The Part of Koji Making Where the Brewer Really Shines: The Fourth and Fifth Step to Make Good Koji: Naka-Shigoto / Shimai-Shigoto

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

As a supplement to the recent Closeup of Production series, over the next few articles, we will be zooming into the various steps of the process and offering even more insight into how they are carried out. In this series, we look at koji making/seigiku. So far, In the previous articles, we explained how the brewer breaks up the rice to give the koji mold access to oxygen and then, after letting the koji rest a while, transfers it into smaller containers to control the moisture and temperature levels more precisely. Which brings us to the fourth stage, naka-shigoto and fifth stage, shimai-shigoto in Japanese.

Glossary
Koji = steamed rice with mold growing on it
Koji mold = the mold used to make koji
Seigiku = process of making koji
Haze = pronounced ha-ze describes the mold growth
Haze-guai = the state of haze
Kirikaeshi = breaking up, the second stage in koji making
Koji-muro = koji room
Koji-kin = Japanese word for koji mold
Shimpaku = starch filled core in the center of rice grain
Mori = mounding
Naga-shigoto = middle work
Shimai-shigoto = final work

What is Naka-shigoto / Shimai-shigoto?


The koji’s temperature increases during the 6-8 hours that it is left to sit following mounding. Next, the brewer moves the koji to a bigger table or container, or if using dividers removes these and spreads it out and folds it to help water evaporate and to increase the koji’s contact with oxygen. This stage is called middle work.

The koji is normally mixed by hand. It looks a lot like folding the mixture when you make a cake. Indeed, both naka-shigoto and that stage of cake making share the same purpose: to increase oxygen contact. If the steamed rice absorbs too much water, the temperature will not increase to the required levels and the koji will struggle to grow properly. After mixing, the koji is spread out. Ideally the brewer tries to remove any hills that have formed and get the koji level and may use a tool for this purpose.

6-8 hours after naka-shigoto, the temperature of the koji will increase again. The brewer has to step in to stop the koji from exceeding 40 degrees. This is the purpose of shimai-shigoto.

To help heat escape from the koji, some brewers draw a pattern or create furrows or ditches (like those you might see farmers create between their crops using a tractor) in the koji with their fingers. There is no real evidence that this helps, but each brewer has their own technique and they swear by it. The idea is that these furrows increase the surface area and speed up evaporation.

All of the target temperatures are decided beforehand so it is just a question of how the brewer achieves those targets. They may adapt their techniques depending on the condition of the rice which varies wildly year on year according to conditions during the growing season, and how the rice was washed, soaked and steamed.

Because temperature can fluctuate wildly from one moment to the next, it is necessary to keep a close eye on the koji and constantly check the temperature. Good koji is that which maintains a uniform temperature throughout; not too high and not too low.

It Is a Race against the clock


After reading the previous articles, you will no doubt now grasp the importance of temperature control in koji making. And the key to that control is speed. The brewer is constantly battling against the clock. A slow naka-shigoto and shimai-shigoto will result in the temperature falling too quickly, by too much. When dealing with large volumes of koji, the brewer also needs to exert a powerful control over the koji which is hard work. Even if machines are used, the final decisions are made by people. Some breweries that make sake on a large-scale use fully automatic machines that control the temperature. However, even at these breweries, the final decisions are made by toji, and it is still not yet possible to emulate the skill needed to make the best quality (tsuki-haze) koji for the best daiginjo.

Toji inspect the koji through sight, touch and smell; the inherent senses that only a human possesses. That is why even if a machine is used, they regularly have to check the koji and carry out adjustments by hand.

Naka-shigoto / shimai-shigoto is the Hardest Stage of Koji Making

Takahiro Suzuki toji of Kanbai-shuzou, which still uses futakoji (small box) method says that naka-shigoto / shimai-shigoto is the hardest part of the seigiku process. We asked him why.

Why do you think these stages are the hardest?

“There are times when I’m working in a 36 degree room for over an hour. In my company, there are no other employees trained to do this step so the task falls on my shoulders. Imagine working in a sauna. You don’t go there to work; you go there to relax. Naka-shigoto / shimai-shigoto are extremely draining physically and mentally. Also, I get very little sleep because I have to keep getting up to check on things.

Why don’t you just train your other staff to do this job?

It’s less a case of training someone up and more a case of someone have the time to master the skills required through practice and experience. During the regular brewing season, there simply isn’t the time to do this. If I can find people who trained at other breweries it might be a possibility to increase staff in future, but this is such an old- fashioned technique that there are very few people with these skills out there.


That about sums up the naka-shigoto / shimai-shigoto process. Just thinking about having to work in a sauna for an hour is enough to make most people sweat. Making good koji, especially the traditional way, requires a lot of experience and skill that you can’t earn overnight.

The next article will introduce the last step in the seigiku process: dekoji. This is not just taking the koji out. Traditional skills are used to make this happen. Check back next time to learn more about dekoji.

Until then, if you are in Tokyo, and fancy delving deeper into the world of sake, there is no better place than KURAND where you for just one price, you can taste over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries up and down Japan, without time limits.
We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Could that Shochu in Your Glass be Soju?

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

In this article we are taking a slight detour from sake to look at Japan’s other indigenous alcohol beverage, shochu. Shochu has yet to create the sort of waves that sake has overseas and this is in part due to its misrepresentation. Many people simply don’t realize that what they are drinking is in fact something else, something completely different. Indeed, in the early days, sake suffered from the same kind of mistaken identity as well, but for shochu, the problem has been confounded by a very sneaky little imposter. It is time to finally unmask this imposter and give shochu its identity back.

Who is the Imposter

Cutting to the chase, the imposter is a Korean beverage called soju. The problem definitely starts with the similarity in the way these words sound. Both soju and shochu are written using the same Chinese characters for fire and alcohol, the difference being, that soju adopts a much closer sound to the original Chinese reading: “shaojiu”. For many people soju is also the easier to pronounce out of the too. Perhaps, shochu’s mistake was adopting the harder to pronounce name.

What is Soju

A drinking culture has been firmly established in Korea and Koreans are known for drinking large amounts of liquor. Soju is essentially a vodka, made by distilling starch based tubers in a type of still called a column still which allows for multiple distillations. Multiple distillations results in a very high alcohol spirit and strips away pretty much all the flavor of the raw ingredients. A little sugar or sweeteners are sometimes also added. There are both low and high alcohol versions of the beverage ranging from as low as 18.5% right the way up to 40% or more.
So far, so sounding like shochu. Are they really not the same?

Difference in Ingredients

Shochu is normally made with a rice-based koji and then one other grain. However, sometimes only one grain is used. For example, in premium barley shochu production, barley may be used for the koji also. It is rare for more than one grain to be used though and there are strict rules governing which ingredients can be used and their ratio.Soju on the other hand is made by blending different ingredients such as rice, wheat, sweet potato, tapioca, and corn together and there are no particular rules about what and how much can be blended.
Historically, it was originally made from rice, but during the rice shortages of World War II makers had to turn to other ingredients such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley, etc and the practice stuck. Starting with a base of rice and adding other grains or tubers is how was sometimes added to the starch of the mixtures. This is how modern soju was born.

A World Apart from Authentic Shochu

Shochu can be divided into two groups: otsu-rui and ko-rui. The otsu-rui group is sometimes also called authentic or honkaku shochu. The key difference between the two is the number of distillations. Otsu-rui is distilled only once. The structure is very simple, so it creates a shochu that has a unique flavor and more emphasis on the flavor of the raw ingredients.
Like soju, ko-rui is made by continuous distillation method. It is hard to argue the similarity between ko-rui and soju, but otsu-rui shochu is a world apart. The post-distillation strength is high for both types so water is normally added to adjust it before it goes on sale.
Ko-rui shochu is often mass-produced just like soju which lowers the price it can be sold at.

Note: soju can also be made with one distillation but this is the really traditional stuff and in this day and age, it is rare.

Alcohol Strength

The alcohol strength of soju is a lot weaker than shochu. Think of it as a watered down version of vodka. Most shochu are around 20~25% alcohol but high ones can be closer to 50%. Soju comes in around 15~20%.

Mislabelling

It definitely does not help shochu’s cause that some shochu makers have begun to label their products as soju. But why on earth would a shochu maker want to confuse its drinkers like this? In California, bar and restaurant owners holding only a wine and beer license, successfully lobbied their government to allow them to serve soju arguing that its alcohol strength fell outside the spirits category and so they did not need a separate license—like they did to serve vodka, rum, whiskey, etc. The condition of this new law was that soju had to be printed on the label. Shochu makers saw a clear opportunity here to increase their profits by paying less tax and increasing the size of their potential audience. So they started to add soju to the label on their bottles. They were opening a Pandora’s box and they probably knew this at the time, but the opportunity and the fruit it would bear greatly outweighed any risks of sullying shochu’s identity. But case of mistaken identity caused by this mislabelling has spread outside California and the situation is set to get worse because other states have begun to lobby for the same laws.

Difference in Drinking Style

There are so many ways to enjoy shochu: straight, on-the-rocks, mixed with water (mizuwari), or with hot water (oyu-wari) and even mixed with soda water (soda-wari).
There are also very different traditional ways to enjoy soju.

・Shots – this is one that you will rarely see with shochu in Japan
In Korean, the shot are called cyan (soju-cyan). This method is main stream in Korea. A small 50cc glass glass is used to drink it. It is basically a shot. People drinking it are supposed finish drinking it in one chug.

・Bakudan-zake (literally, liquor bomb)
The name of this drink is terrifying.
A shot glass that has soju in it is dropped into a beer mug full of beer.  Sounds similar to a sake bomb, and well, it is. Perhaps that is where it started.

The point is that just like ko-rui shochu, the flavor is very neutral and easy to mix.

It would be a waste to drink otsu-rui shochu as a shot. The idea is to sip it slowly and savor the flavors they have to offer.

Summary

So there you have it, even if it says soju on the label, you might actually be drinking shochu. However, you will rarely see the word shochu printed on a bottle of soju. It is slightly forgivable to label ko-rui shochu as soju, but it is a bit of a sin to label authentic otsu-rui shochu that way. Hopefully, steps will be taken overseas to give shochu back its identity, but you can help by sharing this article with your friends and discovering shochu on your own terms in an informed way.

Or, if you are visiting Japan, why not come and taste over 100 different types of shochu, carefully selected from all over Japan, at your own leisure, all for one flat fee, with no time limits. There is only one place to do this and that is our sister branch of KURAND, HAVESPI. It is basically the same system as KURAND but with shochu. And as with KURAND, there is a heavy emphasis on the maker and their story. With so much variety you are bound to discover something you have never tried, such as, for example, lettuce shochu—we kid you not!

The Reason Why Sake Bottles Come in Different Colors

Who knew? There is actually a reason why sake bottles are colored.

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

When purchasing sake in a store, the first thing that will probably catch your eye is the color of the bottles. Sake bottles are made out of glass but they are not always transparent. Of course, sometimes the color is part of the design, but more often than not, there is a more practical reason behind this. In actual fact, each color is used for a particular purpose.

Brown Bottles

There are some exceptions, but for the most part, the large 1.8L bottles called isshobin are a default brown. The brown color is thought to be the best at blocking out light, which is the purpose of using different colors in the first place. Light is one of the main enemies of sake—sake has many enemies—in particular the ultra violet kind. If absorbed by the sake, there is a risk that the light will alter the chemical composition of the sake. Now, unless you are buying for a party, it is unlikely that you will be able to finish whole isshobin in one go. We certainly do not recommend trying to finish one on your own, please drink responsibly. But that’s okay, the Isshobin is made with the presumption that it will be stored for a long time; one example of this is its brown color.

Side note: an isshobin of sake can last up to a year unopened. It is generally recommended that you refrigerate the bottle, but for the lesser grades of sake, it can even be stored outside as long as it is in a dark, cool place. Wrapping the bottle in newspaper gives the sake even more protection from the light and absorbs excess moisture (another enemy of sake).

Green Bottles

Excess exposure to ultraviolet rays of light causes sake to develop an extremely unpleasant aroma called nikko-shu (light-struck smell). As stated earlier, brown colored bottles are used to prevent this, but many smaller bottles are a green color. But no need for panic because these bottles are still protected from the light. Green is regarded by many as the color that gives sake bottles the most authentic appearance. Wine comes in green bottles too.

Both sake and wine contain more primary alcohol than secondary and tertiary alcohol and sometimes the yeast is left alive. With less alcoholic protection and a lot of microorganisms remaining, careful handling is required to prevent the risk of chemical change that also impacts the sake quality. This is a little known fact but is a good one to remember. Green bottles should definitely be stored in the fridge and away from ultraviolet light.

Clear & Blue

Gatecrashing the green and brown sake party, blue bottles and clear bottles are also making their way onto the shelves. The majority of the time the contents are namazake and junmai daiginjo, but hang on! are those not the type of sake which have to be consumed really quickly and are extremely fragile? Exactly, and all though at first it may seem like a contradiction to ship this type of sake in clear bottle with little protection from the light, it emphasizes to the consumer that the sake is not intended for long periods of storage, and why worry about protecting sake that is going to be consumed so quickly anyway; color, or lack thereof, plays more of an aesthetic role here.

Side note: although not visible to the naked eye, even some clear and blue bottles may be protected by a UV ray cutting film, so they are not completely exposed.

There are a number of other colored glass bottles out there including red, orange, purple, pink, black and even gold, but these bottles are expensive, so normally reserved for more premium products.

So there you have it, there was a subtle message behind the color of that sake bottle you bought after all. Actually, the color can be a great indicator of how you should store and or even consume the sake. Sake sold in blue or clear bottles should generally be served chilled and stored in the fridge. Green bottles are probably better in the fridge. Brown doesn’t necessarily have to be refrigerated but it does depend on the grade. Generally daiginjo sake should always be stored chilled.

See also this article about color of sake bottles.

If you are visiting Japan soon and looking for a place to begin your sake journey. Look no further than KURAND Sake Market. For one flat fee of 3,240 yen per person, you get access to a fridge of over 100 different sake products, ,and up to 5 hours to taste them, at your leisure, with no time limits. The system is self service. You simply pour as little or as much as you want. Each sake can be enjoyed in one of a range of different ware. You can also bring your own food to enhance the experience. We have branches conveniently located all over Tokyo, one in Saitama and one in Chiba. Please see the website for more details and to make a booking via our automated system. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Tasting by Region: A Complete Timeless Compilation (Part 3: Chugoku to Kyushu)

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

Japan is a rich tapestry of different sake styles and characteristics. Stepping from one region into the next can lead you to discover a completely different taste experience.

Every region in Japan is home to at least one sake brewery and that includes even the more shochu inclined parts of the south. In this 3 part series we look in more detail at each region’s style. This is your timeless guide to sake regionality. In Part 3, we cover from Chugoku to the south of Japan in Kyushu and Okinawa.

Just a quick disclaimer: even in the same region, the taste and style of sake can vary wildly depending on the individual brewery, the ingredients they use, the skill of the toji, production process, etc (the list is endless), so please use this as a very general reference.

The Key Factors that Affect Regionality


The key factors that affect regionality are the ingredients (rice and water), topography, cuisine and the guild of toji.

Cuisine

A large majority of the prefectures that feature in this final part all have one thing in common in that their brewing has been largely influenced by the local cuisine. As a general rule, breweries which are close to the sea brew sake to be paired with seafood, while those further inland brew sake with richer flavors to be paired with meat. Inland breweries also brew sweeter sake. The main reason for this is that in the olden days, in an age without refrigeration, meat from the mountains was preserved using salt which accentuates the sweetness in sake. While this combination depends largely on preference, at the time it was and is still very popular. Fish dishes tend to pair better with lighter sake that is drier, sometimes with a little salinity. There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but when you imagine the sort of food people from these different areas will be pairing with the sake, it makes complete sense that brewing evolved to match local cuisine.

Characteristics of Sake Flavor by Prefecture

Chugoku

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Tottori Prefecture Spring water that starts off as snowfall in the mountain ranges such as Mt.Daisen is undoubtedly the life force behind Tottori Prefecture’s brewing which produces gentle, mild sake with a very smooth textured mouthfeel. Takaisami, Hiokizakura, Chiyomusubi
Shimane Prefecture Described as the birthplace of sake in myth and legend, the prefecture prides itself on superior sake brewed with the superior skills of both the Izumo and Iwami toji guilds. This combined with pristine water born from the rich, beautiful natural surroundings and high quality brewing rice varieties is the recipe behind sake that is both light and refined with layers of depth. Ouroku, Rihaku, Izumofuji
Okayama Prefecture Okayama Prefecture is famed for its rich rustic food culture which is the key influence behind the prefecture’s brewing. This is the home of the Bichu Toji guild, whose signature style of brewing produces light, quaffable sake with very few off-flavors but with bursts of umami from the rice mid-palate. In general, the sake tends to be quite dry, with just a hint of sweetness from the rice. Okayama Prefecture has also achieved acclaim through its rice production, which includes a number of brewing rice varieties, not least, the oldest and only pure-breed of brewing rice, Omachi Sakehitosuji, Gozenshu, Sakuramuromachi
Hiroshima Prefecture As well as being the birthplace of today’s modern ginjo brewing, Hiroshima has a rich history and is home to a number of very famous breweries. The water used to brew is quite soft, so the prefecture had to engineer a way to compensate for the lack of minerals by converting more of the starch into sugar. Although the original purpose was to find a way to brew with soft water, quite by chance, it lead to the discovery of sake with more fruity, floral aromas. Hiroshima is also home to the National Research and Brewing Institute. It is perhaps better known among the general populace for a massive sake festival which is held in the City’s park once a year and pulls in sake fans and non-sake fans from all over Japan. One of the main reasons Hiroshima became such a sake hub is its railway line which revolutionized the sake distribution network. Many of Hiroshima’s breweries are located very close to each other along this famous railway line. The signature style is soft, slightly sweet sake with a unique mild flavor, often with quite high acidity to balance out the sweetness. Taketsuru, Ryusei, Ugonotsuki
Yamaguchi Prefecture You will probably know Yamaguchi prefecture thanks to the fame of Dassai, but this prefecture has always been a very important hub for sake. For starters, it is one of the biggest Yamada Nishiki growing prefectures in Japan, second to only Hyogo. Facing the Sea of Japan, the sake style is matched to the prefecture’s delicious seafood: light sake brimming with plenty of character. Dassai、Gangi、Taka

Shikoku

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Tokushima Prefecture Brewed with water from the Shikoku mountains and Sanuki mountains, the prefecture’s sake, nicknamed ‘the sake of Awa (Awa is the old name for the region)’ is largely a product of the large temperature difference between the day and night, and the rice grown at the foot of the mountains with good exposure to sunlight and ventilation. Toji then take these ingredients and with skills passed down through generations craft light, mellow sake with a gentle sweetness. Note: some brewers have started to veer away from the regional style in favor of a unique, highly acidic flavor profile which has more in common with wine than traditional sake. The key to this style is a special yeast specially cultivated within the prefecture by zapping it with LED light. Miyoshikiku, Narutotai, Asahiwakamatsu
Kagawa Prefecture Perhaps most famous for its udon, Sanuki udon, Kagawa prefecture is blessed with both great sea food and delicacies from the surrounding mountains. Clear water from the Assan Mountain Range creates sake that is of course a great match with udon.
Yorokobigaijin, Kawatsuru, Kinryuu
Ehime Prefecture Ehime is often regarded as a hidden sake lovers haunt, because it is less well known throughout the rest of Japan for its sake. But it is only a matter of time, before this prefecture gets itself on the map. Ehime’s signature style has evolved to match its white fish centric seafood rich cuisine: light, slightly sweet with a little umami.  Ishiduchi, Umenishiki, Kagiya
Kochi Prefecture Kochi prefecture has always been home to sake lovers. Methods for brewing in a temperate environment were developed early on and they have raised their own sake. The spiciness of the mainstream sake is on par with the sake from Niigata and Toyama.
Suigei, Tsukasabotan, Kame

Kyushu & Okinawa

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Fukuoka Prefecture Fukuoka is the one of the prominent production area for the the king of shuzou-kouteki-mai, Yamada-nishiki. It is also blessed with clear soft water and has a toji group with a long history. Even though Fukuoka prefecture is in Kyushu, the temperature gets low in the winter and the air is dry. It is the perfect climate for brewing sake and extremely high quality sake are brewed here.
Miinokotobuki, Shigemasu, Tamadeizumi
Saga Prefecture Saga prefecture has both sweet and spicy sake. The soft water from Sefurisan mountains and Tara mountains make sweet sake and the hard water from Tenzan mountains make spicy sake. There are a lot of breweries in the prefecture and the brewery density (The number of breweries against the mass) is one of the top in the nation.
Nabeshima, Azumaichi, Ichida
Nagasaki Prefecture There are 25 breweries in total in Nagasaki prefecture. This prefecture has a very strong shochu culture, but sake brewing near the basin of Saka prefecture border is thriving.
Ryokujyuuyoshuu
Kumamoto Prefecture The abundance waters of Shirakawa, Midorikawa, and Kikuchigawa and the shining sun of the tropical climate help the high quality rice called higo-mai to develop the ideal characteristics for brewing. This combined with the subsoil water of Aso and Kyushu mountains are what give Kumamoto sake its remarkably rich personality. The prefecture is also home to the research station / brewery that created the yeast variety No.9 that transformed the face of ginjo sake. Bishounen, Kouro (where yeast No.9 was discovered)
Oita Prefecture Oita prefecture is home to about 40 breweries, the second largest population in Kyushu. It also boasts an impressive shipping volume, second only to Fukuoka. These days, Oita is perhaps better known for Shochu, but sake brewing is thriving too. The sake often tends to be very viscous and quite sweet, but the prefecture also has its own brand of ginjo sake. The prefecture has become a magnet for a variety of different toji guilds and creating high expectations for its sake brewing in the future.
Nishi-no-seki, Takakiya, Senbazuru
Miyazaki Prefecture There are only two breweries in Miyazaki prefecture that brew seishu. The brewing scene is a little quieter at the moment, but Sentoku-shuzou in Nobeoka-shi recently won a gold medal at an evaluation meeting. 
Sentoku
Kagoshima Prefecture While Kagoshima is more at the center of shochu culture than sake, there are two breweries: Hamada-shuzou/Satsuma-kinzan-gura in Ichikikushikino-shi. Satsushumasamune, who make a well-rounded flavor profile.
Sasshumasamune
Okinawa Prefecture Okinawa is the land of habu snakes and—awamori, a distilled liquor made with rice and black koji mold. However one of the distilleries is also a sake brewery. Their sake does have a bit of a spirit-like quality but with a nice depth and sweetness from the rice. The brewery used cooling equipment and brews all year around. Renmei

Why not print out this guide and take it with you when you come to Japan. One place where you can really taste the regional diversity available is KURAND in Tokyo. Our lineup includes over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries up and down Japan, all of which, for one flat fee, you can taste to your heart’s content without time limits. You can bring your own food to pair or you can order from a menu of regional delicacies.

We look forward to welcoming you soon!

Tasting by Region: A Complete Timeless Compilation (Part2: Chubu to Kinki)

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

Japan is a rich tapestry of different sake styles and characteristics. Stepping from one region into the next can lead you to discover a completely different taste experience.

Every region in Japan is home to at least one sake brewery and that includes even the more shochu inclined parts of the south. In this 3 part series we look in more detail at each region’s style. This is your timeless guide to sake regionality. In Part 2, we cover from Chubu to the Kinki region.

Just a quick disclaimer: even in the same region, the taste and style of sake can vary wildly depending on the individual brewery, the ingredients they use, the skill of the toji, production process, etc (the list is endless), so please use this as a very general reference.

The Key Factors that Affect Regionality


The key factors that affect regionality are the ingredients (rice and water), topography, cuisine and the guild of toji. In each part in this series, we will look at each factor in more detail.

The Toji

A toji is a type of foreman/woman that oversees the entire sake process. The first toji 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. Each guild specializes in a particular style of sake and its members can influence the style of the region they brew in, especially, if a large number of toji from a particular guild gravitate there. Where the region is actually home to a particular guild you could argue that the guild developed its style based on the other factors that influence flavour such as cuisine and natural topography, etc. Either way, when analyzing style by region, the toji is one factor that simply can’t be ignored.

For more information about toji, see these past articles.

Characteristics of Sake Flavor by Prefecture

Chubu

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Yamanashi Prefecture The clear water that flows from the mountain ranges and the cold winters combine to make Yamanashi prefecture the perfect environment for brewing sake. The sake produced has a clear refined taste. Shunnouten, Shichiken, Sasaichi
Nigata Prefecture Niigata prefecture fulfills the three conditions to brew good sake: climate, rice, and water. Niigata brewing is driven by the skills of the regional toji guild, Echigo toji. In the 80’s the prefecture created a boom for clean, dry sake and this remains the signature sake today. In Japanese it is called Tanrei Karakuchi (literally, light dry). This style of sake is a perfect match for the local cuisine, which tends to be light and very simple. Kubota, Hakkaisan, Shimeharitsuru
Nagano Prefecture Like Nigata prefecture, and in fact bordering it on one side, Nagano prefecture has ideal natural surroundings for brewing. The famous alps, commonly known as the ‘roof of Japan’ supply the water, and provide. The prefecture tends to use its own brewing rice varieties: Miyama Nishiki, shuzokotekimai from Shinshu. Miyama Nishiki in particular has cemented its place as the No.3 brewing rice in Japan and its characteristics create a very high quality sake. The signature style is rich with a restrained aroma and some sweetness. Masumi, Daishinshu, Meikyou-shisui
Toyama Prefecture Set against a beautiful backdrop and with the perfect climate for brewing, this prefecture’s brewing is a mix of the toji skills from the neighboring prefectures, Nigata (Echigo Toji Guild) and Ishikawa (Noto Toji Guild). This combination produces quite unique tasting sake with both depth and crisp undertones. It is a flavor profile that matches very well with the local cuisine which tends to include both rich and lighter seasoned dishes. Kachikoma, Maboroshi-no-taki, Ginban
Ishikawa Prefecture This is one of the famous growing areas for Gohyakumangoku, a rice variety with a good affinity the prefecture’s pristine water originating in the Hakusan Mountain Range. And of course it is also home to one of Japan’s most famous toji guilds, the Noto Toji. The sake tends to be quite soft but rich, often erring on the sweeter side. Tengumai, Kikuhime, Tedorigawa
Fukui Prefecture Fukui prefecture brewing also uses water from the Hakusan Mountain Range. The high mineral content of this water has helped the prefecture to become the second largest producer of Gohyakumangoku. The water also provides the backbone for the prefecture’s signature style which is refined but with an endearing depth to every drop. Kokuryu, Bon, Hakugakusen
Aichi Prefecture This prefecture has been brewing for a long time, evidence of which can be found in Japan’s ancient scriptures such as the Kojiki (Japan’s oldest historical record) and Nihonshoki (Oldest chronicles of Japan). Traditions, skills and a historical heritage are what define Aichi sake. Blessed with access to high quality spring water from underground channels of the Kiso-sansen and Yahagigawa rivers, good rice and the right climate, the umami rich sake that the prefecture produces is respected on a national level. Kamoshibito-kuheiji, Horaisen, Gikyou
Gifu Prefecture The prefecture brews with its own brewing rice called Hidahomare. The snow that piles up on the northern Alps mountains during the winter becomes subsoil water which becomes the perfect ground water for sake brewing and is the key to the prefecture’s signature refined sake style. Michisakari, Reisen, Kozaemon
Shizuoka Prefecture The prefecture uses its own, locally cultivated, variety of sake yeast, Shizuoka Kobo. This yeast tends to produce sake with a pungent aroma but low acidity and a well rounded structure. Although the climate is warmer than in other prefectures, the sake brewed is award winning. Garyuubai, Isojiman, Biraki

Kinki

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Mie Prefecture Mie prefecture is one of the top places for gastronomy in Japan and various seishu-kobo have been developed here. It is this penchant for luxurious gastronomy that is the key influence behind Mie’s signature style, a very well-rounded, well balanced high quality sake that is easy to pair with a variety of different dishes. Mie-nishiki, Zaku, Gizaemon
Osaka Prefecture Osaka is home to a number of historically famous sake brewing meccas such as Hokusetsu, Kawauchi, and Senshu. It is also a foodie’s paradise. Osaka’s food has evolved in parallel with its sake brewing and earned it the moniker Tenka no Daidokoro (kitchen of the country). The signature sake style is instantly recognisable because it is often heavier, richer and powered by umami. Sake with a floral and or fruity ginjo aroma is rare but becoming more popular. Aika, Goshun, Amano-zake
Hyogo Prefecture Hyogo prefecture is one of the biggest producing areas of brewing rice which include Yamada Nishiki and is the largest sake drinking place in Japan. It is also the home of Tajima, Tamba toji and the brewing style is influence heavily by their skills and experience. Sake brewing is thriving in various places within the prefecture. Nada (now modern-day Nishinomiya district), the so-called birthplace of sake is nationally the number one producer. Kenbishi, Tatsuriki, Fukunishiki
Kyoto Prefecture Water is the secret behind the success of not only Kyoto’s sake brewing but is tea and cuisine as well. You may know Kyoto as the famous heartland of kaiseki (banquet). The sake is also very much calibrated towards its cuisine which tends to be very simple and light. Without a doubt, the heart of brewing land in Kyoto is Fushimi, famous for its hidden underground network of water channels carrying pristine waters from the nearby Mt.Momoyama. The water gives the sake a more gentle demeanor. It is this gentleness that has earned kyoto sake the name onnasake (female sake). But the sake is much loved by both genders throughout Japan. Tamanohikari, Eikun, Shouchikubai
Shiga Prefecture Shiga prefecture is the area surrounding Lake Biwako, a basin surrounded by mountains. From long ago Shiga was known for granary and most of the sake made in the prefecture use ground water that originates from the mountains. A lot of deep tasting, mellow sake are brewed here. Daijirou, Furousen, Hagi-no-tsuyu
Nara Prefecture Nara prefecture is said to be the oldest brewing area in Japan. Indeed it is in the temples in Nara, that the earliest form of modern sake brewing was born. Modern sake still bears the hallmarks of the monks craft. It is also where sugidama, the cedar ball that is displayed outside breweries and shops, was created and is still made today. The sake is brewed with spring water from Yoshino / Ikoma mountains and the high quality rice from Yamato-Hirano. Nara sake is easy drinking with an unparalleled freshness and clarity. Many brewers also use the ancient bodaimoto technique to brew their sake, a method of making the yeast starter that originated in the famous Shoryakuji temple. Kaze-no-mori, Yatagarasu, Harushika
Wakayama Prefecture Wakayama prefecture has an abundance of water from Kiisanchi and rice that is suited for sake brewing. Many different types of sake are brewed here. Many of the sake brewed here have a very rich deep flavor. Kuroushi, Kiddo-KID, Saika

To be continued…….
The final part will be released soon.

Why not print out this guide and take it with you when you come to Japan. One place where you can really taste the regional diversity available is KURAND in Tokyo. Our lineup includes over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries up and down Japan, all of which, for one flat fee, you can taste to your heart’s content without time limits. You can bring your own food to pair or you can order from a menu of regional delicacies.

We look forward to welcoming you soon!

Tasting by Region: A Complete Timeless Compilation (Part1: Hokkaido to Kanto)

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

Japan is a rich tapestry of different sake styles and characteristics. Stepping from one region into the next can lead you to discover a completely different taste experience.

Every region in Japan is home to at least one sake brewery and that includes even the more shochu inclined parts of the south. In this 3 part series we look in more detail at each region’s style. This is your timeless guide to sake regionality. In Part 1, we cover all the way from Hokkaido to the Kanto region which includes Tokyo.

Just a quick disclaimer: even in the same region, the taste and style of sake can vary wildly depending on the individual brewery, the ingredients they use, the skill of the toji, production process, etc (the list is endless), so please use this as a very general reference.

The Key Factors that Affect Regionality


The key factors that affect regionality are the ingredients (rice and water), topography, cuisine and the guild of toji. In each part in this series, we will look at each factor in more detail.

The Water

Sake generally starts off quite light and easy drinking in the north and becomes more rich, full-bodied and complex the further south you go. This is only a very general rule though, and some breweries are purposefully trying to move their sake away from this stereotype. Due to a lack of microclimates and strict geographical rules, sake’s regionality does exist but is less clearly defined than in the wine world. However, as in winemaking, a massive chunk of regionality is created by the ingredients used. The one common denominator in sake brewing is water, in particular, the mineral content. Different terrains supply different mineral content, and a region’s agricultural repertoire is largely determined by its water. Therefore it would be fair to say that a region’s cuisine is largely a product of its water also. Water is the key that ties everything together. Water also determines the type of rice that can be grown which of course is the raw ingredient of sake. Looking beyond the ingredients, water is also the life force of sake providing more or less power into the fermentation depending on the mineral content.
In general, Japan has the softest water in the world; and by soft we are referring to the quantity of magnesium and calcium, the two minerals that drive the fermentation. The more of these minerals you have, the faster the fermentation with more umami and flavor imparted along the way. That is why areas with hard water tend to produce richer, fuller bodied sake and their cuisine is heavier and richer to match and for areas, with soft water, the opposite is often true.

For more information about the water used to brew sake, see this 2 part series of past articles.

Characteristics of Sake Flavor by Prefecture

Hokkaido

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Hokkaido Hokkaido sake is smooth and refreshing and harmonizes well with fresh seafood. Kokushimusou, Otokoya

Tohoku

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Aomori Prefecture Sake made with sake rice varieties like Hana-Fubuki is pungent but with a clear flavor. Denshu, Houhai, Mutsuhassen
Iwate Prefecture Iwate brewing developed around the skills passed down from the Nambu toji guild. Iwate sake has a very refined, versatile food pairing profile. Asabiraki, Nanbu Bijin, Hama Chidori
Miyagi Prefecture Miyagi’s sake also displays strong influences from the Nambu toji guild. The typical profile parallels the tanrei karakuchi (light dry) style of Nigata prefecture. Urakasumi, Ichinokura, Hakurakusei
Akita Prefecture Blessed with an abundance of rice and water, Akita brewing infuses the time-honored skills of the local Yamauchi toji to drive continual innovation. Aramasa, Shirataki, Takashimizu
Yamagata Prefecture Yamagata prefecture is home to some very unique breweries. The sheer volume of ginjo sake produced there has earned the region the name the ginjo kingdom. The prefecture is famous for its quality and has even produced rice and yeast varieties that provide the foundation for its signature, soft, refined brewing style. Jyuyondai, Dewazakura, Kudoki-Jyouzu
Fukushima Prefecture Fukushima has a long history as a sake place. With its rich natural surroundings, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that Fukushima has a long history as a sake place. Hiroki, Daishichi, Okunomatsu

Kanto

Prefecture Name Characteristics Representative Brands
Tokyo High-quality sake is made from the abundance of water from the Tamagawa river system in western Tokyo area. Sawanoi, Taman-Jiman
Kanagawa Prefecture Kanagawa has a relatively large number of small boutique breweries. This prefecture leverages high rice polishing to brew high-quality handmade sake that stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Izumibashi, Saga-minada, Hourai
Saitama Prefecture Saitama’s brewing is driven by the Arakawa and Tonegawa water systems. The water is soft so the sake quality is also soft. Shinkame, Kanbai, Houmei, Hikomago, Chichibu Nishiki
Chiba Prefecture Sake brewing in Chiba has a surprisingly long history. Most of the sake is brewed with the region’s own brewing rice, Sou-no-mai because it is easy to cultivate. Goninmusume, Kinoe-Masamune, Ume-ichirin
Ibaraki Prefecture Ibaraki prefecture boasts the most breweries out of all the prefectures in Kanto. A lot of effort has gone into developing the region’s first original brewing rice, Hitachi-Nishiki to make pure Ibaraki sake. Satonohimare, Raifuku, Kikusakari
Tochigi Prefecture Tochigi brewers are blessed with multiple famous waters including the jyoujinzawayusui and izuruharabentenikeyusui, two water sources counted as one of the Nihon Meisui hundred exquisite waters of Japan. (see this article for more details) Houou-Biden, Senkin, Kotobuki, Sawahime
Gunma Prefecture The water quality is generally soft and produces similarly soft sake. In the winter, the temperature plummets providing ideal conditions for brewing. Mizubasho, Gunma-izumi, Tanigawa, Homarekokko

To be continued…….
Part 2 will be released soon.

Why not print out this guide and take it with you when you come to Japan. One place where you can really taste the regional diversity available is KURAND in Tokyo. Our lineup includes over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries up and down Japan, all of which, for one flat fee, you can taste to your heart’s content without time limits. You can bring your own food to pair or you can order from a menu of regional delicacies.

We look forward to welcoming you soon!

The Color of Koji: Like Everything in Brewing, Not Black & White

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

The importance of koji is quite well documented, not only as an essential key ingredient in shochu but also in Japanese cuisine. It is less well documented though that there are in fact different varieties of koji, each with unique attributes.

One attribute, in particular, is color. In this article, we look at the different colors of koji available.

Starting with the Basics: What is koji?

Koji is steamed rice that has been inoculated with a mold of the same name. The fact that the finished product and mold share identical names often causes confusion, but in this article, we are referring to the finished product.

As a side note, in recent years, koji mold has attracted the attention of the health and beauty industry, because it produces a number of acids and vitamins that boost well-being (although not scientifically proven).

Rice is not the only ingredient that can be made into koji; any starch-based tubers and grains can be kojified, including wheat, soybeans (used to make miso). In Japanese, the little mold is called koji-kin. There are many ways you can translate this word kin: bacteria, fungus, etc, but mold has become the generally accepted one in the industry. The latin family name for the mold is Aspergillus. There are a number of members in this family.

The one commonly used in sake brewing called Aspergillus Oryzae has a number of relatives, namely, Aspergillus Kawachi used to make shochu, and Aspergillus Awamori used to make awamori and shochu.

In sake brewing, koji is, of course, an essential ingredient, because without available sugar in the rice, the starch has to be turned into sugar before any alcohol fermentation is possible.
The koji-kin produces the enzyme amylase that cuts up the chains of starch in the grains, thus effectively reformatting it into glucose. The process of turning starch into sugar is called saccharification.

Now, while there no western alcoholic beverages that use koji, there are plenty that relies on the same saccharification process—beer being the obvious example.

Koji has an effect on the flavor and aroma too. For example, sugar cane is the base ingredient for both kokutou-shochu (black sugar shochu) and rum, but the former tastes nothing like the latter and that’s because of the koji. Koji tends to give the end product a distinct umami (savory) flavor and unique depth.

The Color of Koji

But, now onto the main subject of this article, the color.

Each member in the koji family of mold is identified by the color of the final koji that it produces. As teased in the title of this article, the colors of koji include a black and white koji, but these are rarely used to make sake with notable exceptions. The black variant, kuro-koji (Aspergillus Awamori) is a legal requirement for awamori production, but can also be used to make shochu. The white variant is used for shiro-koji is mainly used for shochu. The variant used in sake brewing is, in fact, yellow, ki-koji.

These different variants are not just different in color; they also produce slightly different flavor profiles in the end product, this being the clue to the reason behind their different applications.
One reason why white and black koji never became the de facto sake koji is that they produce too much citric acid which doesn’t match the traditional flavor profile of sake, adding an undesirable tart aftertaste that while blends well with the high strength alcohol in shochu, destroys the harmony of the subtle lower alcoholic body of sake.

Even the white and black—while they both produce high levels of citric acid—are completely different beasts. So much so, that the shochu brand kirishima, produces both a black and white version of their signature product despite the process and other ingredients being identical. The one made with the black koji has a richer flavor than the white one which is more light and refreshing. The color of koji used is sometimes displayed on the label, though this is less common for sake than it is for shochu.

Let’s look at the different color koji in more detail.

Kuro-koji

The key attribute of kuro-koji is citric acid. It produces more citric acid than any other variety. Citric acid is important because it prevents other bacteria from breeding in the starter and main mash. Awamori is made in the warmer, more humid southern regions of Japan in temperatures that create a hotbed for unwanted bacteria growth, so this natural ability to sterilize the starter mash made kuro-koji a treasured advantage.

However, kuro-koji does come with its disadvantages. The main one is that it is hard to control the temperature and the spores contain a black colored pigment which can stain the brewing equipment and the brewery.
Kuro-koji is instantly identifiable from its powerful sharp aftertaste.

While originally, kuro-koji was rarely used in sake production, that is changing. Brewers have begun to exploit kuro-koji’s sterilization powers to help brew sake without the addition of lactic acid or the need to produce it naturally (if that point just raised a massive question mark in your head, see this article about making the starter).

The most famous sake made with kuro-koji would be fukumasamune. While the extra citric acid is noticeable, the brewery has found a way to integrate it without destroying the delicate harmony of the other flavors. Sake brewed with kuro-koji is thought to be effective in fatigue recovery.

Shiro-koji

Shiro-koji was born from the sudden mutation of kuro-koji. It is actually not white in color but is closer to a yellowish-green color. Just like kuro-koji, it generates a lot of citric acid, but unlike kuro-koji it does not create the same stain on the brewery. That is why, shiro-koji replaced kuro-koji—which used to rule the koji roost—as the koji for making shochu.

Side note: recently there has been a movement to return to the roots of making shochu and reevaluating the merits of kuro-koji. This has led to kuro-koji being widely used again.

There are plenty of similarities with kuro-koji, but shiro-koji tends to create a much more quaffable shochu with a very gentle aroma and still manages to retain the essence of shochu— authentic shochu but one which people don’t grow tired of.

As with kuro-koji, there are now sake made with shiro-koji as well; the most famous being denshu, ubudou, and jyouzen-mizuno-gotoshi. Shiro-koji tends to lend sake a less aggressive citric taste, something on par with a very citrusy white wine such as sauvignon blanc or chardonnay.

Side note: the citric acid is hardly noticeable in shochu because it has been distilled.

Ki-koji

This is one of the oldest koji. Its application includes miso, soy sauce, vinegar, and mirin. Producing much less citric acid than its relatives, it has to be stored at low temperatures. During the Meiji period, it was much more common than it is today to use ki-koji for shochu as well. However, ki-koji struggles in high temperatures and there was always a risk of moromi contamination, especially in the warmer climate of southern Kyushu. Research was carried out to find an alternative that could better withstand the climate. And then, in 1910, in the Ryukyu Islands, that research finally paid off with the discovery of kuro-koji and ki-koji was replaced as the mainstream koji choice.

Ki-koji creates sake with a fresh aroma like that of ginjo-ka. It could be said that this is the opposite of kuro-koji. Currently, production skills have improved, yet while still few in number, there is some shochu made with ki-koji. Shochu made from ki-koji has a fresh fruity flavor with much less body.


If you want to dive deeper into the world of sake, koji can make for a fascinating adventure. And speaking of adventures, there is no better adventure than tasting your way through 100 types of different sake, some made with different koji, at KURAND. We have branches all over Tokyo and for just one flat fee, you can taste as little or as much as you want, pairing with food, with no time limits. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Mounding The Rice: The Third Step to Make Good Koji: Mori

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

As a supplement to the recent Closeup of Production series, over the next few articles, we will be zooming into the various steps of the process and offering even more insight into how they are carried out. In this article, we will look at koji making/seigiku. In the last article, article, we explained how the brewer breaks up the rice to give the koji mold access to oxygen, even out the temperature and moisture levels. The third stage is mounding or mori in Japanese.

Glossary

Koji = steamed rice with mold growing on it
Koji mold = the mold used to make koji
Seigiku = process of making koji
Haze = pronounced ha-ze describes the mold growth
Haze-guai = the state of haze
Kirikaeshi = breaking up, the second stage in koji making
Koji-muro = koji room
Koji-kin = Japanese word for koji mold
Shimpaku = starch filled core in the center of rice grain
Mori = mounding

What is Mori?

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A large part of seigiku is a battle to maintain accurate temperature and moisture control. One very primitive but effective way of doing this is to alter the surface area of the steamed rice. This is the purpose of mori which literally translates to mounding. The process is called mounding because the brewer literally gathers all the rice into a mound.

Sometimes, for more precise temperature control which is required for producing more elegant styles of sake such as ginjo and daiginjo, the brewer first moves the rice into smaller containers.

Following the second stage, kirikaeshi, the koji mold is growing in a white spotted pattern that may or may not—depending on the haze—cover the surface of the grain.

As the koji mold grows, it gives off heat. If the temperature is allowed to continue increasing, it may reach a point where it stops the growth of the koji mold or worst, kills it—and dead koji imparts undesirable flavors and aromas into the fermentation—thus the stacked rice is loosened up by hand and sometimes a portion of it is moved into smaller containers. As heat rises, the brewer stacks the smaller containers on top of one another and has to switch their order constantly. The trays have to be rotated every 2-3 hours. The people tasked with looking after the koji are called koji-ban (literally, koji shifts) and get very little sleep. You might rather daringly compare this routine to child rearing, but we are by no means trying to belittle the latter.

Three Methods of Mori

There are three methods of mori: futa-koji, hako-koji, and machine mounding.

Futa Method
Futa-koji is the most traditional of the three methods, but it is also the most time-consuming and labor intensive. A futa is a small wooden tray that looks like a wardrobe drawer, measuring about 200cm x 200cm and holding 1.5kg of rice each. It Is not uncommon for as many as 100 of these small trays to be used in any one brewing batch and cleaning them as just as much work as using them. The hardest part, and where the brewer gets to show off a little, is the task of getting the rice into the center—something akin to that game where you have to steer balls through a wooden labyrinth and into holes—by tilting the tray in all four directions with sudden but well-timed flicks of the wrist. The most skilled brewers can complete this task in an impressive 5 seconds or less.

Hako Method
A hako (box) is a large version of the futa, measuring about 150cm long, 85cm wide and 18cm (source: sake glossary by Nada Sake Research(http://www.nada-ken.com/main/en/index_h/114.html)) deep and holding around 15kg. This method is not as labor intensive as the futa method, so this tends to be the preferred method. However, it is difficult to achieve the precision of the futa method with hako.

Machine Method
There are machines that automate the mounding. The machine automatically adjusts the temperature and moisture in accordance with the growth of the mold.

The Secret Behind the Futa Method

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When it comes to precision, despite advancements in technology, the old method still wins hands down. Machines get close, but they lack that human touch required to adapt to the changes in the consistency of the rice, the ability of which is considered to be the key to achieving the target quality. And that’s why most breweries still honor the old method.

It’s All in The Cedar

Another reason why the futa method is so much more effective is to do with the material the futa are made from cedar or sugi in Japanese. Historically, sugi was a common material in-house building because it can absorb a large amount of water reducing damp. A 10cm block of sugi can absorb about (1800cc) bottle of water. Sugi performs the same role in the futa method, drawing precisely the right amount of moisture away from the inoculated steamed rice.

The high water absorbency is also the reason that many sakaguras (breweries) make their koji-muro out of sugi. It also helps to maintain a warm drying environment even in the middle of winter.

Ask The Brewer


We wanted to find out why, In a modern age where sake brewing is becoming more and more mechanized, brewers still opt for sleepless nights, so we decided to ask a brewer.

This is the answer we received from toji Takahiro Suzuki of Kanbai-shuzou in Saitama prefecture, who make all their sake by the futa koji method.

What is the most challenging part of the futa method? 
“That would be the fact that you have to make multiple batches of koji, all at the same temperature and the same haze-komi-guai. Dividing up and managing in futa, enables me to keep the temperatures uniform across batches.”

“Someone must be there the whole time to manage the temperature, so it’s not just challenging but also extremely labor intensive. It is true that I often don’t get enough sleep some nights because I have to keep getting up to check on the koji.
Experience plays a big part in being able to brew good sake with the futa-koji method, which I still lack, so brewing daiginjo sake by the futa method is nerve-racking.”

Futa-koji seems to be very hard on the body and mind Why then would you go to all this trouble to brew sake?

“Simple! I enjoy the challenge and being able to be more closely involved with the brewing process. Yes, it’s hard work, but there is a sense of satisfaction at the end that you don’t get with the more modern hands-off methods, you develop deeper feelings for the end product, which in turn, motivates you to produce better sake.

I will keep working hard to build up my experience so that I can make even more delicious sake in the future.”


So there you have it, that about wraps up this article. Brewers aren’t opting for traditional more labor-intensive methods because they like the extra work; they do it to feel more closely involved with their craft. It makes sense that they would care more for the end product if they had to go through all those sleepless nights. If only it were possible to translate this feeling through the end flavor. Perhaps the sake of the future will do precisely that.

The KURAND concept is that sake tastes even more delicious when you know who made it and how. And that’s why we write these articles. Why not come and experience the devotion that goes into every bottle of sake yourself. With over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries up and down Japan, you are sure to

In the next article, we will look at the fourth stage in seigiku, nakashigoto (middle work).

Breaking up The Rice: The Second Step to Make Good Koji: Kirikaeshi

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

As a supplement to the recent Closeup of Production Series, over the next few articles, we will be zooming into the various steps of the sake brewing process and offering even more insight into how they are carried out. In this article, we point the spotlight at koji-making/seigiku and lift the veil off the glorious detail of the process. In a previous article, we explained how the brewer kneads the rice to ensure that the rice receives an even covering of the koji mold. The second stage is breaking up or kirikaeshi in Japanese.

Article Glossary

Koji = steamed rice with mold growing on it
Koji mold = the mold used to make koji
Seigiku = process of making koji
Haze = pronounced “hah-zey”, describes the pattern of mold growth
Haze-guai = the state of haze
Kirikaeshi = breaking up, the second stage in koji making
Koji-muro = koji room
Koji-kin = Japanese word for koji mold
Shimpaku = starch filled core in centre of rice grain

Recap: What is Seigiku & Koji?

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If you have read our previous articles about koji and the sake brewing process, you can probably skip this part of the article to the next heading: What is kirikaeshi.

After polishing, washing, soaking and steaming, the brewer will take a portion of the rice and turn it into koji. This process is called seigiku. The seigiku process is comprised of 6 distinct smaller stages: tokomomi, kirikaeshi, mori, naka-shigoto, shimai-shigoto, and dekoji. The process typically takes about 48 hours to complete, but this can vary by brewery according to their techniques and methods.

The purpose of koji is to break the starch down releasing glucose for the yeast to consume and create alcohol. This stage is necessary because just like in beer brewing, there is no available glucose in the raw ingredient, to begin with. This is the key difference from wine making that both beer and sake have in common. To elaborate further, koji is steamed rice with a mold of the same name inoculated onto it. This mold secretes enzymes that then cut up the chains of starch and reform them into glucose. It is important to note that as the rice is not germinated, it is technically incorrect to refer to this stage as malting or the finished koji as malted rice but for some people this does make it easier to digest, so we have used that term in the above flowchart. The reason the brewer cannot just germinate the rice in the same way that beer malt is made is that the germ which contains all the enzymes that break down the starch is removed in the polishing process. In other words, koji making is unique to sake.

As well as breaking up the starch into glucose, the koji breaks proteins down into amino acids giving the sake a richer flavor. Sometimes the koji also imparts a pleasant chestnut aroma. The quality of the koji will significantly affect the quality of the sake, so this is a make or break point in the brewing process. In the 1,2,3s of sake making, koji is number 1.

The latin name for the mold is Aspergillus Oryzae

The Inner Sanctum Where the Koji is Made

Because seigiku is growing and controlling the growth of mold, a specially designed room is required to maintain optimum levels of heat and moisture. This inner sanctum and sacred room of the brewery is called the koji muro. Many modern koji muro are connected to a switchboard where the brewer can monitor and control the temperature remotely. However, in the traditional koji muro, the brewer has to spend long hours in the room, which is not as easy as it sounds, given that the temperature can exceed 30 degrees with 80% humidity.

Koji-Muro Management

A sanitary environment is essential to ensure that the koji does not have to compete with any other microorganisms and bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria and the bacteria used to make natto (fermented soybeans) in particular are stronger than the koji mold, so throughout the brewing season, brewers have to abstain from these.

Before entering this sacred place, brewers must disinfect their hands, put on white coats, hats, and change footwear. It is rare to be allowed access to a koji muro so if a brewer ever offers this on a visit, think of it as a real privilege.

Most koji muro doors are built with a tight seal that blocks any cold air from seeping in. The brewer must also remember never to leave the door open. Good koji making is in the smaller details.

What is Kirikaeshi

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So with that, we arrive at the main topic of this article, the second stage in seigiku, kirikaeshi.

Kirikaeshi is the process of breaking apart the rice grains. You are probably wondering why this would even be necessary in the first place. Following tokomomi, the brewer leaves the rice to stand 10-12 hours. During this time, as the mold grows and creates heat, the surface of the rice grains dry out and stick together. Just like other living organisms, the koji requires oxygen to grow. Therefore, the rice must be broken apart to give the koji access to oxygen. This is the primary purpose of kirikaeshi.

The temperature of the steamed rice that is clumped together is not uniform, and there is a risk that hot spots will appear. This will lead to uneven growth of the mold, and in the worst case scenario, some parts of the rice will overheat killing the mold. Another purpose of kirikaeshi is to even out the water content/humidity of the rice. Kirikaeshi is often repeated multiple times.

Kirikaeshi is Hard Work

Breaking apart steamed rice might sound like fun. However, you have to remember that the rice has solidified and is stuck together. Imagine having the task of breaking apart lego bricks at speed with your bare hands, and that’s what this job is like. The brewer must be careful not to damage the rice but must also complete this task quickly. It is unusual for a brewer not to build up a sweat during this task. Traditionally, brewers would strip down to the waist, but the idea of sweat dripping onto rice has led to a rethink in recent years.

Power of enzymes

Enzymes are a type of protein created inside the body of living things. There are two enzymes in sake brewing: amylase that breaks down starch into glucose and protease that breaks-down protein. So how vital is kirikaeshi? A bad kirikaeshi may lead to an immature koji mold growth, something called haze ochi. Kirikaeshi is such an important step; many brewers lose sleep keeping an eye it.

Quality Check: Hazekomi-guai

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Haze is the Japanese word for the mold growth. Hazekomi-guai is the word for the state of the mold growth and is also an indicator of the quality of the koji. The toji or person in charge of the koji carefully checks the hazekomi-guai to determine the timing and temperature for the rest of the seigiku process.

Haze is measured as the number of koji mold that have extended their feeding tubes called hyphae deep into the rice. The two main types of haze are sou-haze and tsuki-haze.

Sou-haze

Sou-haze is a covering of mold across the surface of the rice that has penetrated its hypha deep into the grains of rice.

The enzymatic power of this haze is perfect for a faster breakdown of starch and protein leading to richer sake with more body. Many junmai are made this way.

Tsuki-haze Koji

Tsuki-haze is a lighter covering of the surface of the rice grains and only some of the mold has penetrated the grains with their hypha, but where they have, the penetration is deep, in some cases into the shimpaku itself. It has enough enzymatic power to breakdown proteins, peptides, and starch, but the conversion is slower leading to far more elegant, smooth flavor profiles.

Many ginjo sake are made with tsuki-haze because the slower breakdown of starch and protein is perfect for putting the yeast under stress.

Nuri-Haze

When the majority of the mold has failed to penetrate the interior, it is called nuri-haze.

Baka-Haze

The hypha has penetrated the core of the rice grain, but the enzyme activity has decomposed the structure causing it to become soft and brittle. Baka-haze koji crumbles apart when squashed between the fingers. Its enzymatic power is weak and leads to sake with heavier, more clumsy flavor profiles. Rice that is too soft—caused by too much moisture—is exceptionally prone to baka-haze and that’s why the earlier washing, soaking, and steaming stages play an understated role in the entire process.

Note: the degree of mold growth for each of the above hazekomi-guai can vary by brewery.

It is not enough for the koji-kin to naturally breed; the breeding must be stopped at the precisely the right hazekomi-guai for the style of sake being made. We hope that this article has offered more insight as to why this stage of sake making is often regarded as the most difficult—requiring the most skill—and the most important. Perhaps after reading this article, you have a better appreciation for the brewer’s craft, a lot of which is understated and goes under the radar of most drinkers (that’s not meant as a criticism; the ignorance is down to the modesty of brewing).

It is said that sake tastes even more delicious when you understand the effort that goes into making it.


In the next article, we will look at the third stage in seigiku, mori (mounding).

Until then, if you are in Tokyo, and fancy delving deeper into the world of sake, there is no better place than KURAND where you for just one price, you can taste over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries up and down Japan, without time limits.
We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Sake to See In the New Year: Otoso

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

One of the many charms of sake is the way it is intertwined with elements of Japanese culture. Sake’s role in religious and celebratory rituals is a great example of this. In fact there is a special sake for every major seasonal event in the Japanese calendar except Tanabata in July and that of course includes new years. The special sake for new year is called otoso.

What is Otoso Sake

The word otoso is written with two Chinese characters that roughly mean to defeat evil spirits. And that’s basically the purpose of this sake. Otoso is made by marinating various medicinal ingredients and spices in sake and mirin (sweet sake). It is not so much a sake, but a spiced beverage made with a base of sake. You could say this is Japan’s answer to mulled wine in that similar spices are sometimes added. The custom of drinking otoso can be traced as far back as the early 1100s, when it is said to have come over from China. Aristocrats were the first to adopt it, before it spread to the populous throughout the 16th century. People believed that otoso would not only rid the body of evil spirits but that it also helped prolong life and keep sickness at bay. Of course, these days it is the latter effects that people are more concerned with. Many people drink it on the first day of the new year to bring happiness and health to the family.

The blend of natural medicinal ingredients that is used as the base for otoso is called otosan and can be purchased in packet form in supermarkets and pharmacies.

What Ingredients Comprise The Base of Otoso?


おくすり屋さんの屠蘇散

Generally, natural medicinal herbs and spices are used, a lot of which are key ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines. Although the official recipe calls for 10 types of ingredients, many otoso are only made with 5-6. Ingredients include saposhnikovia divaricat, Japanese pepper, cinnamon, Chinese bellflower, atractylodes rhizome, rhubarb, and cassia; the benefits of which include increasing stomach activity, blood circulation, promote sweating, and even preventing colds. We all know how easy it is to eat too much and drink too much at this time of year—so from a health standpoint, otoso is perhaps not such a bad idea.

Make Otoso Sake at Home


*Otososan might be a little hard to get hold of outside Japan, but you might find something similar at Chinese medicine stores and you can make something similar by combining the spices listed above. There is no strict recipe, so feel free to experiment. Perhaps start with mulled wine spices and build up from there.

Only three things need to be prepared: tososan, sake, and mirin.
One package of tososan needs to be submerged in a 300-500ml mixture of sake and mirin for a few hours. After the package is removed, it is complete.

Extra Tips
1: It is recommended to use real mirin (hon-mirin) instead of cooking mirin. Cooking mirin often includes salt.

2:For those who dislike sake, they can just use mirin and for those who like sake, they can just use sake.

3:For those who like things sweet, adding sugar is an available option. Also, adding extra mirin will make it sweeter and create a smooth taste on the tongue. If extra sake is added then it will become crisp and dry tasting.

4:Using normal sake or honjozoshu (sake brewed without the addiction of saccharide) is recommended.

屠蘇器(とそき)

The traditional ware to enjoy otoso is a set of 3 different size sakazuki (see photo at top of post) or the vessels with the long handle used in weddings called a ochoshi. But a simple sakazaki or ochoko will also suffice.

How to Drink Otoso


It depends on the region and family but the general method is listed below.

1: Drink o-toso before eating osechi ryouri and ozouni (both are new year special food / dishes).
2: The entire family will face east.
3: The oldest person will pour sake for the youngest person. Generally in banquets, the sake cup goes from the oldest to the youngest, but o-toso is the opposite. The sake cup passes from the youngest to oldest. This is said to be remnants of past customs of tasting for poison and also passing vitality from the young to the elderly.
4: It is said, ‘A family will be free from illness if a person drinks it, and people residing within four kilometers will be free from illness if all people in a family drink it.’
5: People who are yakudoshi (unlucky year) drink last.

O-toso is not only drank on the first day of the new year, but on the first 3 days when visitors come. It is proper decorum to exchange new year greetings over otoso.


So there you have it — just one of many sake fueled traditions that is still practiced in Japan today. Why not see if you can experience this tradition for yourself the next time you visit Japan. Perhaps thanks to this article, you won’t have to look so bemused the next time your host family serves up a cup of spiced sake after dinner.