Little-known Sake Terminology: Jikagumi

Greetings sake lovers, and welcome to another edition of the KURAND magazine series explaining some of the little-known sake terminology printed on sake labels.

This article explains the meaning of jikagumi, a term as obscure and difficult to explain to someone as say: yamahai, kimoto, muroka and namazume….. but here goes..

Jikagumi literally translates to “straight from the press”.

The Toil for Ultimate Freshness

First, let’s recap over the production process. As you may have learned from reading earlier articles, following fermentation, sake is passed through a filter (pressed) to separate the solids, kasu (lees) from the liquid. This process is called joso in Japanese.

The objective of jikagumi is to bottle the sake while making as little contact with oxygen as feasibly possible. While in wine-making, a little oxygen contact can actually help to develop flavours and for some styles is generally regarded as a positive thing, in sake brewing it is generally avoided, except in the case when sake is deliberately aged. That’s because sake tastes better when it is fresher, more youthful and of a more delicate nature. As you might expect, this is not easy to achieve. Even pressing sake brings it into contact with oxygen which is why most brewers use the more modern Yabuta branded air-press to force the sake through as quickly as possible and limit air contact. But even then air-contact is unavoidable. Oxygen contact is so detrimental to sake you should always store your sake upright in the fridge, not on its side like wine, because this reduces the surface area that is in contact with air — the only type of wine bottles you should store on its side are the corked type because you have to keep the cork wet so that it doesn’t dry out and crumble into the bottle.

Now, the thing is that sake brewing is not a consistent art. That is because, every year, the rice is slightly different. The only reason, your favourite sake tastes the same year on year is largely thanks to the skill of the brewer. But in actual fact, while not immediately obvious to the untrained palate, every sake is unique, one of a kind. Sometimes skill is not enough, but brewers can also blend different tanks together to achieve the same result. This is normally what happens after the sake has been pressed; the sake is returned to the tank and for tax reasons it has to be weighed.

But there is nothing to stop the brewer weighing in the bottle instead.

Suffice to say it’s all a lot of work and very time consuming; every bottle has to be filled one by one. Hence, this type of sake is pretty rare. Because of the lack of blending, it tends to be a little sweeter, richer and as it is often shipped unpasteurised and unfiltered as a muroka nama, fresher and more vibrant. This really is as fresh as sake gets. The only fresher alternative would be to drive up to a brewery and fill a bottle yourself (please don’t do this!).

Every now and then, especially in the winter and spring, KURAND receives the odd jikagumi or two so why not see if you can find one the next time you visit KURAND.

Note: When a fune is used to press the sake, jikagumi sake is sometimes labelled as funaguchi jikagumi.

At KURAND, we receive sake direct from the brewer daily to ensure that the sake in our fridges is the freshest it can be.

A Lesser Known Sake Revolution: The Centrifuge

Greetings sake lovers,

Perhaps you have ordered, purchased or someone has gifted you with sake labelled with the term ‘Enshin Bunriki’ and although you noticed something different in the flavour of that sake, perhaps you didn’t realize that what you were tasting was a little sake revolution — no pun intended. That is because Enshin Bunriki translates to centrifuge in English. So in other words, the sake might have been for a little spin and that’s why it tastes so different. Read on, to learn more.

What is a Centrifuge

Wikipedia explanation of Centrifuge

A machine with a rapidly rotating container that applies centrifugal force to its contents, typically to separate fluids of different densities (e.g. cream from milk) or liquids from solids.
Wikipedia Link

And that’s essentially how brewers use it in sake brewing, to press the sake; the liquid in this case being sake and the solids being the lees.

History of the Lesser Known Revolution


The first sake centrifuge was a joint development project between the Fermentation Test Labs of the Food Research Institute in Akita, Japan and Tokyo-based centrifuge maker, Kokusan (Est 1919). It was patented in 2005 and was called the “Ginjo Moromi Press System” and is still the only one in production for sale in the industry today. Two versions were released: “H-130G1H(S)” with a 35 litre capacity and “H-130I1H(S)” with a larger 60 litre capacity. Only 10 breweries own a centrifuge, but with a 20 million Japanese yen price tag, it’s perhaps not surprising that more have not yet made the investment.

How the Sake Centrifuge Works


・The machine spins the ginjo moromi approximately 3000 times per minute
・The machine is fitted with a cooling system and the inside of the press is airtight
・The mixture is automatically divided up into sake, koji, yeast and sake kasu

The Merits of the Centrifuge Press

・Pressing sake using centrifugal forces instead of pressure places less of a burden on the sake itself producing much clearer sake. It’s the same logic as that behind the Fukuro Shibori (drip-drip) method, a technique that leverages gravity dating all the way back to the early days of brewing. (read more in this article)
・As the machine is stainless steel the press itself does not impart any aromas into the sake.
・The airtight seal keeps all ginjo aromas inside the press and makes sure they make it into the end sake.
・As the sake is pressed under the same conditions every time, the end result is always consistently the same.

The demerits of using the Centrifuge Press.

・As the press is expensive, the end sake often ends up being as well.
・It is not possible to output the different fractions: Arabashiri, Nakadori & Seme of the moromi using a Centrifuge press.

A list of Breweries that have Implemented the Centrifuge and their Products

Product Name Brewery Name Location
Yamato Shizuku Tornado Akita Seishu Daisen City, Akita Prefecture
Katsuyama Akatsuki Katsuyama Shuzo Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Hokusetsu YK35 Shin Hokusetsu Shuzo Sadogashima, Niigata Prefecture
Chiyo no Hikari Sasanigori Nama Tangetsu Chiyo no Hikari Shuzo Myoko City, Niigata
Kaika Junmai Ginjo Centrifuge Nama Daiichi Shuzo Sano City, Tochigi Prefecture
Dassai Centrifuge 23 Asahi Shuzo Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture

To sum up, sake pressed with a centrifuge is more aromatic, more elegant with a more stable flavour profile. Those breweries that use the centrifuge often release a version of the product pressed using it and a version pressed the conventional way so you might be able to directly compare and see the difference in flavour and aroma. It’s just another element of modern brewing that adds a whole new dimension to the experience. While we can’t promise you will find any at KURAND, there are plenty of other things to explore in our lineup. Perhaps one of these days, we will team up with a partner brewery and have a go at making sake this way ourselves.

Note: In Japanese, Enshin Bunriki is written using 4 Chinese characters as shown below.

A Beginner’s Guide to Sake Tasting: Finding a Sake to Suit

Thanks for checking in to another edition of KURAND Magazine.

To the untrained eye, sake tasting might at first look like a very basic art, but there is so much more to it. In fact many Izakaya and special sake shops in Japan spend hours and hours honing their tasting skills so that when you come to call they can find your perfect sake match. Suffice to say there is a method, and while in the world of magic, no magician should ever tell you how their tricks are done, this is not the world of magic, and sake professionals do not subscribe to any such secret code.

While it takes a great deal of experience and skill to peer through the veil of aromas and flavour of the more complexly structured sake, a few pointers is all that is needed to gauge whether a sake will suit your palate or not.

So without further ado, let us introduce the KURAND 4 step beginner’s guide to tasting sake.

Step 1 Checking Colour


Sake tasting is very similar to wine tasting in that it involves the 3 senses: sight, smell, taste.

Before you bring the sake to your lips, you should first analyze the colour.

Hang on! You might be thinking, isn’t sake clear? Well yes, but if you look closer, you may be able to make out a tints of green or yellow and sometimes gold. Depending on the style, the intensity of these tints varies from subtle to medium to deep. The best vessel to analyze a sake’s colour, like with wine, is a transparent glass — like a wine glass, but sake does have its own answer to the wine glass in the form of something called a Kikichoko (lit: tasting cup). This Kikichoko has two blue concentric circles painted in the bottom to aid your ability to spot variations in gradation or colour, although it can take time to master use of this cup and that’s why we recommend the wine glass instead. As you might expect, having the right lighting is very important; we suggest natural light — avoid spotlights or strong UV light. As well as the colour, you should also look to see whether there are any particles in the sake which might suggest a cloudy sake or even that there is a fault with it.

Did you know that the sake that comes out of the press at the end of production is actually inherently gold? Brewers make the sake clear by passing it through various stages of fining and fine-filtering it. Also, sake tends to develop a gold colour as it ages, which is as a result of oxidation. A deeper colour also suggests a higher level of umami producing glutamic acid and in general a richer flavour.

Step 2 Checking the Nose

Next we turn out attention to what wine lovers commonly refer to as the nose. We are of course talking about the sake’s aroma.
Certain styles of sake have a fruity or floral aroma called a ginjo aroma which is produced when esters are formed by fermenting at low temperature. Typical ginjo aromas include pear, apple, melon, aniseed, bubblegum; generally fruity aromas on the riper side.
Aged sake also has a very particular aroma profile which may include some of the more stranger notes of mushroom, gibier, toffee and maybe even bacon or Japanese tsukemono pickles. The complexity of the profile generally depends on the length of ageing.

Not all ginjo give up their aroma freely and it may take several sniffs and a well a trained nose to discern exact aromas. This can be made easier by again using a wine glass with a deep bowl and narrow aperture as well as giving the sake a swirl by rotating the glass with your finger on the base a few times. Also, when tasting several sake, reset your sense of smell by giving your skin between your wrist and elbow a little sniff (we are not joking, this is how the PROs actually do it). Sometimes, higher alcohol sake can kill your sense of smell, but resetting will help overcome this.

Finally, the temperature is also very important. As you chill sake, the aroma tends to go into slumber, but you can awaken it again by bringing it up to room temperature by cupping warm hands around the cup or glass or just leaving the glass for a few minutes.

Step 3 Checking the Palate

And finally the palate which is basically just another word for the overall flavour profile of the sake.

The sake palate is made up primarily of 4 flavours. Note, we are not suggesting for a moment that there isn’t more to sake than these 4 flavours; simply that these are the 4 main ones: sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and of course the umami factor (savoury flavours). Sake generally has less acidity and bitterness than wine but more sweetness and umami. You might also include the kick from the alcohol if it has one.

The strength of each of these flavours in comparison with the other is what determines the structure and more importantly, the balance of the sake.

The primary flavours / aromas you detect are called the Fukumika in Japanese and are what tell you whether a sake is dry or sweet, whether it’s sharp and introvert or wild and extrovert, whether it’s a full-bodied chap or more refined relaxed one. In other words, the Fukumika is your first impression of the sake, the first impact. While you shouldn’t necessarily judge a sake by its Fukumika, it’s normally a pretty good place to start.

After the Fukumika, pucker your lips and take a few short, audible slurps of air a bit like you do when you eat udon in Japan (you slurp to cool the noodles down as they are very hot). This technique aerates the sake and spreads the flavours around your tongue. Use your tongue to swirl the sake around the mouth to make sure you pick up each flavour. The age-old myth of the tongue map; the theory that certain parts of the tongue are more sensitive to certain flavours, is precisely that: a myth, so the swirling isn’t to enhance a particular flavour. It’s just to make sure that all your taste receptors come into contact with the sake.

The sake should be in your mouth at least 5-10 seconds before swallowing during which time you aim to analyze the 4 main flavour components and the general profile. Depending on the complexity and structure of the sake, it might take a few sips to make an informed judgement . To pick up specific flavours, try rolling the sake across your tongue a few times. This helps shoot the aromas up towards your Olfactory Sensors at the back of the mouth below the nose because it is these, not the taste-buds on the tongue, that pick up specific aromas / flavours such as apple, pear, etc. If you don’t believe us, try eating an apple with a peg on your nose. Can you taste apple? Or just the sweetness and acidity?
Ginjo sake will normally have a much more refined, elegant, subtle palate than junmai. Junmai tends to feel quite heavy on the tongue — this is body.

When tasting many sake, professionals will normally spit most of the sake out so that they stay relatively sober and focused, perhaps swallowing a bit to check the finish.

Step 4 Checking the Finish


Finally ,we come to the finish.
Unlike with wine, the finish of sake is not directly indicative of its quality. An excellent sake can have a short or long finish. In fact, it can take just as much skill to make sake with a short finish, if not more.

There are many words to refer to the finish; tail, length, after-flavour are probably the 3 most commonly used ones. In Japanese, it is called the Modorika (lit: the return aroma). The finish is basically the pleasant flavours that stay after you have swallowed the sake. The longer they remain, the longer the finish. Food pairing sake tends to have a shorter finish so that your palate is clean for the next dish. If the flavours and aromas vanish almost like magic within a split second of swallowing with a short distinctive cut, this is referred to as the kire in Japanese or sometimes as a crisp finish in English. It takes a great deal of skill to create the kire. The kire is one characteristic of a style of sake from Niigata called Tanrei Karakuchi. A lot of honjozo and ginjo have the kire. If the sake uses a slightly higher, refreshing acidity to wash away the end flavours this is called a wash. Sometimes higher acidity can also be used to stop a sweet sake from leaving behind a horrible sticky finish which wine drinkers refer to as a cloying finish. Sometimes a little sting caused by higher alcohol is desirable and some people like it when sake leaves a trail of bitterness. It all comes down to personal preference.

When judging the quality of a sake, think about how all the different elements you have picked up in the tasting work in the overall structure. Does a crisp finish at the end of a very heavy, rich sake seem like the right finish for that style? Or does that element of surprise actually warrant extra marks? There is no right or wrong answer.

Well that wraps up our beginner’s guide to sake tasting. Why not print this out and bring it along the next time you come to KURAND and impress our staff!

We look forward to welcoming you very soon!

Sake Enters the Global Hall of Fame: The Wine World’s Top Accolade: Parker Points

Greetings sake lovers!

Do you enjoy the odd glass of wine now and then?

This might seem like an odd question to open an article about sake, but if you do, then you will no doubt already be familiar with the “Parker Point” rating system. No system is more respected when it comes to critically evaluating wine across the world.

What you may not have known though was that the system is now being employed for sake as well.

In this article we look at the system in more detail, how it works and what standards are being used to appraise sake.

What are Parker Points?


What is the Parker Points System?
The system is the brainchild of the internationally renowned wine critic, the eponymous Robert M. Parker Jr and is run in the wine magazine he founded “Wine Advocate” where wines are appraised and given marks out of 100 or “Parker Points”. What’s revolutionary about the system is that wines of different price points are all eligible to score the top points.

The system is so influential that just scoring top points is enough to turn even the most mundane daily-wine into hot property with the price tag to match. Less than 1% of all wines evaluated scored over 85 points, but those that do reap the benefits of entering this elite club.

Evaluation Criteria


The judging is split into two stages. In stage 1, a critic give a mark out of 50. In the second stage, another possible 50 points are on offer broken down into the below criteria.

Taste 20 Points
Aroma 15 Points
Ageing Potential 10 Points
Appearance (colour, clarity,etc) 5 points

It is of course possible to score the full 100 points, but judging is pretty strict and just a one point difference can be all that separates greatness from excellence.

Sake has Entered the Hall of Fame


On 1st September 2016, the Wine Advocate announced the first ever Parker Points evaluation of sake. A total of 800 sakes including Junmai, Daiginjo and Ginjo were selected by Wine Advocate’s very own critic Martin Hao and given a rating out of 100.

A list of all the sake awarded over 90 points was made public and can be viewed via the below link.

KURAND SAKE MARKET is very proud to showcase one of these sake in our fridges: Shichi Fukujin by Kikunotsukasa Shuzo.

The inclusion of sake in this distinguished critical evaluation is a mark of just how much recognition sake has received in the wine world. It’s an exciting development that promises great things for the future.

Why not come and taste other stellar sake at KURAND SAKE MARKET. With over 100 types of sake from hand-picked from small boutique breweries, who knows maybe you will be tasting the next Parker Point 85 pointer!