Exploring the Various Styles of Aged Sake

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

You may be wondering whether sake is matured like wine and to what extent it benefits from aging. Traditionally, sake is brewed to be consumed young, but aging is a surprisingly common practice nowadays. Even traditional styles often spend a few months in storage before shipping to knit the flavors together and balance out any erratic notes. In short, aged sake is a much more diverse product than you might think, and so, In this article, we will look at the range of styles available out there.

The Definition of Aged Sake

The general Japanese term for aged sake is koshu. The word is made up of the Chinese characters for old (古)and sake(酒). Another common label term for aged sake (although rarely printed in English) is choki jukuseishu, which literally translates to long term aged sake. It is the latter which this article will focus on.

Since the liquor tax law in Japan does not lay out an official definition for either, many brewers interpret these terms with a great deal of freedom. The Jukuseishu Kenkyukai (Vintage Sake Research Institute)—an organization comprised of retail stores, liquor stores, distributors, and sake brewing companies whose goal is to help spread the concept of long term aging and to increase brewing skills—has taken the liberty to create their own general definition for choki jukuseishu. Notice that the organization uses the word vintage, and not aged. This is because, in Japan, aged sake has a negative connotation, but this may be inviting confusion with the concept of the wine vintage.

Definition by Choki Jukuseishu Kenkyukai (Vintage Sake Research Institute)

There are some brewers that put the term on their label after just a year’s aging, but the group’s definition is seishu (sake), excluding sake with sugar added, that has undergone at least 3 full years maturation at the brewery. This is the definition that this article will adhere most closest to.

What to Expect from Aged Sake


So does sake benefit from such long aging and how do the flavors and aromas differ from that of wine, whiskey or any other matured alcohol beverages that you care to think of? First of all, aging sake is not quite as straightforward as aging wine. Due to the much more unstable microbiological makeup of sake, there are no hard and fast rules. Just like with wine, the aging results vary widely depending on the sake’s structure: acidity, body, sugar content, alcohol level, levels of bitterness and umami. For wine, each of these characteristics is determined by appellation, grape type, and production techniques used, but for sake, it is not quite as clear-cut.

Sake is categorized on a very basic level by its rice polishing ratio, but this alone does not determine the characteristics of the sake and with many brewers interpreting the system differently, this has become a very vague way to categorize sake, a vagueness that transcends into aged sake.

The sake service institute has tried to add some clarity by dividing sake up into 4 categories as follows:-

Kunshu: light, elegant sake with a delicate aroma (like daiginjo sake)
Soushu: light sake with a simple palate and a little sharpness (like hon jozo sake)
Junshu: sake with a modest aroma but more body and flavor (like junmai sake)
Jukushu: sake with a more mature aroma and excellent balance of bitterness and acidity

A large majority of choki jukuseishu on the market will fit very neatly into the final, Jukushu category, but there are just as many out there that won’t even come close.

Perhaps, once upon a time, all aged sake in Japan tasted like jukushu, but these days, as brewers play with the aging formula, more and more exceptions are hitting the shelves.

A More Detailed breakdown

The modern incarnation of choki jukuseishu (let’s call it that) can be broken down further into three more categories that take into account the grade of the sake and how it was made. The key difference between the three types is the speed at which oxidation and something called the Maillard reaction happens. The Maillard reaction is the breakdown of sugars and amino acids It is this reaction which causes the sake to change color when it ages.

Kojuku type
Honjozo sake and junmai matured at ambient temperatures. By aging at ambient temperature, the rate at which the color and aroma and taste change is accelerated. It quickly evolves, developing unique flavors and aromas that were not there before. Kojuku pairs really well with Chinese food, oily foods, and food with thick umami and sweetness (bitter chocolate, yakiniku, blue cheese, yakitori with sauce, curry).

Neutral type
This is often found among honjozo, junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo that have matured at both low and ambient temperatures. Combining both low and ambient temperature maturing yields a flavor somewhere between kojuku and awajuku. Good matches include sweet and sour pork, beef shabushabu, raisins, and chocolate. In general, it gets on well with and brings out the umami in foods that have a moderate amount of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness.

Awajuku type
This aging style is achieved by maturing highly aromatic sake like ginjo and daiginjo at super low temperatures. Rather miraculously, it retains the elegance of ginjo sake but the intensity of the aroma becomes slightly muted; the sake may develop bitterness but also more depth. It goes well with French food, sweet/low fat but has lots of umami components (raw ham, squid shiokara, roll cabbage, gratin, cheese).

The Charms of Choki Jukuseishu

Characteristics of Longer Aged Sake

The aroma of the longer aged sake is called jukuseika or koshuka and is sometimes compared to shaoxing, sherry wine, caramel, dried shiitake, and raisins. It is basically an oxidized aroma (a result of the sake coming into contact with oxygen). The color of the liquid is very characteristic and often reminds people of whiskey. Traditionally, sake is rarely aged in oak vessels like wine, but some brewers have begun to explore this too, in which case, you get hints of vanilla, butter, toast, etc.

Easier on the Body?

In fact, aged sake can have a peculiar sobering effect. In documents from the Edo period, it is written that “shinshu goes straight to your head while aged sake intoxicates your body in a much more satisfyingly pleasant way”. Even medical societies have published reports lauding how gentle aged sake is. For those trying to avoid a nasty hangover, aged sake just might be the answer.

Summary

The KURAND lineup often includes the odd aged sake or two. In fact, we have even produced original aged sake with our partner breweries. With branches all over Tokyo, each stocking over 100 types to taste to your heart’s content with no time limits, all for one flat fee, there is no better place to discover sake. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

The 3 Types of Fermentation: Where Does Sake Fit In?

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

Sake is a fermented beverage made from rice. But exactly how is it fermented and how does the process differ from wine and beer. That is the question this article will attempt to answer. We will look at the three main types of fermentation and reveal where sake fits in.

How fermented alcohol is produced depends on whether or not there is any accessible sugar available in the raw ingredient, to begin with.

There are three main fermentation methods.
Please refer back to the below diagram as you read through this article.

Single Fermentation (sugar to begin with? = yes)

This is the one used to make wine. Alcohol beverages in this category are made with a raw ingredient that contains accessible sugar to begin with, often a form of fruit. With sugar already available, all you need to do is add yeast. The fruit is normally crushed to make it easier for the yeast to access the sugar. The process of making wine is referred to as single fermentation.

Multiple Fermentation (no sugar to begin with? = No)

This is how beer is made. Unlike single fermentation, the raw ingredient, the barley does not contain accessible sugar and this is what the raw ingredient of all beverages made with multiple fermentation have in common.

Multiple fermentation gets its name from the fact that two processes are required before fermentation can take place. The core constituent of barley is starch. Starch is basically the plant’s space efficient way of storing glucose, the energy it needs to grow, but the important point is that starch cannot be accessed as glucose without another step. When the plant starts to grow, powerful enzymes are released from the germ which breaks this starch back down into glucose for the plant to access. Malting is essentially the forced growth of the plant. The scientific term for the process is germination. In fermentation, the conversion of starch to sugar is called saccharification. The saccharified barley is called wort. The word is basically a sugary liquid. Yeast is then added to the wort and alcohol fermentation proceeds in the usual way.
The process of making beer is referred to as brewing because boiling and steeping are required.

So which one of these two categories do you think sake would belong to?

You might think multiple fermentation, and you would be warmer rather than cold, but although sake is much closer to beer than wine—the process of making sake is also referred to as brewing—the correct answer is in fact: neither.

Despite all the similarities with beer brewing, the fermentation method used to brew sake is completely unique.

Multiple Parallel Fermentation (no sugar to begin with? = No)

Whereas in multiple fermentation, the two processes are carried out simultaneously, in the method used to brew sake, they are carried out in parallel. Don’t worry if you are still confused because we are about to elaborate.

The key difference between barley and rice is that the outer layers of the rice grain are nearly always removed to avoid unwanted off-flavors in the end product, a process called polishing. However, this polishing also inadvertently removes the germ. Remember, the germ is where the plant stores its starch-converting enzymes.

Therefore, it is not possible to germinate rice like barley. So how do we convert that starch into sugar?
Luckily there is a mold that can produce the required enzymes. The mold is called koji. This koji is inoculated into steamed rice. Instead of malting, we essentially create moldy rice. The mold secrets its enzymes into the rice. Still with us? It only gets a little bit more complicated from here.

The moldy rice which we conveniently but rather confusingly name after the mold, so, koji, becomes a standalone ingredient in the process that we add to a massive tank together with steamed rice and water a seed fermentation—a smaller baby fermentation we made earlier—that contains a healthy population of yeast.

It is in this tank that a miracle takes place that sets sake apart from both wine and beer. The koji breaks up releasing the enzymes and some already converted glucose into the water. At the same time, the steamed rice breaks up and releases extra supplies of starch into the water. The water acts as a catalyst that brings the starch into contact with the enzymes and vice versa (the process is actually a type of hydrolysis). As the same time that the starch is converted into sugar, yeast eats this sugar and creates alcohol. This cycle repeats itself over and over until the desired product is complete.

It sounds miraculous that these two processes can coexist and play out in parallel, and it is.
The balance and control that is required to keep these two processes from outrunning each other, makes sake production one of the most complex and difficult in the world and is unique to Japan.

The constant supply of glucose throughout the fermentation is why multiple parallel fermentation achieves the highest alcohol strength among fermented beverages and can get as high as 20% alcohol, but it is not a spirit.

So there you have it, sake is not a spirit, it is not a wine, it is closer to a beer, but it is not a beer. In short, sake is a unique miracle of Japan and should be celebrated as such.

Bonus fact: unlike beer, sake is brewed in an open tank which means that, with a few exceptions, all of the CO2 gas dissipates as opposed to dissolving into the final product. Therefore, sake is rarely naturally bubbly like beer, certainly not to the same extent as beer.

If this article has inspired you to learn more, it is never too late to begin your journey into the world of sake.

KURAND provides the perfect setting to discover sake on your own terms, at your leisure, without any time limits and without burning a hole in your wallet.
Why not pop into KURAND the next time you are in Tokyo where you can taste over 100 different types of sake, carefully selected from all over Japan. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

10 Sake Vessels You Should Add to your Collection

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

Switching up the vessel you enjoy sake out of is an easy way to add an extra dimension to any sake tasting, sometimes with exciting, surprising results. Most people are familiar with, and quite happy just drinking out of the small porcelain cups called ochoko, but there is so much more diversity to explore. The variety is as diverse as sake itself.

Just a small variation in size, design, aperture, and material can transform the flavor and aroma of sake or even its aesthetics, or perhaps, it spirits you away to a deeper level of sake enjoyment. The point is that by always drinking from the same vessel, you could be subconsciously limiting your enjoyment of sake and missing out on the depth it has to offer.

So without further ado, here are 10 of our top sake vessel picks that, also make great collector’s items.

1. Fuji Ochoko Type: Tenkai Sakazuki


Difficulty to find: * Available at KURAND (not to buy though….)
There really is no better souvenir to take home than a Mt.Fuji shaped ochoko to show that you have climbed the peaks of your sake journey. This ochoko is just the right shape for making those rough and ready, sharp, dry sake easier to drink.

2. Kikutsunagi (Chrysanthemum Chain) Kiriko Type: Takadai Sakazuki


Difficulty to find: ***

Sake in a cut glass is like a diamond set in a jewel-encrusted ring. There is no better vessel to add a touch of class to your sake tasting experience. To create this level of sophistication requires equally sophisticated craftsmanship, craftsmanship that was cultivated in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district in the turn of the 20th century under the watchful eye of a British glass engineer. It takes years to perfect the skills required to master the intricate cross stitch pattern on the glass from which this style gets its name. Although originally inspired by British glass cutting over the 100+ years of its history, this is a very much Japanese craftsmanship at its absolute best. Makes a great present or little treat for yours truly. No sake loving household should be without at least one kiriko glass in its cupboard. Reserve this one for special occasions and break out your most elegant refined junmai daiginjo/ daiginjo which is a perfect match for the larger aperture.

3. Kokuryu Type: Hirasakazuki (hirahai)


Difficulty to find: *****

The eponymous Kokuryu sake brand in Fukui Prefecture that should need no introduction joined forces with local craftsman to produce the ultimate sake sipping cup. With a larger aperture, this saucer type sake vessel is great for bringing all the flavors in the sake into balance. Even the most aggressive sake are tamed in the delicately cut thin glass. Also great for enjoying warm sake. The glass is quite thin so be careful when warming.

4. Aritayaki Takumi no Kura Type: Guinomi


Difficulty to find: **
_
It is easy to confuse guinomi with ochoko, but guinomi normally have heavier bases and thicker sides. This set comprises of two differently shaped

We absolutely love this set of Aritayaki ware guinomi for comparing tanrei (light) and houjun (rich) styles of sake—one glass for each. The key feature is the size of the aperture. The wider and more open the aperture the more direct the entrance of the sake, which stops the sake from becoming too thinly spread out the tongue. The convex design of the houjun glass helps to hold back any unwanted sharpness and acidity so that you enjoy the rich flavor of houjun sake without all the background noise. If you can only afford, or only have space for two vessels in your house, nearly all sake can be divided into these two flavor profiles so these two glasses will have you covered.

5. Kutani Type: Gosouka (5 flowers) Type: Ceramic Guinomi


Difficulty to find: ***

A very attractive set of vessels for enjoying sake warm.

6. Riedel Vinom Daiginjo Wineglass Type: Wineglass


Difficulty to find: * (more or less readily available)

Have you ever tried sake in a wine glass?
It’s a question that would probably elicit a similar response in Japan, regardless of who you ask: ‘hang on? don’t you mean Ochoko?’, the de facto traditional drinking vessel of choice for sake. But contrary to that natural assumption, sake actually performs just as well in a wine glass as it does in any other type of receptacle. In fact, there are lots of merits to the experience, as this previous article outlines: https://kurand.jp/en/11976/

This glass from the renowned Riedel glassmakers is designed for enjoying daiginjo sake, but we find that sparkling sake excels in this glass as well.

7. Wooden Tohka Type: Ochoko


Difficulty to find: **

It is pretty rare to see people drinking from wooden ochoko but it is not without its fans. Wood generally makes the sake softer. Wooden vessels are better suited to non-aromatic styles of sake where there are no delicate fruity, floral notes to clash with. Thinky sawn vessels tend to add a nice sharpness to light bodied sake.

8. Shotoku Usuhari Daiginjo Type: Stemless Glass


Difficulty to find: *

If you are not ready to make the leap to wineglass yet, the paper-thin stemless usuhari glass provides a great entry-level alternative. At 0.9mm, paper thin is not an exaggeration. Rather remarkably, the company behind these glasses claims that they are just as strong as ordinary glassware. Originally, a light bulb blowing factory, Shotoku transferred its skills to glass blowing and quickly established a reputation as one of the masters of its craft. These glasses are so thin, it is like drinking sake out of thin air and removes all the background noise so that you can connect with your sake in a clean space. Perfect for diving into those super shy ginjo sake.

9. Kiki II Gold Leaf Type: Tin Ochoko


Difficulty to find: ***

Combining antibacterial powers and conductive properties, tin provides the perfect vessel for enhancing the freshness of sake and exploring different temperatures; keeping warm sake warm and cool sake cool for longer. Some tin vessels are also extremely malleable so you can bend them into different shapes. Additionally, various scientific tests.

Each cup is painstakingly gilded with tiny gold leaf by hand by the master craftspeople of Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture) of which the area is famous.

10. Aotake Bamboo Irori Set Type: Tokkuri (carafe)


Difficulty to find: ***

What could be more eccentric than warming your sake in bamboo? Well, that’s precisely how sake is traditionally served at the traditional Japanese fireplace banquet setting called irori. While very few people will have their own irori, you could add a touch of eccentricity to your next campfire gathering and who says this would look out of place at the dinner table.
The shape of the vessel helps bring out the rice-derived sweetness in fresh namazake and levels out the acidity.

One of the cool features of KURAND is that you choose your own vessel and our selection is getting bigger and more diverse all the time. Who knows, maybe you will find some Mount Fuji ochoko or something even stranger. Whatever you choose, there is no better way to start your journey into the world of sake than at KURAND, where you can taste over 100 types of sake without time limits, all for one flat fee.

A Sneakpeek at the Variety of Sake Vessels In Japan

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

Another element of sake pairing that adds an extra dimension to the experience is the vessel that you use. You may already be familiar with the small porcelain cups called ochoko, but there is so much more diversity out there just waiting to be discovered. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the variety on offer is as diverse sake itself.

Just a small variation in size, design, aperture, and material can transform the flavor and aroma of sake or even its aesthetics, or perhaps, it spirits you away to a deeper level of sake enjoyment. The point is that by always drinking from the same vessel, you could be subconsciously limiting your enjoyment of sake and missing out on the depth it has to offer. In this article, we take a deeper dive and look at 3 easy to remember tips for experience-enhancing vessel selection.

3 Tips to Enhance Your Enjoyment of Sake with the Choice of Vessel

Tip 1: Material

 


One aspect that many people will overlook is the material that the vessel is made out, but it can have a profound effect on the flavor of sake. Glass will enhance the sharper elements of the sake—perfect for the fuller-bodied types—while porcelain (pottery) will soften the flavors resulting in a milder, gentler mouthfeel—perfect for the more subtle, delicate sake.

Another one which might not get so much attention is tin. Tin is originally highly effective in antibacterial activity and there is evidence it was popular among the ancient Egyptians. In the case of sake, tin helps to remove unwanted off-flavors and complexity and mellow the sake out and as a great heat conductor it provides the perfect vessel for playing with temperature; keeping warm sake warm and cool sake cool for longer. Some tin vessels are also extremely malleable so you can bend them into different shapes.

Although it is a bit of a novelty, bamboo is another very traditional, popular type of material to make sake vessels out of. The best type of bamboo is called aodake.
Sake poured into fresh aodake becomes a little sweeter and milder. Aodake is strongly linked to celebrations, so it is especially recommended for around New Years! Adding bamboo to the dinner table adds a little luxury to everyday sake life.

Tip 2: Capacity – smaller is better?

The easiest thing to gauge is the vessel’s capacity; the amount of sake poured can alter its flavor. When you drink chilled sake, a smaller vessel is recommended so that you can finish the sake up before the temperature changes. Incidentally pouring too much sake may cause the flavors to dissipate. Smaller cups also mean that less of the sake is in contact with air, so there is less oxidation.

One of the less obvious reasons that sake is drunk from smaller vessels is to facilitate communication, a very strong cultural element in the enjoyment of sake. Most of the vessels only hold a very small volume of sake, so to get through a large 1.8L bottle requires people to pour for each other and in Japan, it is taboo to pour for yourself. Nothing facilitates communication like the design of a sake cup. Why not serve-up this little piece of sake culture at your next dinner party and get your guests interacting Japanese style.

Small is not always better though. Sometimes you actually want to bring the sake into contact with oxygen to aerate it and open it up to wake up dormant flavors and aroma. If this is your objective, the wine glass is king. It can also sometimes be beneficial to decant the more fuller bodied sake like with red wine. You can even use a red wine glass or decanter for this purpose.

Tip 3: Shapes

The shape of the vessel is perhaps the most important element to consider. Whether the vessel has a lip, it is rounded or not etc will determine which flavors hit your taste sensors first when it enters the mouth A type where the sides are curved outwards is going to push the fresher aromas and flavors forward, whereas a convex type is going to suppress aromas and bring out bring rich flavors to the forefront instead.

Trumpet Shapes

For aromatic styles like ginjo etc, a trumpet-shaped glass where the sides curve outwards is perfect for enhancing the aroma. A glass with a deep bottom is even better.

Flower Bud Shapes

A flower bud shape works in the opposite way to the trumpet shape. Instead of enhancing the aroma, it helps to trap even the more modest of bouquets so that you can enjoy them for longer.

Straight Sides

This type of ochoko is made by pulling the side upwards which directs the flavors towards the center of the tongue, perfect for the mature sake with more quirky flavor profiles.

Saucer Shape

Saucer shape vessels closely match the shape of our mouths so all the flavors tend to hit the taste sensors at the same time creating a balanced and harmonious palate.

BONUS: Sake Cup Design


While it doesn’t exactly enhance the flavor or aroma, why not have a little fun with all the different design sake cups that are out there.

Designs To Celebrate Japan

Everything from the faces of demons to even mount Fuji itself are often immortalized in the design of sake vessels.

Cute Designs


Cutesy designs are a little gimmick that has helped to bring more female drinkers into the fold.

When sake is poured into this ochoko, it looks like the rabbit is taking a bath.



One of the cool features of KURAND is that you choose your own vessel and our selection is getting bigger and more diverse all the time. Who knows, maybe you will find some Mount Fuji ochoko or something even stranger. Whatever you choose, there is no better way to start your journey into the world of sake than at KURAND, where you can taste over 100 types of sake without time limits, all for one flat fee.

Appearances Can be Deceiving: Doburoku vs Makgeolli

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

Have you ever tried doburoku?
Doburoku is instantly recognizable by its opaque white, milky, yogurt-like appearance.
However, it is very easy to mix doburoku up with a similarly milky looking alcoholic beverage from Korea called makgeolli (pronounced ma-kori). Apart from their different country of origin, there are a number of very stark differences between these two beverages.

In this article, we filter out the mystery and get to the bottom of what really sets these two cousins apart.

About Doburoku

In the case of Doburoku, it is fairly easy to produce. In fact, it is regarded as one of the most primitive forms of sake. So much so that in the past it was brewed everywhere from the family household to the farmer’s house. It is made by adding kome-koji (moldy rice) and yeast to cooked rice. The introduction of liquor taxation laws in the Meiji Period saw home-brewing outlawed. Fast forward to the present and the home-brewing of doburoku is in most cases still illegal. Although the origin of doburoku, is like doburoku itself, not clear, it is thought to have traveled over from China as a stowaway with rice cultivation. Just like wine, the earliest alcohol beverages produced through rice fermentation were deeply rooted in religion. People would offer up harvested rice to the gods in return for a bountiful harvest the following year—throwing in a cup of doburoku simply sweetened the deal further. This tradition is still practiced today at shrines throughout Japan.

About Makgeolli

Makgeolli is a traditional sake from the Korean peninsula. It shares the same milky, opaque-white appearance as doburoku, but that is where the similarities end. That is because makgeolli is in fact filtered, albeit very coarsely. The word makgeolli is an amalgamation of the words Ma (meaning coarsely) and koruda (meaning to filter). It is thought to have been discovered by blending the sediments of traditional alcohol beverages with water. In post-war Korea, makgeolli made up 80% of the alcohol consumed in all of Korea. Although doburoku is rarely flavored with anything, modern makgeolli production can infuse a variety of flavors such as mango, apple, pears, matsutake, ginseng, and jujube.

Difference between Production of Doburoku and makgeolli: Production

Doburoku and makgeolli are both brewed alcoholic beverages like beer produced through a multiple fermentation involving the extra step of starch to sugar conversion that is not required to make wine.
But there are some differences in the production method between these two beverages.

Different Ingredients


The ingredients are very different!
Doburoku is made with only rice. However, although the main ingredient of makgeolli is rice, it can also be made with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. It is thought that Koreans began the practice of adding other things besides rice during a period of food shortage in the Korean peninsula.

Difference in Taste


Both are very rich with a soft sour-sweetness and an effervescence. Doburoku is perhaps the richest with a very sticky sweetness. Makgeolli tends to be much more sour and fizzier.
Generally, both doburoku and makgeolli are both drunk straight. However, makgeolli is usually only drunk cold. Doboroku, on the other hand, can be enjoyed at a range of different temperatures, just like its descendant sake. Subtle changes in temperature can dramatically alter the flavor and aroma of doburoku and lead to the discovery of new taste experiences.

The difference in Alcohol Strength

Doburoku has more or less the same average alcohol strength as its descendant sake which is around 15-16%. Makgeolli rarely exceeds 6-8%.