Introducing Roles in the Sake Brewery

If you are a regular reader of sake-related articles, such as those published on the KURAND website, especially those that explain the production process and the artisan who make it, you may already have come across the term toji. This is the Japanese word for the master brewer, craftsman, the foreman of the brewery.

Toji is just one of a number of roles that a sake brewer or, kurabito as they are called in Japanese, can carry. In this article we look at a few others.

The Head of The Brewery – Toji

The toji’s main responsibility is to coördinate the complicated brewing process. They also have the last say over the flavour and quality of the sake. No sake is shipped until they give the okay.

Earning the role of toji requires years of experience and skill. Suffice to say, these are the masters of their craft.

 Toji’s Duty

When the process of sake brewing was established for the first time in Edo period, toji was not a member of the sake brewery. Toji was a person contracted by the sake brewery to brew the sake, a sort of seasonal worker.

The original toji were rice farmers for whom sake brewing provided a much needed source of income in the winter months. The toji were not members of the sake brewery per se, but on the brewing floor, their word was law. They were also responsible for giving directions to the other brewers just as a foreman does in a factory. To be a successful toji they had to earn the trust of everyone in the brewery and prove their ability to lead.

As the head of the brewery, the toji oversees every part of the process including the preparation of the raw materials, sake pressing (filtering), storage——even ageing.

The Divergence of Toji

While in the past, toji only visited the brewery in the winter, times are changing.

Brewers brew in the winter because this is the time when the brewery is the most sterile. Because brewing involves various microorganisms and microbes, maintaining such a sterile environment is vital.
These days, sake breweries are able to brew sake all year round simply by using cooling machines to recreate the cold conditions of the winter inside. Toji have evolved into jouningata toji (toji in regular employment). Jouningata toji are on the increase. This type of toji is usually more commonly found in the bigger sake breweries.

Another type of toji that is on the increase is the kuramoto toji (owner toji). As the term suggests, kuramoto toji is a toji who is also the owner of the sake brewery (kuramoto).

Many toji are reaching retirement age and with a lack of young people in Japan to take over the reins, sake brewery owners are left with very little choice but to get involved with the brewing themselves.

Not all sake brewery owners are experienced in sake brewing, but many have invented new innovative sake brewing methods.

The development of sake brewing technology is another driver of the changing toji. In the past, the role of toji was a male-dominated vocation, but these days you will also find Female toji as well.

Three Leadership Roles in Sake Brewery

Directly under the toji, their are three sub-management roles called sanyaku.

Each sanyaku is a leader of a different part of the brewing process.

Kashira

Kashira is the deputy toji. Kashira literally means head. He delivers the directions and instructions from the toji to the other people in the brewery.

The kashira is also responsible for preparing the moromi, the fermentation mash itself. The moromi is the third most essential stage of sake brewing and it is also where all the hard work from the previous stages comes to fruition.

Kojiya

Koujiya is the person who prepares the koji. Koji is malted rice (similar to malted barley in beer brewing) which is used to turn the starch in the rice into glucose to be turned by the yeast into alcohol. It also imparts various flavours and aromas into the sake. There is a saying that good sake begins with good koji and koji is the first most essential stage of brewing.
Koji is made by inoculating rice with a mold of the same name that releases enzymes capable of cutting the starch up into glucose called amylase.

For more information about how koji is made see these past articles.

The room where the koji is made is called the kojimuro. It is there that you will find them giving directions to people who make the malted rice.

Motoya

Motoya is the person who propagates the yeast used in sake fermentation. This stage of fermentation is called the moto or shubo (seed mash, starter or literally, mother of sake) and is basically a tiny version of the main mash. The main aim of the shubo is to grow a large population of healthy yeast and expel all unwanted wild bacteria. There are various of methods of building the shubo. The motoya needs to choose the right yeast to fit the quality and style of sake.

The room where the shubo is built is called the shuboshitsu, and it is here that you will most commonly find the motoya, giving directions to people who make the shubo. Sometimes you may also find them working together with the Kashira to prepare the sake.

Other Roles in a Sake Brewery


In addition to toji and sanyaku, there are a number of other roles in a Sake Brewery.

Kamaya

Kamaya is the person who manages the steaming of the rice. Kamaya washes and weighs the rice before soaking in water to bring the moisture up to the necessary level for steaming.

You might hear the phrase “1, koji; 2, moto; 3, moromi”. This lays out the three most important stages in sake brewing in order of importance. All three of these roles are carried out by the sanyaku. However, the importance of the steaming process must not be overlooked. The same goes for the person whose job it is to oversee that process, the kamaya.

Sumiya

Sumiya is name of the person who manages the filtration in sake brewing, the purpose of which is to remove leftover particles bitterness and unwanted colour figments. Because sometimes charcoal, which in Japanese is sumi, is used, they are referred to sumiya.

In recent years, the number of Sumiya is decreasing as the trend of unfiltered sake is rising.

Summary

As you can see, there are many different roles at sake brewery, and those roles sometimes are difficult to understand, so we decided to summarize the roles at sake brewery as follows:

The above roles are summed up in the table below.

Toji The head of sake brewery, who manages the process of sake brewing, which is very complicated and delicate.
Kashira

(Sanyaku)

The deputy toji, who delivers the directions given from toji, and who prepares the moromi.
Kojiya

(Sanyaku)

The master of malted rice making, who manages the kojimuro and staff working in it.
Motoya

(Sanyaku)

The master of the shubo or yeast starter, who manages the shuboshitsu and the staff working in it.
Kamaya The person who manages the steamed rice.
Sumiya  The person who manages the filtration of sake

 

At smaller sake brewery, the above roles are juggled by one single person.

The purpose of this article was to show how many different roles there are in sake brewing. Perhaps you already knew a few of them. Knowing the work that goes into brewing makes it taste even better. Why not cast your mind back through this article the next time you are sipping sake at KURAND. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Three Sake Related Terms Everyone should know

Many people’s first visit to KURAND SAKE MARKET is actually their first real experience with sake, so they are not yet familiar with some of the terms that appear on the bottle, some of which can be difficult to understand and memorize.

It’s a challenge faced by many of our writers who are not all necessarily inherent sake pros. Many hours of study and research has to be done before fingers even touch the keyboard.

As many of the terms are rarely used in daily life, it’s really only sake lovers, or people working in the sake industry, who ever have a need to learn them in the first place. Or is it?
While, it is still possible to enjoy sake without knowing a single one, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few of them and will certainly help you to navigate your way around choice on offer and more importantly, discern the quality levels.

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In today’s article we will look at three of these terms.
All of the terms covered can usually be found on the label of the sake, or on the restaurant’s drink menu. With these terms, what you see is what you get. So, ordering sake based on them is a reliable way to find sake that is to your liking.

 

1. Junmai Daiginjo

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Junmai means that the sake was made with just three ingredients: rice, water and koji. Daiginjo means that the outer layers of the rice have been removed (polished) until only 50% of the rice grain remains. Junmai Daiginjo is the special designation name for super premium sake. In fact, most sake from the famous brand “Dassai” are usually Junmai Daiginjo.

The taste of Junmai Daiginjo is as subtle and clear as water. The Daiginjo polishing process removes essential nutrients for the yeast which forces it to work harder. It is in these conditions, that some of the most amazing, fruity and floral aromas are produced. A slower fermentation with less acids all adds up to a much smoother, quaffable sake.

However, Junmai Daiginjo sake is a little more expensive than other styles because due to the high polishing ratio, more rice is required for the production process.

Junmai daiginjo is super premium sake. Why not treat yourself with a glass from time to time.

2. Muroka Nama Genshu

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The fresh taste of muroka nama genshu hooks many first-time sake drinkers and leaves with them with the curiosity to try more.

Since the sake is still alive, it has a youthful taste at first, which develops and becomes more bold and complex as time goes on.

Muroka means that the sake is not filtered. Nama means that the sake is not heat-treated (unpasteurized), and genshu means that the sake is not diluted with water.

To adjust the alcohol content of the sake, most sake are filtered, heat-treated (pasteurized), and diluted during the brewing process, but the brewing process of muroka nama genshu skips all of these methods.

The down sides of muroka nama genshu is its heavy taste, and difficult preservation method as you need a fridge to store it. However, since muroka nama genshu is a fresh brewed sake, it is still an exclusive drink to try, as in the past only brewers can enjoy this type of sake.

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Many visits to sake breweries will include an opportunity to taste sake fresh out of the tanks. It is a flavour that blows many people away. In most cases, the sake will be freshly brewed muroka nama genshu. Even some of KURAND’s writers will confess the same.

When ordering muroka nama genshu at a restaurant, pay attention to the conditions of storage. Since the microbes and organisms, which includes the yeast, are still alive in the bottle, the sake flavour will change quickly if the temperature is too high. Drink sake at a restaurant specializing in sake for the best experience.

3. Nihonshudo (SMV)

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Nihonshudo, which is also known as the sake meter value (SMV), is a term used to describe the level of dryness and sweetness of the sake.

Nihonshudo is written in positive and negative numbers. The higher the positive number is, the drier the sake is, and the higher the negative number is, the sweeter the sake is (e.g.: if the Nihonshudo of a sake is +10, the sake has a dry taste, and if the Nihonshudo of a sake is -10, the sake has a sweet taste).

If you are new to sake, we strongly recommend the sake with negative Nihonshudo. Many people’s preconceptions about sake change after drinking these types of sake, some of which taste sweet just like a dessert wine!

However, if you love dry taste, you should definitely try sake with higher positive Nihonshudo!

※ Nihonshudo sometimes is not printed on the sake label

Bonus Term: Yamada Nishiki

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Which brings us to the bonus term, which is actually a variety of sakamai (sake specific rice, special rice for brewing).

There are a lot of varieties of sakamai, but perhaps the most famous, the so-called “king of sakamai” is Yamada Nishiki. Whether or not the choice of rice actually plays that much of a role on the end flavour is a trickier question to answer. But the influence is certainly not as big as that of grapes in wine making.

Since the grain is big and easy to polish, Yamada Nishiki is a perfect ingredient for junmai daiginjo sake. In fact, most of sake from Dassai are made from Yamada Nishiki.

Hyogo prefecture produces the highest amount of Yamada Nishiki, but recently, other prefectures have started producing Yamada Nishiki too.

First Impressions are Key

As with anything, whether or not your experience with sake is short or long term, is all down to that first impression. If a sake impresses, it is sure to remain in your heart for a long time. Therefore, we strongly recommend you to avoid the cheap Izakaya bars. Storage is poorly managed which will affect the quality and the taste of the sake.

You can find many different types of sake at KURAND SAKE MARKET. The taste of sake changes depending on its types, brewing process, types of rice, and fermentation method. KURAND is all about providing you with the space to try lots of different types and find something to your liking. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Only Drinking Junmaishu is Such a Waste!

Roughly speaking, there are two categories of sake in Japan: one is made from just rice, water and koji mold, while the other is made with an additional ingredient in the form of distilled alcohol (brewer’s alcohol).

The first category is called junmaishu. There are purists who will swear that it is the best and that anything else just isn’t sake.

The second category is called honjozoshu (lit: alcohol-added sake), and because it is made with the same three core ingredients, and despite what the purists think, it tastes just as good.

Today’s article will attempt to argue the case for alcohol-added sake.

Reasons Why Alcohol Is Added to Sake

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Most junmaishu lovers think that alcohol is added to sake just to increase the volume of the sake, or just to cut down the cost of brewing. However, these presumptions are wrong, since alcohol is usually added for positive reasons related to improving the flavour or tailoring it towards a different audience.

One of the best ways to improve the image of alcohol-added sake is to explains the reasons that alcohol is added in the first place, so here we go.

・Preservation

In the past, before the strict hygiene management of today had been established, sake was sometimes contaminated by unwanted bacteria and mold. Alcohol addition one way to prevent this.

These days, however, alcohol is added to maintain the quality of the sake, not for preservation.

・To Enhance The Aroma

Sake definitely has the nose to rival most aromatic wines, The aroma compounds which are called esters attach better to the molecules of alcohol than water. Thus, it is the fact that added-alcohol traps more of those precious esters that it is considerably more fragrant than junmaishu. In fact, most sake award ceremonies serve daiginjo sake (sake with alcohol added) instead of junmai daiginjo (notice the absence of the word junmai).

More about ginjokou

・To Tailor the Flavour Profile

The alcohol added to sake during the brewing process is called jouzou alcohol. The alcohol also reduces unpleasantly excess sweetness and acidity by decreasing the sugar levels. The result is sake with a sharp and dry after-taste.

・To Stop The Fermentation of The Yeast

Yeast is needed to turn the sugar into alcohol. It has a low alcohol tolerance, so to stop the fermentation, the brewers simply adds extra alcohol.

Will Alcohol-added Sake Get You More Drunk?

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Some people think that alcohol-added sake gets you more drunk, but there is no scientific basis for this claim.

Since the alcoholic strength of junmaishu and alcohol-added sake is more or less the same, both types of sake have the same potential to intoxicate.

However, it is true that alcohol-added sake is less punchy and aggressive which makes is more quaffable, and people tend to drink more of it. So in that sense, it is easier for to get drunk on alcohol added sake.

Negative Image of Sanbai Jozoshu

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The negative image of alcohol-added sake that exists today was inherited from the negative image of sanbai zojoshu, a type of sake produced after the second world war, when Japan was suffering from a shortage of rice.

Sanbai zojoshu was made by diluting the sake with two parts alcohol. The intention of this addition was definitely to make the sake stronger and not for any positive reasons.

Nowadays, the production of sanbai zojoshu illegal, and the alcohol content of sake is strictly regulated to less than 280 liter per 1,000 ton of rice. This is referred to as nibai zojoshu.

Is It Normal To Use Alcohol-addition for Sake Competition Entry Sake?

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Most breweries adjust the flavor and aroma of the sake by adding alcohol prior to its submission for sake award ceremonies. Since the purpose of these competition is to win awards for quality and flavour, creating a high quality sake is important, and adding alcohol to the sake is one of the ways of snatching the crown.


In conclusion,
Adding alcohol to sake is not a negative thing. On the contrary, it actually gives new flavor to the sake. In addition, there are many ways to enjoy sake made with added alcohol.

Even though the terms “added” and “artificially” will always carry a negative connotation in Japan, alcohol-added sake is not always bad.

The best way to get the full sake experience, is to keep an open mind and try everything until you find something you like. And there is no better place to do this than KURAND SAKE MARKET. We look forward to welcoming you soon!