Closeup of Sake Production: Straining

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

This is another article in our series taking a closer look at the sake production process. In this article we look at mizukiri (rice straining). Another rather menial sounding task but once again, nothing but could be further from the truth. This is a very important step in the process between shinseki and mushimai (rice steaming).

Sake Making Process in a Nutshell

A very basic diagram of the sake brewing flow can be found in the chart above. This is just a very basic outline. The process varies depending on the variety of rice and the target style of sake.

What is Mizukiri?

Mizukiri is the process of straining excess water from the rice soaked in the previous stage. The final level of moisture in the rice before steaming is extremely important because, as explained in the previous article, it has a bearing on the other stages in the process, in particular the koji (rice malting). Although we will save an in depth explanation about koji for another article, let’s just say that mold needs moisture to grow; too little and the mold grow very little; too much and it grows too much. Even if the moisture level is not exact, it can be adjusted during the steaming — we stress to an extent — but the brewer has to achieve a certain level of accuracy before steaming begins.

The brewer aims for rice which is not too try and not too moist. The final target moisture content before steaming is usually around 30-33% of the initial weight of the rice, although this can vary depending on the style that is being made.

There are four methods to strain the water from the rice.

Four Methods of Mizukiri

Mizukiri Method 1: Straining the water by teburi (swinging by hand)
Some breweries and toji use a different name for this method, but, wrapping the rice in cloth and swinging by hand is the no-fuss, traditional way to strain the water.
■Merit: No expensive equipment required. Water can be strained quickly.
■Demerit: Takes time and skill (If amateurs do it the rice will fly off and not enough water will be strained)

Mizukiri Method 2: Put it into a strainer and leave it
This method is leaving the rice in a strainer and letting it strain naturally.
■Merit: It is easy to do because no extra work it necessary. It also does not require any additional costs.
■Demerit: The amount of water strained from the top and bottom is different (Because water drips down).

Mizukiri Method 3: Suction method
This method is done using a large machine called Woodson to suck the moisture out.
■Merit: Water can be taken out quickly. Work efficiency increases.
■Demerit: :Requires a large amount of capital investment. Moisture is not removed evenly.

Mizukiri Method 4: Centrifugation
This method is using a centrifuge that employs centrifugal force to strain water.
■Merit: Strains water quickly. Water is strained evenly (no unevenness). Work efficiency increases.
■Demerit: Specialized equipment is necessary so requires enormous amount of capital investment (Even more expensive than suction equipment).

Asking Brewers About the Difficulty of Mizukiri

Which mizukiri method do you use?

10kg portions are put into net bags and washed by hand. Following ample soaking, the bags are 30 times from left to right to shake the water out. Some breweries use the dehydrating tub of a washing machine, but we prefer to do it by hand.
(Takizawa san, Takizawa brewery)

My mother is a toji so she does all the seimai, shinseki, and mizukiri herself. To avoid hurting her back, the rice is divided into 5kg portions and put into strainers. This is quite a small volume by industry standards. Mizukiri is done with these strainers. Shaking the rice stops it from sticking together.
(Tanaka-san, Asahiduru)

Even this simple process of straining water is dependent on the type of rice and what time of sake is going to be made! With so much rice to process, there will never really be an easy solution to this seemingly simple task.

Check out the previous articles in this series.


Closeup of Sake Production: Rice Polishing

Closeup of Sake Production: Rice Washing

Closeup of Sake Production: Rice Soaking


So there you have it, nothing in brewing is as easy as it sounds. If you have enjoyed this article and feel ready to embark on a voyage of discovery, why not head on over to Japan, to Tokyo, and visit KURAND where you can taste over 100 different types of sake without time limits at your own leisure. Each sake comes with a story of how it was made and no two sake are made 100% the same way. We look forward to welcoming you very soon!

Close-Up of Sake Production: Rice Soaking

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

This is another article in the series taking a closer look at the sake production process. In this article we look at shinseki (rice soaking). Another rather menial sounding task but once again, nothing but could be further from the truth. As with every part of sake brewing, the soaking is an essential stage that requires skill, experience and precision.

Sake Making Process in a Nutshell

A very basic diagram of the sake brewing flow can be found in the chart above. This is just a very basic outline. The process varies depending on the variety of rice and the target style of sake. Seimai plays a pivotal role in determining the end style and flavor, so it is definitely worthy of a more detailed explanation.

What is Shinseki?

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The purpose of soaking is to absorb water into the center of the rice grains. In a way it is very similar to the secondary aim of washing, and in some breweries, the soaking is carried out as a part of the washing process. The final moisture content is an essential prerequisite to making good koji. As with the washing, the length of soaking and water temperature are carefully controlled. The process can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Even experienced brewers conduct this step with caution.

How Does Soaking Affect Sake?

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The length of shinseki changes depending on the type of rice and rice polishing ratio. If the rice is left in for too long, the rice will absorb too much water. Rice that absorbs too much water will not have the correct consistency after steaming. And this will have a negative effect on all the brewing steps that follow.

Higher polished rice is soaked for a much shorter time because it is more porous and thus absorbs water at a much faster rate. A special technique called gentei-kyusui (limited water absorption) is sometimes used to purposefully restrict the soaking time and control it more accurately. However, if the restriction is too extreme the rice will not absorb enough water and results in something called namabuke, where the rice core is still hard, even at the end of steaming. Once again, in most cases, it is the toji’s responsibility to ensure that the rice absorbs the perfect amount of moisture.

Asking Brewers About the Difficulty of Shinseki

Determining the length of time for soaking is probably the most difficult part, because it all comes down to super precise temperature control. Just a degree of difference can greatly alter the length of soaking. Things never go according to the textbook so every year is a challenge.
(Wakamatsu-san, Takarayama brewery)

The length of soaking is timed by a stopwatch and when the time comes I need to immediately lift the full strainer out of the water. The rice is full of water making it difficult to lift because it is so heavy.
(Hasegawa-san, Hasegawa brewery)


So there you have it, nothing in brewing is as easy as it sounds. And the process only gets harder from here on. In the next article we will look at how the brewer strains the water from the rice. If you have enjoyed this article and feel ready to embark on a voyage of discovery, why not head on over to Japan, to Tokyo, and visit KURAND where you can taste over 100 different types of sake without time limits at your own leisure. Each sake comes with a story of how it was made and no two sake are made 100% the same way. We look forward to welcoming you very soon!

Closeup of Sake Production: Rice Washing

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

Continuing on from the last article about rice polishing. This article will look in more detail at the next stage of the production process, rice washing. The rather menial sounding task of rice washing might not sounds like it would be worthy to dedicate an entire article, but nothing but could be further from the truth. What sounds like a very menial task is in fact another very important, essential part of the process that can heavily influence the final quality and style.

Sake Making Process in a Nutshell


A very basic diagram of the sake brewing flow can be found in the chart above. This is just a very basic outline. The process varies depending on the variety of rice and the target style of sake. Washing plays a pivotal role in determining the end style and flavor, so it is definitely worthy of a more detailed explanation.

Washing the Rice

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Rice will have a lower water content after polishing than before due to the heat and friction of the polishing process, so the rice is put in a cool place to rest to reabsorb some of this lost moisture from the air. This is called karashi in Japanese.
Even after polishing, the rice is covered in tiny particles of rice bran that are simply too fine to completely polish away. To brew with rice in this state would completely defeat the object of polishing it in the first place. The solution of course is to wash. There is nothing special about washing rice before using it. We do the same for table rice before we cook with it. In brewing, the primary objective is to remove excess yeast nutrients such as potassium and protein, but it is about more than just washing. During the washing process, inevitably, water is absorbed by the rice. This moisture absorption must be controlled, which for the higher grades of sake like ginjo and daiginjo, etc, involves the use of a stopwatch. That’s right, someone actually stands there and times the washing — down to the millisecond in fact. Just an error of 0.5 could have a huge effect on the rest of the process. Furthermore, in the hours immediately following karashi, rice is very delicate and brittle. To avoid damaging the rice, the rice is washed very carefully. The traditional way is by hand, but there are now machines that do the job just as well, if not better. In fact, some brewers argue that machines handle the rice more consistently and reliably than people.

How Does Polishing Affect Sake?

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During the polishing process, the rice can absorb anywhere between 10-20% of its weight in water. The actual absorption rate greatly affects all the parts of the process that follow such as mushi-mai (steamed rice) and even more importantly, the koji making. The temperature of the water and length of washing is very important and varies depending on the type / quality of the rice, polishing ratio; and ultimately the target style, flavor and aroma. All of these factors vary with every variety of rice. And every year, as with wine grapes, the climate and condition of the soil can alter them quite dramatically. Thus, the length of polishing, temperature of water and target water absorption rate has to be adjusted every year. In most breweries, the final judgment falls to the toji and is where their skills really start to shine. Breweries that do not employ toji keep a yearly record of their washing.

How Difficult is Washing? The Brewers Explain

I only help out sometimes but doing senmai by hand is very cold. Senmai is done by putting water and rice into an oke (bucket) and washing it continuously for a few seconds. It is not a long time but it is so cold that it feels very long. (colder water slows the rate of absorption down and is necessary for making daiginjo)

Ms.Hasegawa, Hasegawa Shuzo

Basically everything is difficult haha. Compared to koji, shubo, and moromi, it looks easy so it is often overlooked. However, personally speaking, this is a complex stage that relies less on experience and more on raw skill. (I feel that no amount of experience or data will ever be enough to perfect this task).

Rice very much depends on the weather of that year and even the location where it is grown can make a difference. Thus, it is hard to predict what the rice is going to be like before we actually start washing. Currently, when washing the first batch of the year, we start out with 10kg to create a standard with which to calibrate the rate of absorption for the entire batch. We then basically use the those standards throughout adjusting where necessary.

Most people are able to imagine washing the rice but very few imagine letting the rice absorb water. This is a very different feeling from when we wash rice at home before we cook it. Deciding how long to wash large quantities of rice and washing it for a certain period of time by hand is a lot of work. Also as the seimai buai gets lower and lower, not only seimai gets more difficult but seimai as well. In the next article, we will introduce shinseki / mizukiri (soaking / straining)!

Ms.Suzuki, Kanbai Shuzo


If you have enjoyed this article and feel ready to embark on a voyage of discovery, why not head on over to Japan, to Tokyo, and visit KURAND where you can taste over 100 different types of sake without time limits at your own leisure. Each sake comes with a story of how it was made and no two sake are made 100% the same way. We look forward to welcoming you very soon!

Closeup of Sake Production: Rice Polishing

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

The flavors and aromas of sake are so subtle, that on first sip, the boundaries between one sake and another can seem just as vague. But with continued tasting, you may start to notice that some sake are more elegant than others, more silky and the texture more delicate. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest is rice polishing, seimai in Japanese. It is one of the first stages of the sake production process. In this article, we take an in-depth look at it.

Sake Production in a Nutshell


A very basic diagram of the sake brewing flow can be found in the chart above. This is just a very basic outline. The process varies depending on the variety of rice and the target style of sake. Seimai-buai plays a pivotal role in determining the end style and flavor, so it definitely deserves to be explained in more detail.

A Closer Look at Rice Polishing

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Whether for eating or brewing with, rice comes in two forms: genmai (brown rice) and hakumai (white rice). Hakumai is basically genmai after the outer layer of rice bran has been removed. In brewing, we refer to the removal process as polishing or seimai in Japanese.

The portion leftover after polishing is called the rice polishing ratio or seimai buai in Japanese.

For table rice, polishing stops at the 80% mark. But for sake brewing, depending on the desired style, polishing may extend beyond the outer edges of the grain all the way to the core of the kernel.

Brewing Rice

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Although it is possible to make sake with table rice, this is not desirable because it contains so much protein which can produce off flavors in the end product, so for premium types of sake, it is more common to use rice cultivated specifically for brewing called shuzokotekimai (literally, brewing rice). See these past articles for more information.

Perhaps the biggest difference between table rice and sake brewing rice is the size and position of something called the shimpaku (literally, white heart). This is basically a nucleus filled with starch. And of course, in brewing, the brewer needs starch more than they do protein. In eating rice, the shimpaku is normally found near the germ of the rice, which means it is polished away in the polishing process. However, in brewing rice, it is found just off-centre, so the brewer is able to polish around it. This is by far the biggest reason that brewing rice is more suitable for brewing.
Characteristics of Brewing Rice

■Exterior:Larger grains. Size is important because smaller grains are unable to withstand the heat and friction produced during polishing, especially higher levels of polishing.

■Shimpaku:Shimpaku has a low protein content and has high viscosity making it more durable when being polished. It also dissolves better in the moromi (fermentation mash). Brewing rice has a higher ratio of shimpaku than eating rice.

The History of Rice Polishing

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Early rice polishing was done using a kiusu (wooden mortar) (also called kometsuki).
During the beginning of the Edo period, in order to polish more efficiently a ishiusu (stone mortar) was used. The second shogun Hidetada Tokugawa then imported an ashibumi-karausu (foot Chinese millstone) from China.

Until the late 18th century, it was only possible to polishing up to 23kg of rice in one day. In later years, high performance water mills increased efficiency by an extra 1kg. However it was still difficult and impractical to pbolish down to less than 80% of the grain.

Then, in 1986, the revolution arrived, in the form of the world’s first polishing machine. The polishing machines used today were built in 1930. Until this point upper limit for polishing was 70%. It may surprise you to learn than brewers only just recently gained the technology to polish beyond that and that polishing even entered into the brewing equation at all.

How Does Polishing Change Sake?

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So why polish in the first place? Well, there are many reasons but above all, it is all about style, and, although less the case nowadays, quality. As well as starch, brewing rice contain vitamins, proteins, and fats. If there is an excess of these in the final fermentation, the yeast will ferment too rigorously and may produce zatsumi (off flavors). In addition to zatsumi, the balance of the sake may be lost. By removing these less desirable components, brewers can produce more delicate, smooth styles of sake.

Rice Polishing and Sake Grades

With advancements in brewing, the focus has begun to shift from rice polishing, but you still can’t talk about sake without talking about the polishing ratio, not least because it is the main guideline which the law uses to grade sake.

Below are the grades of sake and the minimum polishing ratio that the brewer must achieve to quality for them. Note, as long as brewers meet these minimum guidelines, they are allowed to polish in excess to provide the customer with more quality.

Grades Rice Polishing Ratio
Junmaishu No polishing guidelines
Honjozoshu 70% or less
Tokubetsu Junmaishu 60% or Less
Tokubetsu Honjozoshu 60% or less
Ginjoshu 60% or less
Junmai Ginjoshu 60% or less
Daiginjoshu 50% or less
Junmai Daiginjoshu 50% or less

How Difficult is Polishing? The Brewers Explain

Even though, thanks to machines, polishing is an easier task than it once was, it still requires a degree of skill. Many breweries actually outsource the job. But there are some breweries that pride themselves in doing it in house.

We asked some of them to share their experience about polishing with KURAND.

Q. Have you ever experienced any problems with polishing? (or have you heard any stories from other brewers)

I believe that, even today, polishing rice is a difficult task. A buzzword is trending in the industry now is shin-seimai-buai (true ratio, indicating the quantity of polished rice gained from a given quantity of brown rice). This means that, a 1 ton of genmai polished down to 600kg will have a ratio of 60%. However, this does not mean that the rice grains are evenly polished. Even with all the care in the world, some grains of rice will still break during the process. If you eliminate these broken rice grains, and you still have 600kg remaining, each rice grain must in fact be larger than 60% of the original size. In other words, the actual ratio is closer to 62-63%. This is the shin-seimai-buai. The smaller the difference between seimai-buai and shin-seimai-buai are, the better the quality of seimai. However, this becomes more of a challenge for the higher polishing ratios.
(Kikunotsukasa from Shuzo・Mr.Hirai)

It is difficult to achieve the same polishing ratio for higher polishing. And soft rice breaks very easily.

(Mr.Takizawa from Takizawa Shuzo)

—— the smaller it gets the easier it is for it to break. Some rice are inherently suited for polishing to high levels and some are not.

Even today, polishing is still a challenge. And that is why, even today, this consideration of the difficulty and the cost of the extra volume of rice that is needed still determines the end price. However, just because a lot is polished off does not mean it will make a good quality sake. There are so many other parts of the process and ingredients that play a role in determining quality and as every brewer brews with the same sweat and tears, every sake is high quality. It is more about style and whether that matches your preference. Preferences vary from person to person. And, more importantly, different styles of sake match different foods, different glassware and different situations and seasons. Please do not restrict your drinking to a particular polishing ratio and try everything that the sake world has to offer. That is our number one wish as a brewer.


So there you have it, polishing does not necessarily produce a better sake, it’s a question of preference and a myriad of other factors in the brewing process. And remember, every sake is made with the same amount of sweat and tears, hopefully not too many tears.

All that is left for us to say is to come to KURAND, and try the vast selection of different sake styles that we offer. And with a variety of all-you-can-taste packages to suit a range of budgets, there is no better way to discover sake.

We look forward to welcoming you very soon!

Who or What is a Toji?

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

In this article, we look at the term toji. This is not a term that you will find printed on the sake bottle, with a few exceptions, but it is an important one nevertheless. Traditionally speaking, the toji is the person in charge of the entire brewing process. In English we might call them a master brewer or foreman. We will take an in-depth look at the role, origin, history and future of the most highly skilled craftsperson in sake brewing.

The Role of Toji

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On a basic level, the toji is the foreman that manages the brewery and brewing team. But at a deeper level, it is a much more complex definition. If we were to compare them to a chef in a restaurant. The chef is the one in charge of the kitchen; they are given a certain degree of freedom to be creative, but the chef also have their own style of cooking and they pretty much orchestrate the flavor that the restaurant produces. The owner of the restaurant simply leaves them to do their job. Indeed, many brewers owners simply leave the toji to effectively manage every aspect of the brewing and beyond.

This experience is particularly important when things don’t quite go to plan. Many veteran toji claim that the thing that separates a good toji from a bad one is the ability to fix problems. No matter how far the brewing strays from the desired formula, the best toji can work their magic and bring it back on track. This is a skill that is still very much sought after, because no matter how much technology you bring into brewing, it is impossible to plan for every eventuality. Brewing is incredibly unpredictable and you have to be ready for whatever it throws at you.

As sake has grown in its complexity, toji have had to adapt and evolve with it and sharpen their skills to match. There is also much more literature around about brewing than there was all those years ago, so the toji’s skills are perhaps less in demand than they were. Furthermore, advances in modern technology, have made some aspects of their job a bit obsolete. Regardless of this, many breweries still rely on the toji’s experience and gut instinct to steer the rudder of their brewery.

Origins of the Word Toji

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There are many theories about where the name toji came from. Currently, the most prominent theory is that it comes from the word for mistress or housekeeper, also toji — which suggests that originally, the toji was a female profession, but actually, ironically, it’s not until the modern age that women were even allowed in the brewery, let alone to take on the role of toji. But women are very much in the ascendency now.

Main Schools of Toji

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As explained above, toji are problem solvers. One of the biggest changing variables in brewing is the rice; factors such as solubility and starch content, etc can be completely different one year to the next. One thing that made the first toji such good problem solvers is that were in fact simple rice farmers; farmers who had turned to the craft as a form of seasonal work in the agricultural off-season. In the summer rice was grown. In the winter sake was brewed. The majority of them had never brewed sake before but they were naturals — mainly because they understood the rice better than anyone else. Before long, these farmers had started to outsource their skills to breweries all over Japan with guilds setup to manage the outsourcing process, one for nearly every region, excluding Tokyo. At the height of the toji era, some guilds had over 1000 members and hundreds of toji. These guilds are sometimes also called schools or disciplines. Below are the three most famous.

Nanbu toji

Currently this is the largest toji group in Japan. Originated in Kitakawakami basin of Iwate prefecture and is now based in Ishidoriya-cho, Hanamaki-shi. The number of toji have decreased, but they still brew sake in every part of Japan besides Kyushu and Okinawa.

Echigo toji

This group originated in the mid-southern part of Niigata prefecture. Echigo toji used to be the largest toji group in Japan. Niigata prefecture has many breweries and almost all the sake brewing is done by members of Echigo toji.

Tamba toji

This group originated around Sasayama-shi in Hyogo prefecture. The breweries in Nada raised this toji group. This group used to be a large force and are credited for creating almost all the meishu (famous sake brands) from Nada. Not only this but Tamba toji went all over Japan to give instructions and created the prototype for regional sake.

These are three of the biggest toji groups and together are often called sandai-toji-shudan (three major toji groups). However, now the concept of persuasions has mostly faded, leaving persuasions as more of a formality / structure.

The Road to Toji

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From the paragraphs above, the importance of toji is quite clear. This last part will explain about how to become a toji. As you might expect, a toji is not something you can become overnight.

The most conventional way is to join a sakagura (sake brewery) and gain work experience at a sakagura. Potential candidates would get actual brewing experience and then eventually get promoted to toji. The way to become a toji is to get a good evaluation from the brewery and to receive an offer to become a toji. Also, another way is to graduate from a university with an agriculture department or a vocation school. Upon graduation, potential candidates would work for a large brewer and gain experience to become a toji. Compared to olden days, recently there are more young
people and women who are toji.


Toji are the chief executive of the sake brewing process. Even with developed modern technology, their gut instinct and experience is very important. Imagining how toji must have felt when brewing sake will perhaps change the way people taste sake as well. Why not stop by KURAND and try sake made by the skills of toji. With over 100 types in our fridge, you are sure to discover something absolutely amazing. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Autumn Brings the Most Luxurious Sake of All: Hiyaoroshi

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

As the heat of the summer slowly fades and autumn approaches, the leaves on the trees change their color and the seasonal color palette adopts a distinctly more orange hue. Similar changes are mirrored in our fridges at KURAND, as the first autumn sake make their way into our lineup. Every year like clockwork, it’s around this time that our partner breweries begin to deliver their autumn sake called hiyaoroshi. If you thought natsuzake was good, just wait till you try this.

In this article we will explain what hiyaoroshi is and look in more detail at why the autumn is such an exciting season for sake.

What Does Hiyaoroshi Mean?

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Perhaps you have come across this word before, perhaps not. But as you start to expand your tasting and discover more of the world of sake, it’s only a matter of time before you stumble across hiyaoroshi.

Sake has many terms that show which step in the sake brewing process the sake was bottled. This term is often found on the label alongside the name of the brand. And this is the key for understanding what hiyaoroshi is and why it tastes the way it does.

The Literal Translation

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Standard sake is brewed during the winter and is pasteurized twice; once before storage and once after filtration to seal in the quality and stability (to kill the microbes, yeast and koji enzymes). As sake does not use sulfites, this is essential. Sake which has skipped pasteurization is called namazake. Namazake offers the drinker a fresher, more youthful taste.

This collection of past articles explain more about namazake and the different seasonal sake.

Traditional hiyaoroshi undergoes just one pasteurization, once at the end of the winter just before it goes into storage.

Hiyaoroshi exits the storehouse after summer when the outside temperature is the same as the temperature inside the storehouse. And that’s how hiyaoroshi originally got its name. It literally means to ship at a cool temperature. This naming dates all the way back to the Edo Period.

Characteristics of Hiyaoroshi

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Due to the omission of the second pasteurization, hiyaoroshi often has a comparatively fresher taste than standard sake. It is also has a distinct maturity from its maturation during the summer months. This is instead of the often rougher taste profile of freshly pressed sake. But it’s the soft mellow flavor profile that sets it apart from the other seasons and has earned it its popularity among aficionados as the number one seasonal sake. If spring sake is sake in its youth, immature and a bit rebellious, hiyaoroshi is the adult of the sake world, calmer with a more developed personality.

Sake that Evolves

The autumn sake season starts in September and runs through to November, throughout which time, the taste of hiyaoroshi goes through a number of changes. Hiyaoroshi, that hits the market in September, has had time to mature over the summer so the rough bitter taste is gone, but it tends to be a bit too mature for its own good. This becomes easier to drink as the season progresses. By the same token, hiyaoroshi on sale in November has had time to mellow out. The extra time in maturation leads to more pronounced umami (good flavor) and a richness.

Food Pairing

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Tasting the different stages of autumn sake can be a great way to discover this seasonal delight, and pairing it with similarly seasonal food adds another dimension to the experience. Samma (pacific saury) in particular pairs beautifully with hiyaoroshi.

With up to 12 types of hiyaoroshi in our 100 strong sake lineup, there is no better place to start your foray into autumn sake than KURAND. You can also bring your own food. We look forward to welcoming you soon!

A Must Have For Celebrations: Masuzake

Greetings Sake Lovers,

Among the many vessels for enjoying sake, perhaps one of the most unusual is the masu, a wooden box (yes wooden box) out of which you drink (yes drink) sake. In today’s article we look a little deeper into the box of mystery and learn how to drink from it without embarrassing yourself in front of others, as well as a little tips on etiquette.

A Deeper Look at the Masu

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In actual fact, the masu was not originally designed for drinking out of. It was a measuring cup used to measure rice. In old Japan, feudal lords used it to measure rice when collecting annual rice tributes (equivalent of tax in those days) and when making payments. During the Edo period, a unified standard was established. Masu that are often used in restaurants are usually made to fit this standard which is called ichigo and measures about 180ml.

Types of Masu

Ki-masu

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Ki-masu (wooden masu) is, as its name suggests is a masu made of wood. The wood of choice is normally cypress, cedar and fir. The ki-masu is made by fitting various pieces of wood together like a jigsaw; the joins are visible on most masu. Most people see it is made of wood, and ask no further, but actually the word ki carries a double meaning. In Japanese, ki is also the word for spirit. Indeed, the masu carries a deeper spiritual meaning and that is why it is often used at weddings and celebratory events. It is a much more auspicious item than you perhaps realized.

Nu-rimasu

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Some masu are painted with lacquer. Generally, the exterior is painted black and the interior is painted red. Cheaper versions are made out of plastic. Plastic lasts longer and does not develop gaps over time like its wooden counterpart.

How to Avoid Embarrassing Yourself with the Masu

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Do You Sip From the Corner or the Side?

Not unless you want to suffer the embarrassing indignity of spilling your sake all over yourself you don’t.

It is tempting to drink from the side, but don’t. You only make that mistake once. Only, it’s not a mistake. While logic strongly dictates that the corner is the easiest place to drink from, drinking from the flat side is, according to more than one or two barflies, the correct etiquette for the masu. It’s almost as baffling as the rule about not pouring out of the spout part of a tokkuri, but not all the rules make sense. Don’t worry too much about following this etiquette at the cost of spilling your sake all down yourself. We think sometimes, it’s okay to break the rules.

Grabbing is Not Allowed

When drinking masuzake, grabbing the side of the masu with your fingers is not allowed. The proper way to drink it is to use four fingers to support the masu from beneath. Only the thumb should be on the rim when drinking. Always hold with your right hand. It is said that samurai would hold it this way so that their hand was free to draw their sword if anyone ever came to challenge them during sips.

Salt on the Corner

Adding a pinch of salt to the masu is a tradition that dates back to old Japan, when salt was used as an accompaniment to sake. Salt helps mitigate the hardening effect of some umami rich sake.

Flavours and Characteristics of Drinking Out of Masu

If it is the wooden type, it imparts woody notes, although this may not always be desirable for delicate, fruit and floral styles. If you drink from the corner, the corners of the masu often add edge to sake that lack structure. In general, because the masu is quite wide, the flavor spreads out nicely, but aroma dissipates quite quickly, so this is not the best vessel for enjoying highly aromatic sake. In the spring, some people like to sprinkle a few cherry blossom petals in their masu for an extra seasonal twist. And of course, celebrations are a great time to pull out the masu, more so when the traditional barrel breaking ceremony is performed, which is usually at weddings. See this article for more info.


Finally, it is not uncommon to see bars and restaurants in Tokyo serving into a masu in the overflow style. What is the overflow style you might ask. In Japanese, sosogi-koboshi (literally, spill-pour) It is an old tradition where sake bars would put another glass inside the masu and pour into the second glass until the sake overflowed into the masu, a bit like a fountain. While a tad unsightly (and perhaps even unhygienic) to some, this style is still very popular because it creates the impression that the drinker is getting more for their money. Well if you factor in the performance, perhaps they are.

At KURAND SAKE MARKET we prepare a range of different vessels for you to enjoy sake. Not just masu, but other famous ones such as ochoko, hirahai, sakazuki in range of different designs. We even have a cup that looks like an upside down mount fuji and beware the temptation of drinking out of the oni (demon) cup. The vessel is just another dimension to the whole sake tasting experience. Why not pop in the next time you are in Tokyo and start your foray into the world of sake while soaking up a bit of sake culture in the process. That’s the way we roll here at KURAND. We look forward to welcoming you very soon.
Finally, it is not uncommon to see bars and restaurants in Tokyo serving into a masu in the overflow style. What is the overflow style you ask. It is an old tradition where sake bars would put another glass inside the masu and pour into the second glass until the sake overflowed into the masu, a bit like a fountain. While a tad unsightly to some, this style is still very popular because it creates the impression that the drinker is getting more for their money.

At KURAND SAKE MARKET we prepare a range of different vessels for you to enjoy sake. Not just masu, but other famous ones such as ochoko, hirahai, sakazuki in range of different designs. We even have a cup that looks like an upside down mount fuji and beware the temptation of drinking out of the oni (demon) cup. The vessel is just another dimension to the whole sake tasting experience. Why not pop in the next time you are in Tokyo and start your foray into the world of sake while soaking up a bit of sake culture in the process. That’s the way we roll here at KURAND. We look forward to welcoming you very soon.

The Yokozuna of the East: Gohyakumangoku

Greetings Sake Lovers, and welcome to another KURAND sake magazine article where we introduce another little part of the world of sake. In this article we look at another variety of shuzokotekimai, the Yokozuna of the East, Gohyakumangoku

Not sure what Shuzokotekimai is? Check out this past article.

Story of Gohyakumangoku


Although some shuzokotekimai varieties exist naturally, most are discovered by cross-breeding other varieties, which may include eating rice, together.
Although Gohyakumangoku was not officially named until 1957, scientists discovered it in 1938, when they crossed the varietal shuzokotekimai varietal Kikusui with Shin-200-Go. Its name is a commemoration of the maximum yield achieved in its first year of cultivation, Gohyakumangoku meaning 5 million koku (koku is the unit of sake yield equal to 180L of sake).

It has survived some pretty strong challenges over the years to keep its title of Yokozuna and is still very widely used, grown all over Japan as far-flung as the southern reaches of Japan. In fact it has the largest planting area of any other varietal. However, despite its adoption by other prefectures, Gohyakumangoku remains the iconic shuzokotekimai of Niigata prefecture. Although susceptible to bacterial leaf blight, it has established a reputation for its processing characteristics. It is often selected because it is easy to make koji with and its harder exterior means that it does not break up too quickly and impart too many flavors into the moromi (fermentation mash).

For these reasons, Gohyakumangoku is the official number 2 sake-brewing rice second only to Yamadanishiki, the king of sake-brewing rice (see this article). If Yamadanishiki from Hyogo is Yokozuna of the west, then Gohyakumangoku from Niigata prefecture is the Yokozuna of the east. Does that make them equals? not necessarily, but interestingly enough, both varietals recently gave birth to what might be the next king of sake rice, Koshi-tanrei, we will save that for another article.

Where Gohyaku Mangoku is Grown

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The climate of Niigata prefecture is naturally suited to the cultivation of Gohyakumangoku. The main production areas are Hokuriku region, specifically Niigata prefecture, Fukui prefecture, Toyama prefecture, and Ishikawa prefecture. However, as mentioned earlier, Gohyakumangoku is grown in a wide region which stretches from the southern Tohoku area to the northern regions of Kyushu. It has become stronger over its long history and the breed traits have stabilized. As a result, its superior brewing characteristics have gained recognition. Another reason that it has been able to expand nationally is its ability to adapt to a more machine driven brewing process, which in turn allows for a more stable production of quality sake.

Gohyakumangoku has been able to garner overwhelming approval ratings from breweries all over Japan.

Characteristics of Gohyakumangoku

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The stand out characteristic of sake brewed with Gohyakumangoku is a tanrei (light) clear taste.
There is a good sharpness to the sake without any unnecessary overpowering flavors. Again this is because of the slightly more hard exterior of the rice that prevents it from breaking up into the fermentation. That being said, it is probably easy to tell the difference compared to the rich tasting sake made from the Yamadanishiki, the king of sake-brewing rice.


One things is for sure, Gohyakumangoku will continue to play the role of Yokozuna of the east for a little while longer, or at least until the next challenger arrives.

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 Gohyakumangoku, 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!

Bring a Little Order Into Your Sake Tasting Routine Part 2 of 2

Greeting Sake Lovers

Welcome to part 2 of KURAND’s guide to which order you should enjoy the sake.
In the last article we looked at whether sake should be enjoyed in any particular order and why.
Be sure to check out the first part here before reading on.

Here are some more sake-pairing combinations.

Simple Aroma → Complex Aroma

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Start with simple aromas and gradually progress to more complex ones. This order allows you to experience how sake has evolved. Sake used to be less floral and fruity than it is today. The evolutionary turning point was in the 60s with the advent of a special machine which enabled brewers to remove more of the rice grain. This reduced the number of nutrients in the fermentation which stresses the yeast out and when the yeast is stressed it produces beautiful floral and fruity aromas called esters.

Smooth Flavour → Rich Flavour

Some sake bars may list the sake as either tanrei (smooth/clean/light) or noujyun (rich). Drinking your way from tanrei to noujun is another great way to discover sake.

Drinking Cold → Drinking at Room Temperature

As hotter weather approaches, alter the temperature of Japanese sake to match. It is one of the many extra dimensions that sets it apart from other alcoholic beverages.
The colder the sake is, the more reserved the aroma and flavor become. Thus, first drinking sake that is cold and moving on to room temperature and beyond is the best way to taste with the seasons. You can learn everything you need to know about sake serving temperatures in this past article.

Fresh Style → Mature Style

Using the tokutei meishoshu (special designated sake classification) method explained in part 1 as a reference, try fresher styles before moving onto more mature ones. The richer tasting ones should come at the end.

Dry → Strong Umami

Another nice way to discover the diversity of sake is to start with drier sake and move onto more umami-rich styles.

Acidic → Sweet

In addition to umami, sanmi (acidity) and amami (sweetness) are terms often used. Tasting in the order from acidic to sweet is recommended because sake with a strong acidity are often relatively plain whereas sake with a little sweetness is stronger but often has just enough acidity to balance this and round things out in the form of strong umami (amino acid-based acidity).

Namazake (Unpasteurized) → Pasteurized


Before being bottled and shipped, sake is filtered to separate the solids from the liquid. It is then normally pasteurized twice. However, unpasteurized styles do exist to allow you to enjoy a more youthful, fresh taste. Unpasteurized sake is called namazake.

The order is namazake followed by pasteurized sake.
The same sake from the same brewery can taste completely different in its unpasteurized form so be sure to try both versions if they are available.

Start with Sparkling Sake


A great way to kick off a flight of sake is with a sparkling sake. Sparkling sake is often made in a lighter, sweeter style with less alcohol, so it is particularly recommended for first time sake drinkers who are still a little unsure if they will like it or not.

The best temperature to enjoy sparkling sake is slightly chilled.


In conclusion

Well, that wraps up our guide on which order to enjoy sake.
At KURAND SAKE MARKET there are over 100 different types of Japanese sake. Why not pop in the next time you are in Tokyo and use this guide as a reference.
We look forward to welcoming you soon!