Did you know?
Rice, the grain from which sake is made, has been cultivated for more than 7,000 years in China and has long been used in Asia to produce alcoholic beverages. One of the features of Asian brewing techniques is the use of molds instead of malt to turn starch into sugar (saccharification). China is also the birthplace of this technology. The rice and brewing technology used to make sake are thought to have originated in China. However, Japan is now the only Asian country that produces a clear alcoholic beverage with a refined flavor like sake. Japanese sake has a history going back more than 2,000 years, during which time the Japanese have continuously improved the brewing technique.
What is Sake?
Sake is a popular and delicious Japanese alcoholic beverage that populations around the world particularly love for its refreshing and sweet taste. It is made from several different types of rice and is commonly referred to as Japanese rice wine; however, in reality, the process of making sake is much more similar to making beer, with the beverage being created in a brewery from fermented rice.
Many rice types can be used to create sake. In addition, the type of water used to make sake can have a profound final impact on the quality of the beverage, with certain water types or mineral contents altering the quality.
These days, many different rice types are used to create this ancient Japanese beverage. As such, there is plenty of selection when it comes to sake wine, and this allows customers to choose a beverage that best meets their personal preferences.
What Rice Types Are Used to Create Sake?
Have you ever wondered about the different types of rice used in sake production? Sake production is a complex method that utilizes various rice types to create a refreshing alcoholic beverage that’s sweet and delicious. Modern sake experts widely believe the drink to be based on an ancient Japanese recipe, with the oldest Sake brewery in the world being dated to the 15th century (the 1400s).
Breweries use several rice types to create alcoholic sake beverages, including Aiyama, Yamada Nishiki, Kuranohana, and Hitomebore rice. The different rice types will alter the final properties of the drink. As such, this is a crucial factor to consider when it comes to picking out the best sake for your table.
One of the common varieties of rice used in sake production is Aiyama rice nowadays, although it’s one of the more modern rice types. Indeed, Aiyama rice was developed in 1949, and to this day, it’s only grown in the Hyogo region.
Aiyama rice’s lineage goes back to both Yamada Nishiki rice and Omachi rice varieties, making it something of a “best of both worlds” rice type. Japanese sake made from Aiyama rice typically tends to be full-bodied and fruity with a slightly higher acidity level than is sometimes found in other sake beverages.
Yamada Nishiki Rice
We have briefly mentioned Yamada Nishiki rice as one of the ancestors of the modern Aiyama rice strain. However, that does not mean that Yamada Nishiki rice has been replaced – far from it. In fact, in many regions, Yamada Nishiki rice is considered one of the kings of Sake rice types, thanks for its ability to create fragrant, fruity sake overall.
Yamada Nishiki rice was made in 1923 and is grown in several regions, including Shiga, Kanagawa, Tokushima, Fukuoka, and Okayama. In short – if you are looking for high-quality sake, Yamada Nishiki rice could be an excellent rice type to consider. However, it is also one of the most difficult rice types to grow, making it more expensive. Furthermore, it can only be grown in Japanese regions that aren’t flat, owing to the fact that it is easily knocked over by the wind.
Kura no Hana Rice
Another common option that breweries use to create sake is Kura no Hana rice, which was first developed in 1987 by crossing Yamada Nishiki and Tohuku strains. Kura no Hana rice is one of the easier varieties to grow, which can make it a more affordable solution. What’s more, this rice type is highly-praised for its ability to create a rich, mellow, medium-weight alcoholic beverage that’s undeniably refreshing.
Named to mean “love at first sight,” there’s no doubt that Hitomebore rice is one of the most popular sake rice types. This rice type is the newest type of rice on this list and was made in 1991, and it is one of the more expensive rice varieties used in sake brewing. The rice itself is incredibly soft and mild, giving a floral scent overall. Hitomebore rice sake is typically medium dry and medium-bodied with slightly higher acidity and is particularly delicious when served with seafood and fish dishes.
Other Sake Rice Types
We have listed the four most common rice types used in sake beverage breweries above. However, several other rice types may be used during sake production, including Omachi, Hattannishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Dewasansan, and Miyamanishiki.
Ultimately, choosing the best rice type for sake production comes down to the brewery’s preferences and the availability of different rice types at the time. Furthermore, certain varieties of rice may be more expensive to buy than others, which may impact the final decision about the type of rice to be used in sake.
Japan has four distinct seasons and several customs involving sake are associated with these. In spring, people enjoy sake while viewing the cherry blossoms. In autumn, they place chrysanthemum petals in sake cups and drink the sake while admiring the moon. Winter is a time for appreciating snow scenes while enjoying sake. Food ingredients also change with the seasons and sakana (dishes to accompany sake) are served to match the season.
Hot or Cold ?
Sake can also be drunk heated, a practice that originated in the ninth century when aristocrats would warm sake to entertain guests. By the 18th century, people were drinking warmed sake throughout the year. It was around this time that Kaibara Ekiken, a physician, wrote a book stating that drinking warmed sake improves the circulation of chi (energy flow). Going back 1,300 years, there are reports of the emperor and aristocrats drinking chilled sake in the summer by adding ice that had been stored during the wintertime, a very extravagant way to enjoy it. Since the 1980s, a larger number of sake varieties with a light, fresh flavor have appeared, encouraging the serving of sake chilled.
UmamiCareful tasting of sake reveals a pleasant taste that cannot be characterized as sweet, acid, bitter or astringent. This is umami. Umami is sometimes described as “savoriness.” Compared to wine and beer, sake is richer in amino acids and peptides that produce umami.
What is Kome-koji (Koji rice)?
Beverages made from grains, such as sake and beer, it is first necessary to use enzymes to break down the starch in the grain to convert it to sugar before yeast fermentation. The enzymes play a number of roles, finely shredding the starch to convert it into sugar, breaking down protein, and producing peptides and amino acids. In beer brewing, malt is used as the source of these enzymes, but for making sake, a substance called kome-koji (koji rice) is used. Koji rice is made by cultivating koji-fungi on steamed rice. Koji rice may simply be called koji. The koji fungus is a beneficial and safe variety of mold that is also used in the production of traditional Japanese seasonings, such as miso and soy sauce. The first step in making the koji for use in sake brewing is to inoculate steamed rice with the spores of koji-fungi, called tane-koji. After a while, the spores germinate and start to spread their fungal filaments. In about two days, the steamed rice is entirely covered with koji-fungi. As the koji-fungi grow, they produce enzymes, which accumulate within the koji. Koji-fungi are most active at a temperature of around 36°C, but cease all activity at a temperature above 45°C. For this reason, the process is carefully controlled in a room in the brewery called a koji-muro, where the temperature is kept at around 30°C and the relative humidity maintained in the range of 50%–80%. The polished rice to make koji is called koji-mai. Koji enzymes are highly efficient and the ratio of koji-mai in the polished rice used to make sake only has to be in the 15%–25% range for the enzymes to perform their role.
How Water Source Impacts the Final Quality of Sake
Breweries make sake with water, and the final beverage is comprised of 80% water. As such, it is perhaps not a great surprise that the type of water used during sake production will play an impact on the final quality and flavor of the drink. Indeed, in most cases, most sake breweries will use local water sources, which in turn gives every bottle of sake produced a unique flavor depending on the region where the brewery made the beverage.
Generally speaking, hard water will produce a tighter, more structured beverage. Along the same lines, soft water gives a silkier final taste and texture. Neither of these is necessarily better or worse for sake production, and once again comes down to personal preferences.
The level of minerals within the water source will also play a role in the final flavor and quality of the sake beverage. For example, if the water is rich in iron, this may result in an unpleasant flavor and color after brewing. As such, breweries are commonly cautious when it comes to the water source they use to ensure that the final drink remains delicious and isn’t contaminated or discolored by mineral sources.
What is Honjozo?
Honjozo is a type of “special designation” sake – that’s added with a small amount of distilled alcohol, added into the moromi at the end of the fermentation process. A honjozo sake tend to be lighter and drier than junmai sake.
What is Taruzake?
Taruzake is sake stored or aged for a period of time in a Japanese cedar cask, giving it a pleasant cedar aroma. Until the beginning of the 20th century, sake was normally transported in casks. These days, nearly all sake is bottled. Taruzake is also used at opening ceremonies and celebrations in a ritual called Kagami-Biraki.
Koshu or aged sake, are aged at least three years or more before release. Koshu has a caramel aroma with hints of honey, dried fruits, molasses and soy sauce, it has a slightly bitter taste and a long finish. The color of Koshu ranges from yellow to amber and tends to get darker and more savory with age.
Futus-shu (non-premium sake)
The bulk of sake produced in Japan is classified as futsu-shu. The rice is ~70% polished and the amount of jozo-alcohol used is equivalent to ~20% of the weight of polished rice. The aroma of futsu-shu is less pronounced and not as flavorful as the finest sake.
Most sake undergoes pasteurization at a temperature of 60 to 65°C before storage. The purpose is to sterilize the liquid and at the same time to render any enzymes inactive. Enzymes will alter the aroma through the action of oxidizing enzymes and many sake products are pasteurized again during bottling.
Sequence similar to wine tasting.
1) Observe appearance, colour and clarity.
2) Evaluate UWADACHIKA(orthonasal aroma).
3) Take 5ml sip into mouth, spread around tongue, breathe in air through.
4) Evaluate FUKUMIKA (retronasal aroma) that reaches the nose via the mouth. 5) Evaluate the taste on the tongue.
6) Sip more sake and allow it to pass down the throat in order to evaluate the aftertaste.
Fruits - Apple, Pear, Banana, Lychee, Strawberry, Citrus. Ginjo-shu is rich in aromas suggestive of fruits. These aromas are referred to as Ginjo-ka. The element "ka" means aroma. It comes from the esters produced by yeast in the fermentation process and is analogous to the secondary aroma in wine.
Amakara Amakuchi-sweetness or Karakuchi-dryness,
The balance of sugars and acids determines whether the sake tastes sweet or dry. Increasing the acidity will reduce the sake's sweet taste even if the amount of sugar reminds the same. Sake with high sugar and acid content is regarded as rich or heavy.
Notan (nojun or tanrei) body.
Sake with high sugar & acid content is regarded as rich or heavy. A full-bodied variety is referred to as having koku or goku(mi). Nojun and Tanrei are 2 Japanese terms used to denote the level of body. Tanrei conveys the notion of “light”, “clean” and “sophisticated.” Nojun, on the other hand, conveys the meaning of “full (rich)”, “complex” and “graceful.”