4 Tips For Successful Food and Sake Pairing

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

Pairing food with sake is a great way to add an extra dimension to any sake experience. There is a saying that a good sake and food pairing is like a dish with an added secret ingredient that takes it to another level. But two things that taste amazing on their own don’t always pair well together. And while a good pairing can elevate both elements in the pairing, a bad pairing can do the opposite. Sake is incredibly versatile and gets on well with most types of cuisine, but food pairing can still sometimes be a bit of a tricky art. It can be difficult to know where to start. Fear not, because in this article we will look at 4 little tips to get you started.

Tip 1 Unleash the Umami

Sake and oden (“a Japanese one-pot dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, and processed fishcakes stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth” Wikipedia) is a classic pairing that needs no introduction in Japan.

But what is it about this pairing that makes it a classic? The secret is the umami. In the early 1900s, the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda discovered that when a certain type of amino acid called glutamic acid and a type of nucleic acid called Inosinic acid combine, they produce this otherworldly flavor that for some people, simulates a trip to culinary heaven. He also discovered that some foods, like kombu and green tea for example, are naturally high in both glutamic acid and Inosinic acid and that heat can amplify the effects.

This concept of umami had, until very recently, been largely ignored by the west even though umami is something that most people will have tasted at some point in their life probably without thinking too much about it, more often than not in fact. We might refer to it as meaty or savory, or just delicious. Indeed it is pretty hard to define and incredibly ambiguous which is perhaps why it went under the radar for so long outside Japan. In the west, it is that flavor you can’t quite put your finger on, but In Japan, it is the cornerstone that forms the foundations of Japanese cuisine itself. With the explosion of Japanese food culture around the world, it is also finally starting to create a buzz outside Japan in some corners of the gourmet food world. In the classic pairing of sake and oden, sake supplies the glutamic acid while the oden supplies the Inosinic acid.

Cuisine which is rich in the umami-creating acids can also help ease the acidity, bitterness, and astringency in the sake. Even sake with quite harsh off-flavors becomes much quaffable when matched with such fare. This type of pairing is all about dialing up the umami factor to the max, so select sake with as strong umami as possible. As Professor Ikeda discovered, another key element in pulling off the umami taste sensation is temperature. Just as warmer food has a higher umami potential, warming sake with a powerful umami factor unlocks hidden flavors and spreads them out giving an even more satisfying explosion of umami.

Due to the higher levels of protein in the raw ingredient, sake is naturally higher in amino acids, in particular, glutamic acid than wine. And due to the acidity and tannin in wine, particularly red, umami tends to make wine taste a little stiff unless there is salt in the dish to balance things out. Umami is essentially sake’s trump card at the dinner table. At a very basic level, sake and wine pair equally as well with most dishes, but throw in umami and wine just has to wave the white flag.

Tip 2 Avoiding Aromas that Clash

It is easy to overlook aroma when pairing sake with food, but almost half of the process of tasting happens not in the mouth or on the tongue, but in the nose. Scientists have concluded that our taste buds are really only able to communicate 4-6 basic tastes (recent studies suggests there may be up to 1 million tastes that our tongues simply aren’t sensitive or well tuned enough to process, but this might go some way to explaining why some people can taste better than others). The 6 tastes are commonly accepted to be salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami and fatty.

The actual flavor characteristics such as that which makes a banana taste like a banana and an apple taste like an apple are actually communicated by our sense of smell and touch. Our olfactory sensors to be precise, located at the back of the mouth just below the nose are where we actually process flavor. The aromas of the food we eat are sent to these sensors which then pass on the messages to the brain. The touch sensors then tell us about the texture of the food; they sense heat and electricity caused by spice.

Sake offers real diversity on the nose: from the fruity/floral bouquets of ginjo sake to the nuttier, more cereal centric aromas of junmai with the quirkier lactic and oxidative aroma profiles found in aged sake and traditional kimoto and yamahai styles sitting somewhere in between.

When pairing with cuisine, junmai is perhaps the safer option because of its tamer aroma profile. Ginjo aromas may clash with strong aromas in the cuisine, but also create a nice contrast with pungent herbs. Many Japanese people enjoy junmai with food because the aroma reminds them of a bowl of rice. Junmai becomes even easier to pair with many different types of cuisine when warmed.

Tip 3 Match the Texture

Texture is the mouthfeel of the sake: whether it is hard, viscous, or has some elasticity. The texture is largely determined by the hardness of the water used to brew the sake. Hard water has a richer mineral content and so tends to produce a much more grainy, rougher sake while soft water produces a softer silkier, juicy mouthfeel. Texture can also be created by leftover ori (fine lees) and unsaccrified starch molecules called dextrins. A higher content of glucose in the sake can sometimes increase its viscosity but this normally directly proportionate to the levels of acidity.
Texture is another part of tasting that is often overlooked, and yet some of the best pairings are created by various congruent textural matchings.

For example, for cuisine with a soft mouthfeel, such as miso-tofu or sashimi, match with sake that has a clear sharp taste.
The easiest one to understand is the pairing of nigori-zake. Nigori-zake has a thick/creamy texture in the mouth, and when matched with fishy stews and mackerel cooked with miso it adds depth to the dish.

Tip 4 Match the Body (richness)

Lastly, pairing the body or the richness of the sake with that of the cuisine is our final tip. Rich cuisine is best paired with rich sake and light sake with light cuisine. Matching the weight is essential to avoid clashes and or one of the elements in the pairing overwhelming the other.

For example, cooked eel has a very thick taste and goes well with mature sake that has a well-defined profile. Cuisine, such as carpaccio or white fish, where the ingredients should be center stage is able to best make its statement when matched with refreshing ginjo sake. There is less transformation in the flavors of the dish, but this pairing is all about complementing.

Why not come and try out the above food pairing tips the next time you are in Tokyo. At KURAND, you are free to bring your own food to pair with the 100 types of sake that are available to taste at your own leisure, with no time limits, all for one flat fee. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Sake FAQ: 5 Questions Japanese Customers Commonly Ask About Sake

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

Outside Japan there is probably an image that everyone in Japan is an expert about sake, but many Japanese people will happily confess their ignorance of sake. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. How many people out of the general French populace would confidently claim they are experts about wine? The point is that there are still a lot of sake novices out there, so we decided to compile a little FAQ from the questions our staff often get asked to help guide you through the often confusing world of sake.

This article was originally created for a Japanese speaking audience, but the terms introduced may help you to communicate with your Japanese friends or drinking partners in Japan.

1. What is the Difference Between Tanrei and Noujun?

Tanrei = light (as in light flavor)
Noujun = rich (as in rich flavor)

Japan’s regional styles can generally be divided into these two flavor classifications. Niigata is probably the most famous prefecture for tanrei sake and Hyogo is the most famous for Noujun.
Using these words can really help you to find sake that matches your preference when ordering in Japan.

2. What is the Difference Between Amakuchi and Karakuchi?

Amakuchi is Japanese for sweet and karakuchi is the Japanese for dry. Many foreign visitors also want to know how to identify sweet and dry sake.

It is natural to want to know whether a sake is sweet but if we compare it with wine, due to the lack of tannin and acidity, sake generally falls into the sweet category. To elaborate, sake is made from rice which contains starch that gets broken down into glucose, so the finished sake inherently contains a lot more sweet components, to begin with.

Although it is normally possible to detect sugar on the tongue, the sake will rarely be cloying or sticky because the brewer will normally use the acidity (although low compared to wine) to round out the sweetness.

Furthermore, there are different levels of sweetness. The sweetness and dryness of sake is measured using a hydrometer, which measures the density of liquids relative to water. If you cast your mind back to those boring science lessons, you will remember that the denser a liquid is the more it displaces its weight in the water and the more of it will float above the surface, the same science that allows boats to float on water. See the diagram below.

In this case, the Baume scale is measuring the density of glucose in the sake. More glucose will make the sake denser which will cause the sake to float/rise above the water line. The measure on the side of the hydrometer will then read a minus number. The opposite will happen if it is dry and there are fewer sugars present and it will read as a plus. So, + is dry and – is sweet. This scale is called the nihonshudo in Japanese or sake meter value (SMV) in English.

With a few rare exceptions, as a general rule of thumb, the lower the alcohol strength, the more residual sugar—generally due to a shorter fermentation and less sugar being converted into alcohol—the sweeter the sake. Generally, anything below 14% is going to be medium sweet upwards and anything above 15% is going to fall into the dry category.

This past articles about sweet and dry sake delves even deeper into the subject: Sweet and Dry Archive

What is the Difference Between Junmai and Junmai Ginjo?

Sake displaying the word junmai on the label has been brewed with only rice, water, koji and yeast. This is important because there is actually a category of sake where a little-distilled alcohol is added. This category is referred to as aruten in Japanese or non-junmai outside Japan. Each category is a part of something called the Special Designation Grade System and is made up of 3 sub-grades. Grades from the alcohol added category are identified by the absence of the word junmai. The junmai category is made up of the grades, junmai, junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo. The latter two grades are of the ginjo type, made with rice that has had more of its outer layers removed or polished away. The outer layers contain proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals which can create unwanted off-flavors, so polishing generally (but not always) create a more refined sake. The rule for junmai ginjo is that no more than 60% of the rice grain must remain after polishing. As well as the lower polishing ratio, the word ginjo generally indicates that the sake has a fruity and floral aroma which is produced by fermenting at a lower temperature. This special bouquet is actually called ginjo as well. Although the aroma is the biggest defining characteristic, the flavor profiles of junmai ginjo and junmai tend to be very different as well. A straight up junmai tends to have more of cereal, rice-derived aroma, higher acidity, and more body; while junmai ginjo tends to be more elegant, refined and lighter, although it is important to note that there is a myriad of exceptions and plenty of overlap. Finally, note that a non-ginjo junmai does not have any polishing ratio rule.

Above is a diagram that explains the Special Designation System in more detail. Please also see the below archives of past articles to learn more about rice polishing, its effects and the grades:

Archive 1

Archive 2

What is the Difference Between Nigorizake and Doburoku?

The difference is simple: one is filtered; the other isn’t.

The tax law in Japan states that in order to label a product as sake, the solids must have been separated from the liquid through filtration/pressing. Doburoku does not undergo this filtration. Doburoku is actually a product category all unto itself. And it is as simple as that. So why is nigorizake opaque? Why can you see solids suspended in the liquid? The law states that sake must be filtered. What it does not state is by how much. In other words, brewers can partially or coarsely filter sake and it will still qualify as sake. Brewers simply use a filter mesh or cloth with bigger holes in it to let more of the solids through into the final product.

Please see these archives of past articles about doburoku and nigorizake for more information:

Doburoku Archive

Nigorizake Archive

What Does the Word Nama Indicate?

Whether it has been pasteurized or not. The word nama means that it hasn’t.

Freshly fermented sake is very unstable because there are residual yeast and koji enzymes that at the right temperature will reactivate, restarting the starch to sugar and sugar to alcohol processes that then alter the structure and flavor characteristics of the sake. This instability ultimately gives the sake an inherently short shelf life and creates the need for refrigeration. The only way to stabilize sake and make it sake suitable for long-term storage is to kill all the enzymes, bacteria and microorganisms. One surefire way of doing this is to pasteurize the sake; heat it up to 60 degrees by immersing it in water or passing it through heated tubes.

Please see this archive of past articles about pasteurization and namazake for more information: Namazake Archive


We hope that this short FAQ has helped remove some of the mystery around various aspects of sake that might have had you scratching your head. Why not come and try out this newfound knowledge the next time you visit Japan. There is no better place to do this than KURAND in Tokyo, where you can taste over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from boutique breweries all over Japan, with no time limits, all for one flat fee. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

The Thoroughbred of Sake Rice: Koshi-tanrei

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

In this article, we look at another variety of rice used to brew sake, discovered very recently in 2004, the thoroughbred, Koshi-tanrei.

Rice for Brewing

Rice is an essential ingredient in brewing sake. Just as grapes are an essential ingredient in making wine. And yet, unlike with wine, very few brewers name their sake after the rice. Some even avoid listing the variety on the label at all. That’s perhaps because, unlike the grapes in winemaking, the rice has a comparatively smaller effect on the end flavor and style. In fact, it is the brewer and their craft that traditionally, has the biggest influence in sake brewing.

Be that as it may, there are bound to be people who want to know what type of rice their sake is made from.

Although ordinary eating rice can be used to make sake, this is not desirable because it contains too much protein, which while great for eating, tends to create off-flavors in sake. It is more common to use a special type of rice cultivated specifically for brewing with less protein and a core which is almost completely starch called a shimpaku, visible with the naked eye as an opaque white dot in the center (or just off-center) of the grain. This rice is called sake rice. There is an even more superior type of sake rice that is perfectly suited for brewing. This is called shuzokotekimai.

Varieties of Shuzokotekimai

In previous articles, we looked at the top 3 varieties of shuzokotekimai: the ‘king of sake rice’, Yamada Nishiki; the Yokozuna of the East, Gohyakumangoku; and Miyama Nishiki; as well as the oldest and only pure breed of shuzokotekimai, Omachi. New varieties of shuzokotekimai are being developed all the time and while there have been many failures, there have also been plenty of successes. One of the more recent successes was developed in Niigata as a potential successor to both Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku and its name is Koshi-tanrei.

The Story Behind Koshi-tanrei?

The success of Koshi-tanrei is less of a surprise knowing who its parents are: none other than Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku.

The creators of Koshi-tanrei attest that the aim was never to create a rival to Yamada Nishiki. The prefecture already had its own extremely high-quality sake rice in Gohyakumangoku, which was discovered by the prefecture in 1938 and named in 1958. However, although Gohyakumangoku has been instrumental in engineering Niigata’s signature clean-dry style that is arguably the rice that put the prefecture on the map, it is not without its flaws, namely, its tendency to crack when polished which prevents brewers from polishing it to the same sort of high levels as Yamada Nishiki.

This flaw generally makes it unsuitable for producing the really high-quality daiginjo—although that hasn’t stopped many brewers challenging its limits—it does, however, produce excellent koji.

Yamada Nishiki is also not without its flaws. The grains are very big—they have to be to house that large shimpaku—which makes the ears of the rice top heavy which on long lanky stems are easily blown down by winds. This is a particular problem because the time it takes to achieve ripening often sees its growing season overlap with the typhoon season in Japan. This makes Yamada Nishiki notoriously difficult to cultivate.

To compensate for these flaws, brewers were already mixing Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku together long before the discovery of Koshi-tanrei.

Koshi-tanrei was not an overnight success though. The joint project between the Niigata Prefecture Sake Research Institute, Niigata Prefecture Sake Brewer’s Association, and Niigata Crop Research Centre took over 15 years. But In 2004, after much trial and error and many failures, all their patience and hard work were finally rewarded.

Why Call it Koshi-tanrei

The rice was christened Koshi-tanrei by the governor at the time, Ikuo Hirayama. Although his thought process behind the naming is unknown, the name was clearly inspired by the prefecture’s famous eating rice Koshi Hikari. Koshi is the old name for a major province in Niigata and pops up a lot in the names of rivers, mountains, towns and sake brands in the prefecture. Tanrei is a Japanese word for Niigata’s signature style. It literally translates to light (as in light body).

Above is a photo of unpolished Koshi-tanrei. The shimpaku (white core) is clearly visible.

A Sake Rice Thoroughbred

Koshi Tanrei is a thoroughbred that has inherited the best of both Yamada Nishiki and Gohyakumangoku and none of their flaws.
It is able to withstand polishing beyond 40% and has good water solubility which means it becomes the correct consistency when steamed, making it perfect for koji, and breaks up in the fermentation at precisely the rate required to impart just the right amount of flavor. Additionally, it has lower protein than its parents giving the final sake a softer more rounded quality.

There had always been a demographic of people that preferred richer sake, that Niigata’s overly light, clean style had been unable to tap into. But having inherited both its parents’ traits, Koshi Tanrei produces a hybrid between rich and light sake that finally matched their preference. And when fermented at lower temperatures, it produces Yamada Nishiki’s trademark mellow bouquet of tropical fruit and flowers, albeit in a much more restrained style—like its other parent Gohyakumangoku.

Back before the discovery of Koshi Tanrei, Niigata sake made with anything other than Yamada Nishiki had struggled to make an impact at the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyokai (National New Sake Championships). Niigata did not provide the right climate (warm) for growing Yamada Nishiki which meant that brewers had to purchase from outside the prefecture.

The prefecture was winning awards with Yamada Nishiki purchased from other prefectures, but Niigata, often referred to as the Bordeaux of Japan, had not built its reputation off other prefecture’s rice and wanted to win awards for sake where everything from the raw ingredients (water, rice, and yeast) to the people and skills came from Niigata to celebrate its rich terroir. And to do this they needed to create rice on par with Yamada Nishiki. This was the real motivation behind the development of Koshi Tanrei.

In the year it made its debut into the market, in 2007, 15 breweries from Niigata prefecture submitted sake made with Koshi-tanrei into the competition. Eight brewers took home a prize; five scooped gold.

The number of breweries in Niigata using Koshi-tanrei has risen sharply since.
Many breweries create a version of the same sake using Koshi-tanrei, Yamada Nishiki, and Gohyakumangoku so that you can taste the difference for yourself.

At KURAND SAKE MARKET, we showcase sake from all over Japan produced with different varietals of rice. While we can’t promise you will find Koshi-tanrei, there are plenty of other varieties to try. Why not make a visit to KURAND part of your next trip to Japan. We look forward to welcoming you soon!

A Quick Sip from the Corner: Origins & Meaning of Kaku-Uchi

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

Kaku-uchi is still one of those words you will rarely hear outside Japan. The term has been around for a long time, but in Japan, this concept is evolving faster than a pokemon with a candy hangover. Recent interesting evolutions include Neo-kaku-uchi and Spanish Kaku-uchi. Still unfamiliar what kakuuchi is all about but want to know more? Allow KURAND to be your guide.

What is Kaku-uchi?

Kaku-uchi is a basically a corner or space in a liquor store where you can taste their sake, often after hours, and it is generally an all-standing affair, but some places do provide seating, often in the form of overturned sake crates.

The Etymology

Kaku-uchi is made up of the Japanese words for corner (kaku) and to tap (uchi).

It will probably surprise even native Japanese people to learn that this term is more likely to have originated from its literal interpretation as slang for the action of drinking from a wooden box called a masu as it is common to drink from one of the corners. Kaku-uchi may refer to the way the mouth touches the corner.

So How Did Kakuuchi Start?

So, why did liquor stores adopt the word kaku-uchi?
The tradition can be traced back to Japan’s industrial revolution and is thought to have started in Kyushu before spreading north. Back then a pay and weigh system using the masu was very popular. However, for some customers the aroma and sight of delicious sake simply couldn’t wait until they got home, and so, to keep them from salivating any longer, the stores began a system where the sake could be enjoyed on the premises. And of course because people were generally drinking from the corner of masu, the kaku-uchi term naturally caught on, or at least that’s the popular theory.

However, there are numerous counter theories.

Kakuuchi by Any Other Name

For example, in some parts of Japan, they do not call drinking sake in the store kaku-uchi.

In Kansai, for example, it is called tachinomi and in Tohoku, it is more often than not called mokkiri.

Kaku-uchi is a great way to discover sake. At some stores you drink the sake you purchased, while others put on a special tasting menu and may even include little nibbles or finger food in the form of regional sake pairing delicacies called chinmi, or in the winter, some places go the whole hog and cook up warm comfort food for you to indulge in like oden, butakakuni or sukiyaki.

While it is not exactly kaku-uchi, in a way, the all-you-can-taste concept that KURAND operates is loosely inspired by it. KURAND is not a retail store so it does not sell any sake on the premises, but we have begun selling online via our parent company. We hope to make this service available in English in the future. For now, why not pop into KURAND the next time you are in Tokyo, and experience our version of Kaku-uchi for yourself, and don’t worry, we provide seating.

One Final Calculation for Good Koji: Dekoji

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

Following our recent Closeup of Production series, over the last 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. This is the last article in the series on koji making. We will take a closer look at the final stage called dekoji.

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. This is the last article in the series on koji making. We will take a closer look at the final stage called dekoji.


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 dekoji?

After shimai-shigoto, when the koji-mai reaches the appropriate temperature, it is taken out of the koji-muro to cool and dry. This process is called dekoji. The final judgement of when to take the koji out is normally made by the kojiya or toji, because it is an extremely important one and requires experience and skill. The timing of dekoji varies depending on whether the koji is intended for the moromi (fermentation mash) or shubo (fermentation starter). Generally, a koji with more mold growth is preferred for the shubo because the yeast needs nutrients (a fast breakdown of starch) to grow healthily.

The actual purpose of dekoji (literally, taking koji out) is to completely halt the activity of the koji mold by lowering the temperature of the steamed rice and letting the moisture evaporate. Heating the koji up would also halt its activity but it would also kill it releasing unwanted aromas and flavours into the final product and rendering it useless. If it cools down while still moist, it provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can disrupt the delicate balance of acidity resulting in a lower quality koji—and poor quality koji is the recipe for poor quality sake. The brewer prevents moisture from forming before the temperature drops by cooling and drying simultaneously. It is a task which requires focus and attention until the very end.

Timing is Key

For the traditionally made futa-koji and the box-koji the koji-mai is transferred into larger wooden boxes or the big tables called toko and wrapped in cloth to help ventilate it, before being carried from the koji-muro to a space called the karashiba where the koji is left to cool. In some breweries with smaller koji-muro, this task is incredibly labor intensive because the tables or toko have to be continually switched around. Most breweries have their tables on casters but even so the tables are quite heavy and pushing them in and out of the koji-muro switching from a tropical climate to a freezing cold one is exhausting work. Koji that is dried enough during dekoji at the karashiba is used for making shubo and moromi.

That about sums up the whole process from tokomomi to dekoji. This is the whole process of seikiku. Defining characteristics of this process is that the water level and temperature of the rice must be managed very carefully and focused / precision are required until the very end.
The devotion and skill of the craftsmen is the recipe for delicious sake.
Knowing about sake undoubtedly makes the sake taste better. Understanding how sake is made can lead to new discoveries when you taste it! And there is no better place to do that than KURAND in Tokyo. 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.

The Veteran Sake Yeast Still in Service: Kyokai No.6

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

Welcome to another article introducing little nuggets of sake knowledge. The rice is undoubtedly one of the more talked about ingredients in sake making, it is after all the main ingredient. But one other important ingredient that doesn’t get as much attention is the yeast. Which is a bit of an injustice considering that alcohol fermentation is not even possible without it.

Nowadays, brewers have a number of proprietary yeast to choose from.
In this series, if articles about the various proprietary yeasts, we have already looked at: the current industry standard No.7 and the aroma powerhouse that is No.9. But back before either of these existed, brewers were using a different yeast. It is the veteran of Kyokai yeast but it is a long way from retirement, in this article, we take a closer look at Kyokai No.6.

See this past article for an explanation about Kyokai Kobo.
Kobo is the Japanese word for yeast, but we may use kobo and yeast interchangeably.

What is Kyokai No.6?

Sake was originally brewed with native to the kura (breweries). However, during the Meiji period, in order to increase sake production and stabilize the quality of sake, brewers and research organizations began to isolate strains and rebreed them.

No.6 was the first real revolutionary success. All the earlier discoveries (No.1-5) lacked consistency and didn’t really add anything flavor or aroma wise into the sake; they were also too high in acidity for a lot of brewers. No.6 was the breakthrough discovery. Following many hints to its discovery, in 1930, it was successfully extracted from the fermentation at Aramasa-shuzou. It only took 5 years for it to establish its rightful place in the line of Kyokai Kobo.

Since production of all its predecessors was stopped during the war, No.6 is the oldest kobo still in operation today.

Cold brewing is where No.6 really excels. Hence why it was discovered in Akita prefecture where the winter temperature regularly dips below zero. Many yeasts lose their momentum in extreme cold—but not No.6.

Many of the more recent Kyokai Kobo that have driven various evolutions in brewing in the last 50 or so years are basically mutations of No.6, so to say that sake brewing owes a debt to its discovery is no exaggeration.

About the Brewery Behind the Discovery

Aramasa-shuzou was founded in 1852 and is located in Akita prefecture.
Even before the discovery, the 5th generation owner, Uhee Sato (5th generation) had established a name for himself in the industry by gaining top marks during his time at Technical College in Tokyo. He was a real brewing pioneer. Looking beyond his discovery of yeast no.6, many say he did for the East of Japan what Masataka Taketsuru of Nikka Whiskey did for the west.

The spark of inventive genius did not end with his generation. It was inherited and blossomed in the following generations, in particular, the current CEO Yusuke Sato (8th generation) the brains behind the use of white koji in brewing and many other influential developments. Ever since 2009, Aramasa brews only with Kyokai Kobo No.6.

Behind-the-scenes Story of the Development of Kyokai-6 (Aramasa-kobo)

In 1930, a national tax department engineer, Fujio Oana succeeded in isolating the elusive yeast from a tank at Aramasa. The existence of this yeast was for many further proof, if ever it was needed, that Aramasa-shuzou was technically leagues ahead of other breweries.

The brewery was a regular medal taker on the competition circuit, taking 3rd place at the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyokai (National New Sake Championships) in 1927 and 1928 consecutively. At that time, for a brewery in Tohoku to achieve such a high grade was rare so this alerted the national tax department to the possibility that the brewery could be home to some very interesting yeast strains.

No sooner had the yeast begun distribution, orders for Kyokai-1 through 5 and Kyokai-12 simply stopped coming in.

In the period from 1940 to 1945 (which includes the year that No.7 was isolated), No.6 was the only yeast being distributed. This was, of course, the time of the second world war. It was a period when brewing became a matter of life or death for the company so ingredients could not be wasted. The demand for consistent brewing (less failed batches) grew and it was during this time that brewing began to shift from ambient to proprietary yeast.

Characteristics of sake made from Kyokai-6 (Aramasa-kobo)

The impressive brewing power of No.6 produces higher alcohol during the fermentation and because the yeast is able to survive these higher levels, the fermentation is longer with fewer sugars left, which leads to drier sake. It isn’t particularly famous for its aromas like No.7 and No.9 but still produces fruity notes reminiscent of banana, but not quite banana. There is a lovely of flavor that some of the other yeast lack which makes it very suitable for kimoto brewing. (see this article).

When drinking sake, paying attention to the yeast used may bring you new discoveries. The world of sake is still full of surprises! And there is no better place to start your journey of discovery than KURAND in Tokyo, a sake tasting emporium where you can taste your way through over 100 different types of sake, with no time limits, all for one flat fee. We look forward to welcoming you soon.