A Quickstart Guide to the Sake Barrel Breaking Ceremony: Kagamibiraki

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

Kagamibiraki is an exciting ritual often used to open celebrations and important events in which a sake barrel lid is broken open with a mallet. It’s a staple bit of fun around this time of year in sake themed end of year parties.

What is the Meaning of Kagamibiraki?


One surprising fact is that the literal translation for kagamibiraki is not barrel breaking, but mirror breaking. Although there are numerous theories about the meaning and origin of this name, it is also the name of a ceremony used at new year which involves breaking open a special type of mochi cake called kagamimochi.

The sake industry basically has its own version of this ceremony. It goes by the same name but replaces the rice cake with a sake barrel. Sake shops refer to the lid of the barrel using the Japanese word for mirror, kagami, most probably because the lid bears an uncanny resemblance to the sort of flat round mirror that can be found in households all over Japan. The ritual has a strong religious connotation and sometimes the barrels contain a special sacred sake intended to be presented as an offering to the gods. As it would not be fair for the gods to have all the fun, the sake is normally passed around for everyone partaking in the ritual to enjoy.

The origins of this ritual can be traced all the way back, as far back as 300 years, to the Shogun (warring) Era of Japan (1603-1868). It is believed that the 4th Tokugawa general was the first to perform the ritual to rally his troops before battle. A string of successes soon lead to its widespread use by generals and military commanders all over the country. Some generals even had sake casks made especially for the purpose, engraved with their own unique insignia.

Given the close link between shinto and sake, it is more likely that the name was adopted from the new year’s mochi breaking ceremony of the same name.

Nowadays, the ritual serves all kinds of purposes: the starting gun for a new departure or race, as a prayer for success and celebration upon achieving it, for prosperity and good health. It is even becoming popular at weddings. So much so that it is now possible to rent out barrels with specially cut out lids that can be pieced back together so that the ritual can be performed multiple times.
Whatever its purpose, the ritual is believed to bring good luck and good tidings and gets parties off to the right start.

Necessary Equipment


So what, besides a barrel, do you need to perform the ceremony?

Sake Barrel

Sake barrels are used for kagamibiraki. A barrel that fits itto (18 liters) is generally used. The aroma of cedar blends with the sake to create a unique woody flavor.

Large Cutters

Used to cut the ropes that bind the barrel.

Mallet / Hammer

Used to take off the tags (bamboo) that is on the top part of the barrel.

Crowbar or Spanner

Used to open up the lid.

Tips for Performing a Successful Kagamibiraki Ceremony

Two Patterns of Kagamibiraki

There are two slightly different versions of the way the ceremony is performed. In the first version, the lid is split by hitting it with a mallet or using a spanner to slowly prize it away from the barrel. However this version lacks a bit of thrill. At celebratory events it is more exciting to split it open using a mallet. Take care not to soak people in the front row of your audience because the sake usually sloshes out on impact.

Kagamibiraki, not kagamiwari

Kagamibiraki often goes by another name, kagamiwari (mirror splitting) because lid is being split not opened. However, the word for split, wari is also associated with bad luck so kagamibiraki is the more desired term.

Best Consumed Soon After Opening

Sake barrels generally contain namazake (see this article) which is unpasteurized sake that has a short shelf life and needs to be consumed soon after opening. Any sake leftover at the end of the party can be drained off and bottled by attaching a nomiguchi (tap) to the lower part of the barrel.


If you happen to be in Tokyo this New Year, you may be able to witness this spectacle first hand because KURAND often performs a mini version of the ritual at its branches as part its annual New Year’s Eve party. And after enjoying getting wet you can taste your way through 100 different types of sake from boutique breweries across Japan.

Characteristics of Sake at Different Temperatures

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

The sake experience is often referred to as being multi-dimensional. And with good reason. The way which the flavor and aroma changes at different temperatures is one such dimension. In earlier articles we explained the health benefits of warm sake, looked at its origins, and how to prepare it. In this article, we look at the sort of typical characteristics that sake will exhibit at each mark along the thermometer.

Characteristics of Reishu

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Reishu generally refers to sake that is served between the temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees. Aromatic sake such as ginjo is quite suited to this temperature because of the way the elegant fruity and floral aromas blend into the palate and melt on the tongue. Any off-flavors can be masked to some extent by lowering the temperature even more. However, this type of sake often has a very clean, simple palate to allow the aroma to shine; the sort of palate that will start to lose its character and become too uniform below a certain point. The aroma may also go to sleep slightly. Just steer clear of temperatures close to zero if you want your ginjo to be fun.

Characteristics of Jouon

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Jouon is a difficult one to define, but it normally falls somewhere in the middle of chilled and warm. It often gets translated as room temperature in English, but it is not quite room temperature either. This ambiguity means it is actually quite difficult to drink sake jouon. Most restaurants classify jouon as 15 to 20 degrees. Either way, it is neither warm nor cold. Most professional sake tasting is done at this temperature because it is considered to be when all the flavors are the most balanced.

Any off-flavors will be clear and present, but you might find it helpful to identify these early on so that there are no surprises when you move into other temperature zones.

Characteristics of Okan

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Okan is the general Japanese term for all heated sake. Okan is also really where sake is at its element. Each temperature range of okan has a different name. Between 30 to 40 degrees, it is called nurukan (lukewarm). 45 degrees is called joukan. 50 degrees is called atsukan. And finally, 55 degrees is called tobikirikan. The flavor of sake changes every 10 degrees, so even within the sphere of okan, a myriad of different flavors can be enjoyed.
Generally, heating sake up increases the umami producing components, such as amino acids and lactic acid. Namazake in particular contains a lot of lactic acid which add up to an even richer flavor when heated. In okan, the alcohol can be felt quite strongly but the bitterness and off-flavor of the sake is masked. It is important to choose sake that is suited for okan. People who are not used to drinking sake might find sake more to their taste if they warm it, but it is important to note that the purpose of altering the temperature is not to make poor quality sake taste better; it will do nothing more than make it that bit more tolerable.

Summary

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Sake changes depending on the temperature zone. There is an infinite variety of people’s preferences so it is impossible to cater to everyone, but this article can perhaps serve as a point of reference. Searching for the best temperature zone for each sake is an exciting adventure that should be done without being bound by the sake classes.


So there you have it! Altering the temperature is a great way to discover the depth sake has to offer and add an extra dimension to your experience. You will be hard pressed to find another alcoholic beverage in the world that offers this many temperature ranges to play with. Sadly very few sake brewers list temperature serving guidelines on their labels — perhaps due to a lack of space or the practicality — so it’s a case of experiment and discover. And there is no better place to do that than KURAND where each branch is equipped with a special water bath for heating sake. The majority of sake at KURAND SAKE MARKET is refrigerated, but all the sake that is not refrigerated, next to the water bath is sake suited for enjoying at jouon or as okan. Please try these sakes warm! You also have the freedom to warm any of the sake in the fridge. You may even discover a new temperature and sake combination that even the brewers aren’t aware of!

Fresh? Fruity? What kind of sake is namazake?

Greetings Sake Lovers,

welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake. This article will introduce namazake (unpasteurized sake).

What is Namazake?

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As a very strict rule, antioxidants such as sulfites are never added to sake. This is of course a positive because some people have allergies to them. However, the less obvious negative is that sake is much more unstable. By unstable, we are referring to the microbial stability of the sake. Various microbes are involved in the process of brewing sake. Even if the yeast is removed, as is done in wine making, the remaining enzymes such as those produced by the koji would remain meaning that in the right conditions the fermentation and starch to sugar conversion would continue and the flavor of the sake would, over time, change and in some cases degrade.

Therefore, the sake has to be stabilized. While in the old days, in a time before pasteurization, they would add strong strength alcohol, the modern way to stabilize the sake is to pasteurize it at around 60 degrees. This level of heat kills of any leftover enzymes, bacteria and completely stops the fermentation and saccharification and its tracks. Effectively sterilization, in Japanese it is called hiire. Koji enzymes are not the only microbes that hiire eradicates. A very stubborn form of lactic acid bacteria called hiochi-kin in particular — once a brewer’s worst nightmare because of its ability to destroy entire batches of sake, although these days this rarely happens — can, in the worst cases, turn elegant fruity sake into foul tasting eggnog. So where does Namazake fit into all of this?
Simple: namazake is unpasteurized sake.

Characteristics of Namazake

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The biggest difference with pasteurized sake is the fresher flavor. As the yeast is still alive the ginjo aroma that is distinctive to many premium sake is also much more pronounced. The downside of namazake is that it is unstable so its quality deteriorates quickly. It is particularly sensitive to temperature. Because, microbes are active at warm temperatures, namazake has to be refrigerated to keep them dormant. As long as they stay dormant, the flavor won’t change too rapidly. Namazake is still a bit of a rarity on the market because of its short shelf life, but it makes a special appearance throughout the year in the form of seasonal sake.

Blindtasting Namazake

Why not challenge your friends to a blind-tasting duel. Sometimes namazake is easy to spot and sometimes it isn’t. In its very clear forms, you may detect aromas of chestnut, freshly cut grass, herbs and other flora. It also tends to be more acidic and have more umami, which is the sweet/salty tartness you sometimes get on the finish. All in all, namazake should be more youthful, untamed and fresher. Some people claim namazake has a cooling feel on the nose and some hints of mint.

Once Pastuerized Sake

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In the standard brewing process, there are two pasteurizations. The first is done right after the sake has been pressed and the second is done before bottling. You may wonder why a second is necessary if the first is supposed to kill all the microbes and bacteria, but shortly before bottling water is added to sake and there is a risk that there could be some microbes in the water.
Namazake may omit one or both of these hiire. In the case of once pasteurized sake, its name changes depending on the pasteurization that is omitted. If the pasteurization before bottling is omitted, it is called namazume (bottled nama). If the one before storage is omitted, it is called namachozo (stored nama). It is a little difficult to describe the difference between each once-pasteurized sake, but it definitely exhibits fresh aromas and flavors than twice pasteurized sake.
For reference, although not a legal definition, among brewers namazake that has omitted both pasteurizations is called nama-nama.


The KURAND sake selection includes a number of very high quality namazake and a special corner for seasonal sake, so depending on which time of year you visit, there is always something new to try. And because our sake is delivered direct from the brewery, it is always fresh. Why not pop in the next time you are in Tokyo, and discover the diversity and depth that sake this fresh has to offer. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Eye opening! Is it true that sake can be mixed with water?

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

Generally, sake is enjoyed straight. Many people believe, often with a passion, that it is wrong to mix sake with anything. Thus, for the most part the concept of mixing or adding to sake does not exist. However, we see nothing wrong with a little variation now and then, especially if it makes sake taste even more delicious. In this article we will examine the appeal of mixing water with sake.

Sake is Actually Already Mizu-wari

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Compared to wine, beer and other brewed liquors, sake has a higher alcohol content. It is even higher when sake comes out of the fermentation. Sake that has just been made is called genshu and has an alcohol content somewhere around 18-20%. Sometimes this genshu goes onto the market as it is, but most of the time breweries add water to lower the alcohol content. This stage in brewing is called wari-mizu. In other words, while they may not know it, many people are already drinking sake that has had water added to it.

If Doing Mizu-wari, use Genshu

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It makes little sense to mix sake that is already mixed with water with more water. After all, the whole point of brewers adding water is to balance out the flavors. However, genshu can actually benefit from a little added balance.

Generally sake that goes on the market as genshu has an alcohol content of 17-18%. This extra alcohol also lends the sake extra body with creates a fuller, richer flavor profile. The first sip may be pleasant enough, but sooner or later you might grow tired of the heaviness of this style of sake. Adding water not only lowers the alcohol content to around 15% and makes it easier to drink without getting drunk but it enables you to enjoy a less aggressive, persistent taste. We recommend tasting the genshu as it is before adding water so that you can experience both versions.

Mizu-wari and Okan: Even More Mellow

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Another great way to mellow out genshu is to add water and warm. By heating the mixture of water and sake, flavors blend together better. Warming also accentuates the umami (savory flavors) and prevents the sake from becoming too watery or thin as a side effect of adding water. As explained in previous articles, warming sake matures the flavors and aromas and although brewers don’t warm the sake or the water when adding in the brewery, for some reason or other, the effect is very similar. Less alcohol, more balance and easier to drink – there is nothing but merits to this way of enjoying genshu.

Use nansui (soft water)

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Another important factor to consider is the hardness of the water, just as you do when you brew tea. Nansui (soft water) because its light, smooth character does not affect the taste of the sake directly. It also does not affect the aroma of the sake. Most water in Japan is of the nansui ilk so tap water can be used if it passes through a water filter first. If you are outside Japan, it might be better to purchase bottled water.


There really are so many different ways to enjoy sake. Sake really is such a versatile drink. With 5 hours of all-you-can-taste sake, there is no better place than KURAND to discover new ways of enjoying sake! We look forward to welcoming you soon!

Tinged With History: Average Number of Years Sakagura Have Been in Operation

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

Sake has a long history in Japan. We know that alcohol production using rice as the main ingredient goes back almost 2,000 years. Which raises the question: how long have the average sakagura (sake brewery) been operational? While it is common knowledge that they are family businesses that have been passed down for generations, it is hard to guess their age. That is why KURAND decided to do a little survey of our partner breweries.

KURAND SAKE MARKET Asked 38 Partner Breweries

KURAND works with 38 business partner breweries. We asked each of these breweries when they were founded. Existing data shows that the oldest brewery is Sudo-honke, located in Ibaraki. This was founded in 1141 AD and has a history of 875 years. It is a history so long it is hard to comprehend. So then, would any of our 38 partner breweries come close to topping that?

KURAND Partner Breweries: Average Number of Years Since Founding.

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The average was 162 years. (as of 2016). 162 years ago would mean around 1856. Back then Japan was still in the Edo period. Sake brewing in Japan has such rich history, but the Edo period is probably one of the most important eras when brewing became safer and more stable and many developments were made that changed the face of brewing forever!

Why Did so Many Breweries Start Between Late Edo to Meiji Period

We discovered that many of the 38 breweries were founded between the Edo and Meiji Periods. One reason for this might be the relaxing of the complex sakekabu (laws about sake brewing) allowing brewers much more freedom to brew during this time.

Who are the Oldest Among Our Partner Breweries?

Which partner brewery has the longest history? The top three breweries with the longest history are listed below.

No.3 Chiyonokame Shuzo

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Number 3 is Chiyonokame brewer in Ehime prefecture. It was founded in 1716 and boasts 300 years of history. 1716 was the year that the 8th shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa implemented the Kyouhou reforms. Chiyonokame brewery is always building upon its rich history and actively challenging the developing of innovative products.

No.2 Tamagawa Shuzo

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Number 2 is Tamagawa brewery in Niigata prefecture. It was founded in 1673 and has 343 years of history. Tamagawa brewery is located in one of the many areas in Niigata with exceptionally heavy snowfall, even for Niigata. From the time of the 4th shogun Ietsuna Tokugawa, sake was cooled using natural snow. Snow storage was also used. Sake brewing was done together with nature.

No.1 Haneda Shuzo

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Number 1 is Haneda brewery in Yamagata prefecture. It was founded in 1592 and has 434 years of history. Overwhelming! 1592 was the year that Hideyoshi Toyotomi sent troops to Korea (known as bunroku-no-eki). Their tradition has been passed down for generations and they continue to brew sake with a consistent flavor profile.


The sheer number of breweries with over 300 years of history may have come as a surprise. But it is part of the KURAND concept to showcase the lesser known, smaller breweries and these tend to be the ones with the most history. A selection of sake from the sake breweries mentioned in this article can be enjoyed at KURAND SAKE MARKET. Why not come down and sip the history of sake. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Origins of Sake Terminology – Drinking Vessels

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

This is another article in our series attempting to shed some insight on the origins of various sake terms. In this article we look at the origins behind the names of the many drinking vessels.

Ochoko

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The Chinese character for ochoko literally means the mouth of a wild boar. So, why the mouth of a wild boar?

The word ochoko originates from the word choku, a word often used to describe things in small quantities. The purpose of the ochoko itself is to allow the drinker to enjoy sake in small quantities.

In other words the origin sadly has nothing to do with wild boars. Rather it was simply named after its original purpose. Some theories insist that the ochoko resembles a wild boar from the side, but given that, as with most Japanese words, the Chinese characters were chosen simply for their phonetics, this is most likely nothing more than a convenient coincidence.

Guinomi

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This is a sake vessel that is slightly larger than a ochoko.

The origin is from the term gui-gui, an onomatopoeia describing the sound of heavy drinking.

It began as a soba-choko (container used for noodle soap) and small tea drinking cups. However, drinking gui-gui from a guimoni will result in fast inebriation so it is only recommended for people with a high alcohol tolerance.

Tenkai-Sakazuki

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Sake vessels with an open top are called tenkai-sakazumi. The opening is trumpet shaped and
opens out towards the heavens.

And that is what tenkai means. The shape helps accentuate aroma more than traditional wine glasses or other sake vessels with a similarly narrow opening.

Wanguri-Gata

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This is another vessel which is named after its shape. Wanguri-gata is a shape where the mouth of the vessel is wide open. The dictionary definition is “the state of having a wide open or gawking mouth”.

Tokkuri

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There are several theories for the origins of this term.
1. Onomatopoeia that describes the sound that sake makes when it is being poured from a bottle: tokuri-tokuri.
2. From the word donguri which is made from don which means deep bottle and from gui which means vessel for sake.
3. From the hangul word for saketsubo (sake jar) which is tsukuuru.

During the Edo period, common people used tokkuri to purchase sake and it was later used to make okan (warm sake). Since the origin of the word dates all the way back to the Edo period, it is hard to know which theory is correct, but we think they are all equally as plausible and wonderful.

Katakuchi

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Katakuchi is a pitcher for sake. It is larger than other sake vessels and is used for gatherings where sake is shared. There is a spout for pouring on one side.

This word originated from the fact that there is only one side to pour from (katakuchi in Japanese means mouth on one side). It is difficult to pour sake from a one sho bottle (1.8 liters). It is nice to be able to pour sake into a katakuchi so it can easily be poured into different containers to drink!

Chirori

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Chirori (container to warm sake)

Chirori is a vessel used to make one or two cups worth of okan. There are various theories for the origin of this word.
1. Because it is warmed using an irori (hearth).
2. Because it is heated in a short time which can be expressed as chirori.
3. People who love sake cannot wait so they stick their tongue out in a chirori fashion.

The last theory is very interesting. It is true that it is hard to wait for okan to finish heating!

Bonus: Recommended Sake Vessels for Different Types of Sake

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Changing the vessel you drink from is a great way of adding an extra dimension to your sake experience because each vessel has different effect on the aroma and flavour or even the way the sake presents itself to you aesthetically.
For an in depth guide on matching vessel to sake, see this past article.


At KURAND we prepare a large selection of different vessels for you to experience sake. Why not come to KURAND and try them all and discover how profound the world of sake is. We look forward to welcoming you soon!

Closeup of Sake Production: Koji Making

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

So far in this series taking you through sake production process, KURAND Magazine has looked at how the brewer prepares the rice, polishing, washing, soaking and steaming it. A batch of that steamed rice is now taken to a special room turned into something called koji. Koji making is essentially the malting stage in the process, just like that required to make beer.

Sake Making 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.

Making Koji


The Japanese word for making koji is seigiku. In the 1,2,3s of sake making, seigiku is number one. It is no exaggeration to say that good sake begins in the koji room. In beer making, the barley is malted by germinating the barley bud, thus turning it into a plant. As the plant grows it unlocks its energy stores by releasing enzymes which break down the starch and convert it into glucose. Rice can do the same thing. However, due to the fact that the germ — found in the outer part of the rice grain — has been polished away, brewers cannot use the same technique to malt the rice. Instead, they use a mould called koji. Rather confusingly, perhaps, koji is the name of the mould, but it is also the name of the malted rice. The brewer starts by cooling the steamed rice down from 40 degrees to around 32 degrees. 40 degrees is too hot for making koji and dangerous for the brewers to handle. When the temperature is right, the rice is transferred to a special room which is built with a special insulated design to retain humidity and heat.

Koji Making Process

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The process can be broken down into 6 stages: tanekoji / tokomomi, kirikaeshi, mori, naka-shigoto, shimai-shigoto, and dekoji.

Tanekoji & Tokomomi

The brewer lays out the steamed rice onto a large table called a toko or bed and sprinkles spores of the mould onto it using a shaker. Feeding on the moisture in the rice grain, the mould starts to grow instantly, spreading its small feeding tubes into the grain and secreting enzymes that cut the starch chains up like a pair of scissors. Once the koji has been applied, the brewer mixes the rice to ensure all the rice is uniformly covered by the mould. The rice is brought together in the middle of the table to form a large mound. It is then covered with a cloth, thermometers are inserted and it is left to sit for 10-12 hours.

Kirikaeshi (Breaking up)

During its time under the cloth, the rice starts to stick together and solidifies.
The rice has to be broken up to prevent parts of the rice from getting too hot. If the rice gets too hot the koji will die, releasing unwanted aromas and flavors.

Mori (mounding)

Up until this stage, the aim of the process has been controlling the moisture levels of the entire batch of rice, but from this point onwards attention switches to controlling the moisture of each individual grain of rice. More or less precision is required depending on the target style of sake. The rice is moved to smaller containers to reduce the surface area thus retaining enough moisture for further growth. Extra precision is achieved by using smaller containers, the smallest of which is called a buta. Each buta can hold around 1.5-2.5kg of rice. Managing the buta is hard work and requires a lot of skill, so it is normally reserved for the best daiginjos. Some breweries do not use the buta even for daiginjo sake. One of the most time-consuming parts of this stage is rearranging the buta which are stacked on top of one another. They have to be continually rearranged because as heat rises the top row is always warmer than the rest. There are now machines that help with this task.

Naka Shigoto (middle work)

After being left to sit for a further 7-9 hours, the rice is spread out in order to encourage evaporation of moisture and bring the temperature down. The brewer also draws patterns in the rice to create furrows that acts as vents in the rice. This stage is very important because the period after mori is when the rice is at its most hottest and there is a danger that the excess heat will kill the mould.

Shimai-Shigoto (final work)

6-7 hours after naka-shigoto has been completed, the temperature of the rice is raised again. The rice is spread out in the same way as in the naka-shigoto stage. Shimai-shigoto is all about drying the rice while maintaining a steady mould growth. The pattern of mould growth is called the haze (ha-ze). For most sake the brewer will make so-haze koji. So-haze is where the mould completely covers the outside of the rice grain, but does not penetrate so deep into it. However, the more mould there is the more enzymes are produced in the fermentation and the faster starch is converted into sugar providing nutrients for the yeast. However, sometimes the brewer doesn’t want to provide such a nutrient rich environment for the yeast, such as when they are making ginjo sake.

As the aim of ginjo production is actually to starve the yeast of nutrients, instead of growing the mould on the outside of the rice grain, the brewer needs the mould to grow on the inside, ideally penetrating right into the white heart itself. This pattern is called tsuki-haze. To achieve this pattern, the brewer dries the outside of the rice grain so that the mould is encouraged to burrow deep into the core of the rice where there is plenty of moisture. It’s a task which sounds a lot easier than it actually is and brewers train for years to perfect the skills required to create this style of koji.

Note: you may remember in the last article we mentioned another type of haze, baka-haze. When the mould does not properly cover the grain or penetrate inside, it is called nuru-haze. There are actually many more types of haze, but these are the most important.

 

Dekoji (taking out)

Focus switches to completely cooling down the rice and stopping the growth completely. The rice is normally moved to a cooler room.

Like Looking After a Small Child

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Generally, seigiku takes roughly 48-50 hours. That’s two full days of keeping a watchful eye on the koji. So yes, as you might have already guessed, brewers often work through the night. The only other task that requires this much care and attention and sleepless nights would have to be child rearing. In fact, many brewers will half jokingly (or perhaps not joking at all) make similar comparisons. Okay, it might be a stretch to claim that they are similar unless you have done both. But nevertheless, without good koji you cannot brew good sake, and that is why it is the number one more important stage in brewing.

Working in the koji-muro that is around 30 degrees is much harder work than most people imagine. Quite a bit of stamina is required to be able to stir the heavy warm rice.

Set to over 30 degrees and close to 80% humidity, the koji room is a tough environment to work in for long periods. As well as skill, you need to be healthy and have good stamina.

When asked for the secret behind the deliciousness of their sake, nearly all brewers will first talk about the koji.


So there you have it. This article has only scratched the surface of how koji is made. If you wish to learn more, check out our past special series of koji making with an entire article dedicated to each stage of the process. 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! In this next article in this series we will explain how the yeast starter is made.

Rice Preparation Stages: Recap
Polishing
Karashi
Washing
Soaking
Straining
Steaming

Closeup of Sake Production: Steaming

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

So far in this series KURAND Magazine has covered the following steps in the sake making process: seimai, karashi, senmai, shinseki, and mizukiri. When looked at in the context of the entire process it is clear just how integral each is to making or breaking the rest of the process and ultimately, determining the final quality of the end product. And the next stage in the process, the steaming is no exception.

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.

In Japanese rice steaming is mushimai. Rice steaming may have you imagining the process of cooking rice at home. However, this stage of sake brewing is a little different and far more complex.

What Exactly is Rice Steaming?

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If you are wondering why brewers don’t just steam it by boiling it in water as it is prepared in the home, the first reason relates to the consistency of boiled rice; it’s sticky. Sticky rice is hard to handle and makes the koji making stage extremely difficult. The second reason is that the koji mould struggles to grow on rice that is not firm enough.

3 Reasons for Steaming Rice

To elaborate further, there are a total of 3 reasons why brewers have to steam the rice.

1. Sterilization

2. Altering the Consistency

Prior to steaming the rice has a moisture content of about 33-36% its weight, but the target moisture level for growing the koji mould is around 40%. As the steaming itself brings the rice into contact with moisture, the brewer has to set the moisture level slightly lower to begin with. However, for rice intended as fuel for the fermentation of richer sake like junmai, the starting moisture content may be set higher because the brewer needs this rice to be softer on the outside so that it breaks up and dissolves into the fermentation

3. Altering the starch type

Prior to steaming, raw starch takes the form of tightly closed balls. This is β type starch. In this state, these balls are difficult to convert into glucose. The steaming unravels these balls and converts them into α type starch.

How do They Steam?

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The process could be best described as pouring steam up through the rice grains. The rice is put into a large vat called koshiki which is then place on top of a large pot called a kama, basically just a large version of the pots that steamed rice is traditionally served in Japan. This pot sits on top of a boiler. Hot water is added and heated creating steam.

By using hot dry steam, the rice is steamed at a high temperature with low moisture which makes the rice the perfect softness.

Mushimai: requires hard labor and lots of attention

Currently some brewers use an automatic steaming machine that also automatically cools the rice after. However, for daiginjo-shu, more precision is required so the koshiki is used. The advantage of the koshiki is that the rice can be placed in layers. Generally, the bottom of the koshiki which is closest to the steam, gets more moisture. It is here that the rice intended for the fermentation is placed. The rice for the koji is placed at the top.

How Does the Steaming Affect the Rest of the Process?


The amount of steaming time and condition greatly affect the flavor and aroma of the sake, so the rice is carefully checked during this process.

Rice that has already been steamed is mixed with a wooden shovel called bunji. The steamed rice is extremely heavy and hot steam rises from the rice making this process a constant battle against the heat. Taking out rice that is around 100 degrees from the koshiki, spreading the rice, and cooling the rice is very hard work.

For mushimai, the ideal conditions are rice that is hard enough so koji can breed and rice that has enough moisture (outside is hard and inside is soft / easy to dissolve). This state is called gaikou-nainan in Japanese and careful attention paid to make sure that mushimai ends up in this state. Traditionally, the toji or person in charge of the steaming process will check the doneness by rolling some rice into a ball and biting into it.

The rice is steamed in batches, with each batch intended for one of three stages of the process: koji, shubo, and moromi.

If the rice is too soft when making koji, the hyphae of koji-kin will get into the core of rice grains causing the rice to dissolve too much . This will bring about a phenomenon called bakahaze.

Dynamism as well as delicateness is necessary for making good mushimai.


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!

Rice Preparation Stages: Recap
Polishing
Karashi
Washing
Soaking
Straining

Closeup of Sake Production: Karashi

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

When talking about sake it is impossible not to talk about the process of seimai. This article will discuss the much lesser known process of karashi (cooling / drying of rice).

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 Karashi?

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During seimai, rice gains heat from friction caused by polishing. The longer the length of seimai is, the hotter the rice gets. Brewers often describe the rice as being unsettled. The purpose of karashi is to cool the rice back down to room temperature. The amount of time it is left to cool depends on the type of rice and how it was polished.

Friction also causes the rice to lose moisture so moisture levels inside the rice are uneven. Karashi also helps to restore this moisture by reabsorbing lost moisture from the surrounding air. After seimai, the rice is but into paper bags and put into a storage tank. The rice is stored in a dark and cool place for two or three weeks.

How is karashi done?

For the reasons already explained, if rice that is still hot from the friction of polishing is washed immediately, there is a high possibility it will absorb too much water too quickly. There is also the risk that the large temperature change will cracks the grains.
The amount of time it takes to do karashi depends on the amount of rice but generally it is roughly 8 hours for rice with 75% seimai-buai, roughly 10 hours for rice with 70% seimai-buai, roughly 24 hours for rice with 60% seimai-buai, roughly 48 hours for rice with 50% seimai-buai, and roughly 72 hours for rice below 40% seimai-buai. Rice that has been polished for a long period of time requires at least one or two days to cool off. And that is why karashi is essential to the sake brewing process.

How does karashi affect the sake?

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The next article will introduce a very important step called senmai that comes after seimai and karashi. The surface of the rice is washed to remove remaining components and to allow the rice to absorb water. If the rice is not stable during this process, then the rice that has gone through the hassle of being polished will be wasted. Karashi is not one of the most talked about stages of the whole production process — on the contrary, very few diagrams of the process even include this stage — but nevertheless it is a very important step in stabilizing and protecting the precious rice.

So once again we have dedicated an entire article to one of the more minor stages of sake brewing. But you won’t find any brewers overlooking any stage of brewing. Karashi might seem quite mundane, but even this tiny, seemingly insignificant stage can make or break the rest of the process.


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!