake than at KURAND, where you can taste over 100 types of sake without time limits, all for one flat fee.

A Sneakpeek at the Variety of Sake Vessels In Japan

Greeting Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Another element of sake pairing that adds an extra dimension to the experience is the vessel that you use. You may already be familiar with the small porcelain cups called ochoko, but there is so much more diversity out there just waiting to be discovered. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the variety on offer is as diverse sake itself.

Just a small variation in size, design, aperture, and material can transform the flavor and aroma of sake or even its aesthetics, or perhaps, it spirits you away to a deeper level of sake enjoyment. The point is that by always drinking from the same vessel, you could be subconsciously limiting your enjoyment of sake and missing out on the depth it has to offer. In this article, we take a deeper dive and look at 3 easy to remember tips for experience-enhancing vessel selection.

3 Tips to Enhance Your Enjoyment of Sake with the Choice of Vessel

Tip 1: Material


One aspect that many people will overlook is the material that the vessel is made out, but it can have a profound effect on the flavor of sake. Glass will enhance the sharper elements of the sake—perfect for the fuller-bodied types—while porcelain (pottery) will soften the flavors resulting in a milder, gentler mouthfeel—perfect for the more subtle, delicate sake.

Another one which might not get so much attention is tin. Tin is originally highly effective in antibacterial activity and there is evidence it was popular among the ancient Egyptians. In the case of sake, tin helps to remove unwanted off-flavors and complexity and mellow the sake out and as a great heat conductor it provides the perfect vessel for playing with temperature; keeping warm sake warm and cool sake cool for longer. Some tin vessels are also extremely malleable so you can bend them into different shapes.

Although it is a bit of a novelty, bamboo is another very traditional, popular type of material to make sake vessels out of. The best type of bamboo is called aodake.
Sake poured into fresh aodake becomes a little sweeter and milder. Aodake is strongly linked to celebrations, so it is especially recommended for around New Years! Adding bamboo to the dinner table adds a little luxury to everyday sake life.

Tip 2: Capacity – smaller is better?

The easiest thing to gauge is the vessel’s capacity; the amount of sake poured can alter its flavor. When you drink chilled sake, a smaller vessel is recommended so that you can finish the sake up before the temperature changes. Incidentally pouring too much sake may cause the flavors to dissipate. Smaller cups also mean that less of the sake is in contact with air, so there is less oxidation.

One of the less obvious reasons that sake is drunk from smaller vessels is to facilitate communication, a very strong cultural element in the enjoyment of sake. Most of the vessels only hold a very small volume of sake, so to get through a large 1.8L bottle requires people to pour for each other and in Japan, it is taboo to pour for yourself. Nothing facilitates communication like the design of a sake cup. Why not serve-up this little piece of sake culture at your next dinner party and get your guests interacting Japanese style.

Small is not always better though. Sometimes you actually want to bring the sake into contact with oxygen to aerate it and open it up to wake up dormant flavors and aroma. If this is your objective, the wine glass is king. It can also sometimes be beneficial to decant the more fuller bodied sake like with red wine. You can even use a red wine glass or decanter for this purpose.

Tip 3: Shapes

The shape of the vessel is perhaps the most important element to consider. Whether the vessel has a lip, it is rounded or not etc will determine which flavors hit your taste sensors first when it enters the mouth A type where the sides are curved outwards is going to push the fresher aromas and flavors forward, whereas a convex type is going to suppress aromas and bring out bring rich flavors to the forefront instead.

Trumpet Shapes

For aromatic styles like ginjo etc, a trumpet-shaped glass where the sides curve outwards is perfect for enhancing the aroma. A glass with a deep bottom is even better.

Flower Bud Shapes

A flower bud shape works in the opposite way to the trumpet shape. Instead of enhancing the aroma, it helps to trap even the more modest of bouquets so that you can enjoy them for longer.

Straight Sides

This type of ochoko is made by pulling the side upwards which directs the flavors towards the center of the tongue, perfect for the mature sake with more quirky flavor profiles.

Saucer Shape

Saucer shape vessels closely match the shape of our mouths so all the flavors tend to hit the taste sensors at the same time creating a balanced and harmonious palate.

BONUS: Sake Cup Design

While it doesn’t exactly enhance the flavor or aroma, why not have a little fun with all the different design sake cups that are out there.

Designs To Celebrate Japan

Everything from the faces of demons to even mount Fuji itself are often immortalized in the design of sake vessels.

Cute Designs

Cutesy designs are a little gimmick that has helped to bring more female drinkers into the fold.

When sake is poured into this ochoko, it looks like the rabbit is taking a bath.

One of the cool features of KURAND is that you choose your own vessel and our selection is getting bigger and more diverse all the time. Who knows, maybe you will find some Mount Fuji ochoko or something even stranger. Whatever you choose, there is no better way to start your journey into the world of sake than at KURAND, where you can taste over 100 types of sake without time limits, all for one flat fee.

Appearances Can be Deceiving: Doburoku vs Makgeolli

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Have you ever tried doburoku?
Doburoku is instantly recognizable by its opaque white, milky, yogurt-like appearance.
However, it is very easy to mix doburoku up with a similarly milky looking alcoholic beverage from Korea called makgeolli (pronounced ma-kori). Apart from their different country of origin, there are a number of very stark differences between these two beverages.

In this article, we filter out the mystery and get to the bottom of what really sets these two cousins apart.

About Doburoku

In the case of Doburoku, it is fairly easy to produce. In fact, it is regarded as one of the most primitive forms of sake. So much so that in the past it was brewed everywhere from the family household to the farmer’s house. It is made by adding kome-koji (moldy rice) and yeast to cooked rice. The introduction of liquor taxation laws in the Meiji Period saw home-brewing outlawed. Fast forward to the present and the home-brewing of doburoku is in most cases still illegal. Although the origin of doburoku, is like doburoku itself, not clear, it is thought to have traveled over from China as a stowaway with rice cultivation. Just like wine, the earliest alcohol beverages produced through rice fermentation were deeply rooted in religion. People would offer up harvested rice to the gods in return for a bountiful harvest the following year—throwing in a cup of doburoku simply sweetened the deal further. This tradition is still practiced today at shrines throughout Japan.

About Makgeolli

Makgeolli is a traditional sake from the Korean peninsula. It shares the same milky, opaque-white appearance as doburoku, but that is where the similarities end. That is because makgeolli is in fact filtered, albeit very coarsely. The word makgeolli is an amalgamation of the words Ma (meaning coarsely) and koruda (meaning to filter). It is thought to have been discovered by blending the sediments of traditional alcohol beverages with water. In post-war Korea, makgeolli made up 80% of the alcohol consumed in all of Korea. Although doburoku is rarely flavored with anything, modern makgeolli production can infuse a variety of flavors such as mango, apple, pears, matsutake, ginseng, and jujube.

Difference between Production of Doburoku and makgeolli: Production

Doburoku and makgeolli are both brewed alcoholic beverages like beer produced through a multiple fermentation involving the extra step of starch to sugar conversion that is not required to make wine.
But there are some differences in the production method between these two beverages.

Different Ingredients

The ingredients are very different!
Doburoku is made with only rice. However, although the main ingredient of makgeolli is rice, it can also be made with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. It is thought that Koreans began the practice of adding other things besides rice during a period of food shortage in the Korean peninsula.

Difference in Taste

Both are very rich with a soft sour-sweetness and an effervescence. Doburoku is perhaps the richest with a very sticky sweetness. Makgeolli tends to be much more sour and fizzier.
Generally, both doburoku and makgeolli are both drunk straight. However, makgeolli is usually only drunk cold. Doboroku, on the other hand, can be enjoyed at a range of different temperatures, just like its descendant sake. Subtle changes in temperature can dramatically alter the flavor and aroma of doburoku and lead to the discovery of new taste experiences.

The difference in Alcohol Strength

Doburoku has more or less the same average alcohol strength as its descendant sake which is around 15-16%. Makgeolli rarely exceeds 6-8%.

4 Tips For Successful Food and Sake Pairing

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Pairing food with sake is a great way to add an extra dimension to any sake experience. There is a saying that a good sake and food pairing is like a dish with an added secret ingredient that takes it to another level. But two things that taste amazing on their own don’t always pair well together. And while a good pairing can elevate both elements in the pairing, a bad pairing can do the opposite. Sake is incredibly versatile and gets on well with most types of cuisine, but food pairing can still sometimes be a bit of a tricky art. It can be difficult to know where to start. Fear not, because in this article we will look at 4 little tips to get you started.

Tip 1 Unleash the Umami

Sake and oden (“a Japanese one-pot dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, and processed fishcakes stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth” Wikipedia) is a classic pairing that needs no introduction in Japan.

But what is it about this pairing that makes it a classic? The secret is the umami. In the early 1900s, the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda discovered that when a certain type of amino acid called glutamic acid and a type of nucleic acid called Inosinic acid combine, they produce this otherworldly flavor that for some people, simulates a trip to culinary heaven. He also discovered that some foods, like kombu and green tea for example, are naturally high in both glutamic acid and Inosinic acid and that heat can amplify the effects.

This concept of umami had, until very recently, been largely ignored by the west even though umami is something that most people will have tasted at some point in their life probably without thinking too much about it, more often than not in fact. We might refer to it as meaty or savory, or just delicious. Indeed it is pretty hard to define and incredibly ambiguous which is perhaps why it went under the radar for so long outside Japan. In the west, it is that flavor you can’t quite put your finger on, but In Japan, it is the cornerstone that forms the foundations of Japanese cuisine itself. With the explosion of Japanese food culture around the world, it is also finally starting to create a buzz outside Japan in some corners of the gourmet food world. In the classic pairing of sake and oden, sake supplies the glutamic acid while the oden supplies the Inosinic acid.

Cuisine which is rich in the umami-creating acids can also help ease the acidity, bitterness, and astringency in the sake. Even sake with quite harsh off-flavors becomes much quaffable when matched with such fare. This type of pairing is all about dialing up the umami factor to the max, so select sake with as strong umami as possible. As Professor Ikeda discovered, another key element in pulling off the umami taste sensation is temperature. Just as warmer food has a higher umami potential, warming sake with a powerful umami factor unlocks hidden flavors and spreads them out giving an even more satisfying explosion of umami.

Due to the higher levels of protein in the raw ingredient, sake is naturally higher in amino acids, in particular, glutamic acid than wine. And due to the acidity and tannin in wine, particularly red, umami tends to make wine taste a little stiff unless there is salt in the dish to balance things out. Umami is essentially sake’s trump card at the dinner table. At a very basic level, sake and wine pair equally as well with most dishes, but throw in umami and wine just has to wave the white flag.

Tip 2 Avoiding Aromas that Clash

It is easy to overlook aroma when pairing sake with food, but almost half of the process of tasting happens not in the mouth or on the tongue, but in the nose. Scientists have concluded that our taste buds are really only able to communicate 4-6 basic tastes (recent studies suggests there may be up to 1 million tastes that our tongues simply aren’t sensitive or well tuned enough to process, but this might go some way to explaining why some people can taste better than others). The 6 tastes are commonly accepted to be salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami and fatty.

The actual flavor characteristics such as that which makes a banana taste like a banana and an apple taste like an apple are actually communicated by our sense of smell and touch. Our olfactory sensors to be precise, located at the back of the mouth just below the nose are where we actually process flavor. The aromas of the food we eat are sent to these sensors which then pass on the messages to the brain. The touch sensors then tell us about the texture of the food; they sense heat and electricity caused by spice.

Sake offers real diversity on the nose: from the fruity/floral bouquets of ginjo sake to the nuttier, more cereal centric aromas of junmai with the quirkier lactic and oxidative aroma profiles found in aged sake and traditional kimoto and yamahai styles sitting somewhere in between.

When pairing with cuisine, junmai is perhaps the safer option because of its tamer aroma profile. Ginjo aromas may clash with strong aromas in the cuisine, but also create a nice contrast with pungent herbs. Many Japanese people enjoy junmai with food because the aroma reminds them of a bowl of rice. Junmai becomes even easier to pair with many different types of cuisine when warmed.

Tip 3 Match the Texture

Texture is the mouthfeel of the sake: whether it is hard, viscous, or has some elasticity. The texture is largely determined by the hardness of the water used to brew the sake. Hard water has a richer mineral content and so tends to produce a much more grainy, rougher sake while soft water produces a softer silkier, juicy mouthfeel. Texture can also be created by leftover ori (fine lees) and unsaccrified starch molecules called dextrins. A higher content of glucose in the sake can sometimes increase its viscosity but this normally directly proportionate to the levels of acidity.
Texture is another part of tasting that is often overlooked, and yet some of the best pairings are created by various congruent textural matchings.

For example, for cuisine with a soft mouthfeel, such as miso-tofu or sashimi, match with sake that has a clear sharp taste.
The easiest one to understand is the pairing of nigori-zake. Nigori-zake has a thick/creamy texture in the mouth, and when matched with fishy stews and mackerel cooked with miso it adds depth to the dish.

Tip 4 Match the Body (richness)

Lastly, pairing the body or the richness of the sake with that of the cuisine is our final tip. Rich cuisine is best paired with rich sake and light sake with light cuisine. Matching the weight is essential to avoid clashes and or one of the elements in the pairing overwhelming the other.

For example, cooked eel has a very thick taste and goes well with mature sake that has a well-defined profile. Cuisine, such as carpaccio or white fish, where the ingredients should be center stage is able to best make its statement when matched with refreshing ginjo sake. There is less transformation in the flavors of the dish, but this pairing is all about complementing.

Why not come and try out the above food pairing tips the next time you are in Tokyo. At KURAND, you are free to bring your own food to pair with the 100 types of sake that are available to taste at your own leisure, with no time limits, all for one flat fee. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Sake FAQ: 5 Questions Japanese Customers Commonly Ask About Sake

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Outside Japan there is probably an image that everyone in Japan is an expert about sake, but many Japanese people will happily confess their ignorance of sake. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. How many people out of the general French populace would confidently claim they are experts about wine? The point is that there are still a lot of sake novices out there, so we decided to compile a little FAQ from the questions our staff often get asked to help guide you through the often confusing world of sake.

This article was originally created for a Japanese speaking audience, but the terms introduced may help you to communicate with your Japanese friends or drinking partners in Japan.

1. What is the Difference Between Tanrei and Noujun?

Tanrei = light (as in light flavor)
Noujun = rich (as in rich flavor)

Japan’s regional styles can generally be divided into these two flavor classifications. Niigata is probably the most famous prefecture for tanrei sake and Hyogo is the most famous for Noujun.
Using these words can really help you to find sake that matches your preference when ordering in Japan.

2. What is the Difference Between Amakuchi and Karakuchi?

Amakuchi is Japanese for sweet and karakuchi is the Japanese for dry. Many foreign visitors also want to know how to identify sweet and dry sake.

It is natural to want to know whether a sake is sweet but if we compare it with wine, due to the lack of tannin and acidity, sake generally falls into the sweet category. To elaborate, sake is made from rice which contains starch that gets broken down into glucose, so the finished sake inherently contains a lot more sweet components, to begin with.

Although it is normally possible to detect sugar on the tongue, the sake will rarely be cloying or sticky because the brewer will normally use the acidity (although low compared to wine) to round out the sweetness.

Furthermore, there are different levels of sweetness. The sweetness and dryness of sake is measured using a hydrometer, which measures the density of liquids relative to water. If you cast your mind back to those boring science lessons, you will remember that the denser a liquid is the more it displaces its weight in the water and the more of it will float above the surface, the same science that allows boats to float on water. See the diagram below.

In this case, the Baume scale is measuring the density of glucose in the sake. More glucose will make the sake denser which will cause the sake to float/rise above the water line. The measure on the side of the hydrometer will then read a minus number. The opposite will happen if it is dry and there are fewer sugars present and it will read as a plus. So, + is dry and – is sweet. This scale is called the nihonshudo in Japanese or sake meter value (SMV) in English.

With a few rare exceptions, as a general rule of thumb, the lower the alcohol strength, the more residual sugar—generally due to a shorter fermentation and less sugar being converted into alcohol—the sweeter the sake. Generally, anything below 14% is going to be medium sweet upwards and anything above 15% is going to fall into the dry category.

This past articles about sweet and dry sake delves even deeper into the subject: Sweet and Dry Archive

What is the Difference Between Junmai and Junmai Ginjo?

Sake displaying the word junmai on the label has been brewed with only rice, water, koji and yeast. This is important because there is actually a category of sake where a little-distilled alcohol is added. This category is referred to as aruten in Japanese or non-junmai outside Japan. Each category is a part of something called the Special Designation Grade System and is made up of 3 sub-grades. Grades from the alcohol added category are identified by the absence of the word junmai. The junmai category is made up of the grades, junmai, junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo. The latter two grades are of the ginjo type, made with rice that has had more of its outer layers removed or polished away. The outer layers contain proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals which can create unwanted off-flavors, so polishing generally (but not always) create a more refined sake. The rule for junmai ginjo is that no more than 60% of the rice grain must remain after polishing. As well as the lower polishing ratio, the word ginjo generally indicates that the sake has a fruity and floral aroma which is produced by fermenting at a lower temperature. This special bouquet is actually called ginjo as well. Although the aroma is the biggest defining characteristic, the flavor profiles of junmai ginjo and junmai tend to be very different as well. A straight up junmai tends to have more of cereal, rice-derived aroma, higher acidity, and more body; while junmai ginjo tends to be more elegant, refined and lighter, although it is important to note that there is a myriad of exceptions and plenty of overlap. Finally, note that a non-ginjo junmai does not have any polishing ratio rule.

Above is a diagram that explains the Special Designation System in more detail. Please also see the below archives of past articles to learn more about rice polishing, its effects and the grades:

Archive 1

Archive 2

What is the Difference Between Nigorizake and Doburoku?

The difference is simple: one is filtered; the other isn’t.

The tax law in Japan states that in order to label a product as sake, the solids must have been separated from the liquid through filtration/pressing. Doburoku does not undergo this filtration. Doburoku is actually a product category all unto itself. And it is as simple as that. So why is nigorizake opaque? Why can you see solids suspended in the liquid? The law states that sake must be filtered. What it does not state is by how much. In other words, brewers can partially or coarsely filter sake and it will still qualify as sake. Brewers simply use a filter mesh or cloth with bigger holes in it to let more of the solids through into the final product.

Please see these archives of past articles about doburoku and nigorizake for more information:

Doburoku Archive

Nigorizake Archive

What Does the Word Nama Indicate?

Whether it has been pasteurized or not. The word nama means that it hasn’t.

Freshly fermented sake is very unstable because there are residual yeast and koji enzymes that at the right temperature will reactivate, restarting the starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol processes that then alter the structure and flavor characteristics of the sake. This instability ultimately gives the sake an inherently short shelf life and creates the need for refrigeration. The only way to stabilize sake and make it sake suitable for long-term storage is to kill all the enzymes, bacteria and microorganisms. One surefire way of doing this is to pasteurize the sake; heat it up to 60 degrees by immersing it in water or passing it through heated tubes.

Please see this archive of past articles about pasteurization and namazake for more information: Namazake Archive


We hope that this short FAQ has helped remove some of the mystery around various aspects of sake that might have had you scratching your head. Why not come and try out this newfound knowledge the next time you visit Japan. There is no better place to do this than KURAND in Tokyo, where you can taste over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries all over Japan, with no time limits, all for one flat fee. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

The Thoroughbred of Sake Rice: Koshi-tanrei

Greetings Sake Lovers, and welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

In this article, we look at another variety of rice used to brew sake, discovered very recently in 2004, the thoroughbred, Koshi-tanrei.

Rice for Brewing

Rice is an essential ingredient in brewing sake. Just as grapes are an essential ingredient in making wine. And yet, unlike with wine, very few brewers name their sake after the rice. Some even avoid listing the variety on the label at all. That’s perhaps because, unlike the grapes in winemaking, the rice has a comparatively smaller effect on the end flavor and style. In fact, it is the brewer and their craft that traditionally, has the biggest influence in sake brewing.

Be that as it may, there are bound to be people who want to know what type of rice their sake is made from.

Although ordinary eating rice can be used to make sake, this is not desirable because it contains too much protein, which while great for eating, tends to create off-flavors in sake. It is more common to use a special type of rice cultivated specifically for brewing with less protein and a core which is almost completely starch called a shimpaku, visible with the naked eye as an opaque white dot in the center (or just off-center) of the grain. This rice is called sake rice. There is an even more superior type of sake rice that is perfectly suited for brewing. This is called shuzokotekimai.

Varieties of Shuzokotekimai

In previous articles, we looked at the top 3 varieties of shuzokotekimai: the ‘king of sake rice’, Yamada Nishiki; the Yokozuna of the East, Gohyakumangoku; and Miyama Nishiki; as well as the oldest and only pure breed of shuzokotekimai, Omachi. New varieties of shuzokotekimai are being developed all the time and while there have been many failures, there have also been plenty of successes. One of the more recent successes was developed in Niigata as a potential successor to both Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku and its name is Koshi-tanrei.

The Story Behind Koshi-tanrei?

The success of Koshi-tanrei is less of a surprise knowing who its parents are: none other than Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku.

The creators of Koshi-tanrei attest that the aim was never to create a rival to Yamada Nishiki. The prefecture already had its own extremely high-quality sake rice in Gohyakumangoku, which was discovered by the prefecture in 1938 and named in 1958. However, although Gohyakumangoku has been instrumental in engineering Niigata’s signature clean-dry style that is arguably the rice that put the prefecture on the map, it is not without its flaws, namely, its tendency to crack when polished which prevents brewers from polishing it to the same sort of high levels as Yamada Nishiki.

This flaw generally makes it unsuitable for producing the really high-quality daiginjo—although that hasn’t stopped many brewers challenging its limits—it does, however, produce excellent koji.

Yamada Nishiki is also not without its flaws. The grains are very big—they have to be to house that large shimpaku—which makes the ears of the rice top heavy which on long lanky stems are easily blown down by winds. This is a particular problem because the time it takes to achieve ripening often sees its growing season overlap with the typhoon season in Japan. This makes Yamada Nishiki notoriously difficult to cultivate.

To compensate for these flaws, brewers were already mixing Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku together long before the discovery of Koshi-tanrei.

Koshi-tanrei was not an overnight success though. The joint project between the Niigata Prefecture Sake Research Institute, Niigata Prefecture Sake Brewer’s Association, and Niigata Crop Research Centre took over 15 years. But In 2004, after much trial and error and many failures, all their patience and hard work were finally rewarded.

Why Call it Koshi-tanrei

The rice was christened Koshi-tanrei by the governor at the time, Ikuo Hirayama. Although his thought process behind the naming is unknown, the name was clearly inspired by the prefecture’s famous eating rice Koshi Hikari. Koshi is the old name for a major province in Niigata and pops up a lot in the names of rivers, mountains, towns and sake brands in the prefecture. Tanrei is a Japanese word for Niigata’s signature style. It literally translates to light (as in light body).

Above is a photo of unpolished Koshi-tanrei. The shimpaku (white core) is clearly visible.

A Sake Rice Thoroughbred

Koshi Tanrei is a thoroughbred that has inherited the best of both Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku and none of their flaws.
It is able to withstand polishing beyond 40% and has good water solubility which means it becomes the correct consistency when steamed, making it perfect for koji, and breaks up in the fermentation at precisely the rate required to impart just the right amount of flavor. Additionally, it has lower protein than its parents giving the final sake a softer more rounded quality.

There had always been a demographic of people that preferred richer sake, that Niigata’s overly light, clean style had been unable to tap into. But having inherited both its parents’ traits, Koshi Tanrei produces a hybrid between rich and light sake that finally matched their preference. And when fermented at lower temperatures, it produces Yamada Nishiki’s trademark mellow bouquet of tropical fruit and flowers, albeit in a much more restrained style—like its other parent Gohyakumangoku.

Back before the discovery of Koshi Tanrei, Niigata sake made with anything other than Yamada Nishiki had struggled to make an impact at the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyokai (National New Sake Championships). Niigata did not provide the right climate (warm) for growing Yamada Nishiki which meant that brewers had to purchase from outside the prefecture.

The prefecture was winning awards with Yamada Nishiki purchased from other prefectures, but Niigata, often referred to as the Bordeaux of Japan, had not built its reputation off other prefecture’s rice and wanted to win awards for sake where everything from the raw ingredients (water, rice, and yeast) to the people and skills came from Niigata to celebrate its rich terroir. And to do this they needed to create rice on par with Yamada Nishiki. This was the real motivation behind the development of Koshi Tanrei.

In the year it made its debut into the market, in 2007, 15 breweries from Niigata prefecture submitted sake made with Koshi-tanrei into the competition. Eight brewers took home a prize; five scooped gold.

The number of breweries in Niigata using Koshi-tanrei has risen sharply since.
Many breweries create a version of the same sake using Koshi-tanrei, Yamada Nishiki, and Gohyakumangoku so that you can taste the difference for yourself.

At KURAND SAKE MARKET, we showcase sake from all over Japan produced with different varietals of rice. While we can’t promise you will find Koshi-tanrei, there are plenty of other varieties to try. Why not make a visit to KURAND part of your next trip to Japan. We look forward to welcoming you soon!

A Quick Sip from the Corner: Origins & Meaning of Kaku-Uchi

Greetings Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.

Kaku-uchi is still one of those words you will rarely hear outside Japan. The term has been around for a long time, but in Japan, this concept is evolving faster than a pokemon with a candy hangover. Recent interesting evolutions include Neo-kaku-uchi and Spanish Kaku-uchi. Still unfamiliar what kakuuchi is all about but want to know more? Allow KURAND to be your guide.

What is Kaku-uchi?

Kaku-uchi is a basically a corner or space in a liquor store where you can taste their sake, often after hours, and it is generally an all-standing affair, but some places do provide seating, often in the form of overturned sake crates.

The Etymology

Kaku-uchi is made up of the Japanese words for corner (kaku) and to tap (uchi).

It will probably surprise even native Japanese people to learn that this term is more likely to have originated from its literal interpretation as slang for the action of drinking from a wooden box called a masu as it is common to drink from one of the corners. Kaku-uchi may refer to the way the mouth touches the corner.

So How Did Kakuuchi Start?

So, why did liquor stores adopt the word kaku-uchi?
The tradition can be traced back to Japan’s industrial revolution and is thought to have started in Kyushu before spreading north. Back then a pay and weigh system using the masu was very popular. However, for some customers the aroma and sight of delicious sake simply couldn’t wait until they got home, and so, to keep them from salivating any longer, the stores began a system where the sake could be enjoyed on the premises. And of course because people were generally drinking from the corner of masu, the kaku-uchi term naturally caught on, or at least that’s the popular theory.

However, there are numerous counter theories.

Kakuuchi by Any Other Name

For example, in some parts of Japan, they do not call drinking sake in the store kaku-uchi.

In Kansai, for example, it is called tachinomi and in Tohoku, it is more often than not called mokkiri.

Kaku-uchi is a great way to discover sake. At some stores you drink the sake you purchased, while others put on a special tasting menu and may even include little nibbles or finger food in the form of regional sake pairing delicacies called chinmi, or in the winter, some places go the whole hog and cook up warm comfort food for you to indulge in like oden, butakakuni or sukiyaki.

While it is not exactly kaku-uchi, in a way, the all-you-can-taste concept that KURAND operates is loosely inspired by it. KURAND is not a retail store so it does not sell any sake on the premises, but we have begun selling online via our parent company. We hope to make this service available in English in the future. For now, why not pop into KURAND the next time you are in Tokyo, and experience our version of Kaku-uchi for yourself, and don’t worry, we provide seating.