When it comes to this popular Japanese drink, it is very often described as rice wine. Technically, unlike wine, in which the alcohol content is achieved by fermentation of the sugar naturally present in the grapes, sake is prepared by the processes used in brewing. That is, sake is more of a “rice beer” than a “rice wine.”

In Japanese, the word “sake” (酒) refers to all alcoholic beverages, and the one we all recognize as sake and which we will talk about in this article is written with the hieroglyphs 日本 се and translated as “Japanese alcohol”. Sometimes pronounced or spelled as “Saki”. Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. The Japanese law on alcoholic beverages defines it as “produced from rice, koji, yeast and water, using the processes of fermentation and filtration.” This definition generally refers to the traditional Japanese type of sake.



The rice
The rice used to cook sake is called shuzō kōtekimai (sake rice). The grain is larger, stronger, and contains less protein and lipids than ordinary rice used for food by the Japanese. Rice contains starch in the center of the grains, called shinpaku. The rice is polished to remove the bran, as only sake made from rice containing only starch has a unique and excellent taste. If the grain is small in size or weak, it will break during the polishing process. This rice is used to make sake, not only because it is the most suitable, but also because it is tasteless to eat. There are at least 80 types of rice in Japan. Among them, for the production of sake, the most popular are 9 varieties.

Yamada Nishiki Rice: From Hyogo, Okayama and Fukuoka. The so-called king of rice for Sake. Well balanced and with a mild aroma.

Omachi Rice: From Okayama. Generally less fragrant, but with more specific elements of taste.

Miyama Nishiki Rice: From Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi, Fukushima and Nagano. Slightly drier sake with more rice flavor, but with a well-defined nose.

Gohyakumangoku Rice: From Niigata, Fukushima, Toyama, and Ishikawa. Smooth and clean, dry-tasting sake with a very light aroma.

Oseto Rice: From Kagawa. Rich taste, with a very characteristic aroma of earth.

Hatta Nishiki Rice: From Hiroshima. Rich taste and pronounced nose, usually at the end there are pronounced shades of earth.

Tamazakae Rice: From Totori and Shiga. Soft and deep aroma, with a complex finish.

Kame no O: From Niigata and Yamagata. Rich, fragrant, slightly drier and more acidic than sachets of other types of rice.

Dewa San San: From Yamagata and Niigata. Complex, not so dry and light aroma.

The water
Water is one of the most important ingredients in making sake. After all, it takes up about 80% of the drink and is used at every step in the process of its preparation. At the very beginning, before it is exposed to steam, the rice is washed, rinsed and soaked. In the moromi fermentation process, water is also added to the tanks of each of the (usually) three “chicomes”. vol.% alc.

It is claimed that the values ​​of certain chemicals in the water are regularly monitored, which can affect the taste and quality of the sake. There are a number of elements whose presence is mandatory and without which some steps of the brewing process do not go smoothly. There are also several elements that are only detrimental and complicate the process or would be adversely affected in other ways. The most despised are iron and manganese, and the most desirable are potassium, magnesium.

The water used for the production of sake is almost always from underground, ie. from wells. Urban breweries usually import water from other areas due to the difficulty of finding good enough quality locally.

Koji (Koji)
Koji is steamed rice that has Koji mold spores grown on it. This magic mold, whose official scientific name is Aspergillus Oryzae, creates several enzymes that spread and help turn starch into rice into sugar, which in turn can ferment under the influence of yeast (yeast), releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol. Without Koji, there is no sake.

In general, the process of obtaining Koji takes 40 to 45 hours. When ready to use, it looks like rice with a small amount of white glaze on each grain. The smell and taste, as might be expected, is slightly sweet. It has a characteristic aromatic association with that of chestnut.



The brewing process in the preparation of sake differs from that of beer in that in the latter, the conversion of starch into sugar and then into alcohol occurs in two stages, and in sake, it occurs simultaneously. The difference from other brewing methods is the use of a process called “multiple parallel fermentation”. This process results in a higher alcohol content in the sake than any other fermented beverage. For comparison, the wine usually contains 9 – 16 vol. % alc. , the beer reaches a maximum of 9 vol. % alc. , and the undiluted sake reaches 18 – 20 vol. % alc. (However, it is often diluted to about 15 – 16 vol.% Alc. With water before bottling).

Polishing and grinding of rice
As I mentioned above, sake is produced by the method of multiple parallel fermentation of rice. The rice is first polished, which removes the proteins and oils from the skin of the grains, leaving behind a clean sample of starch. Complete milling results in fewer congeners and a generally more desirable product. This is not as simple as it sounds, as it must be done carefully so as not to create too much heat (which subsequently adversely affects the absorption of water), or shredding of rice nuts (which is not good for the process of fermentation). The amount of grinding greatly affects the taste.

Washing and soaking
The newly polished rice is left to “rest” until it absorbs enough moisture from the air so that it does not break when it is then immersed in water. After this rest period, the rice is washed and cleaned of dust collected during grinding and then soaked in water. The length of time is from a few minutes to a day and depends on the degree to which the rice is polished. The more polished the rice, the faster it absorbs water and the shorter the soaking time.

Steam cooking
The next process is steam treatment. This is a different way from how it is prepared for consumption at home. The rice does not mix with water and does not reach boiling point. The steam is released from the bottom of the cauldron, traditionally called “baskets”, and on its way up passes through the rice. This gives them a slightly harder outer surface and a softer center. Each prepared batch of cooked rice is divided into two. One part goes to be sprinkled with, Koji mold, and the other directly into the fermentation barrel.

Creating Koji (Seijiko)
This is the heart of the whole sake brewing process and the producers can talk at length about it. In summary, Koji mold in the form of dark, fine powder is scattered on cooked and cooled rice. It is taken to a special room, which is maintained above average humidity and temperature. Over the next 36 to 45 hours, Koji mold develops. Finally, the beans look slightly matte and smell like sweet chestnuts. Koji is used at least four times during the whole process and is always freshly prepared and used immediately. Therefore, each batch goes through the “heart of the process” at least four times.

Yeast fermentation (Shubo or Moto)
This is done by mixing Koji rice finished with plain and plain white rice from the above two steps with water and a concentration of pure yeast cells. Over the next two weeks, the yeast concentration should grow to 100 million cells in one teaspoon.

Fermentation (Moromi)
After being moved to a larger tank, more rice, Koji and more water are added to the sourdough in three successive stages over four days, doubling the batch size approximately each time. This is the main slurry, and as it ferments, over the next 18 to 32 days, the temperature (approximately 15 – 20 ° C) and other factors are measured and corrected to create exactly the desired aroma profile.

Pressing (Josso)
When everything is ready, the sake is pressed. Using one of several methods, the white precipitate (called Kasu) and the unfermented solids are pressed to allow the clear sake to flow. This is most often done with a machine, although older methods involving placing moromi in cloth bags and squeezing fresh sake, or letting it drip from the bags (as we make strained yogurt), are still used.

Filtration (Roca)
After standing for a few days to allow more solids to settle, the sake is usually filtered through charcoal, which corrects the taste and color. This of course varies in the form of various schemes at different breweries.

Most sachets are pasteurized once. This is done by heating quickly. The sake passes quickly through a tube immersed in hot water. This process kills bacteria and inactivates enzymes that are likely to lead to unwanted taste and color later.Sake, which is not pasteurized, is called namazake, and maintains a  certain freshness of aroma, although for protection it should be stored in the refrigerator.


The process by which the quality of a product is improved during its maturation is called maturation. The new sake is not very good to drink due to its rough taste, while the mature one is soft, with a smooth and rich texture. However, if it is very ripe, it also re-develops a rough taste. It takes six to twelve months for good sake to mature. Aging is caused by physical and chemical factors such as oxygen enrichment, widespread use of external thermal insulation, nitrogen oxides, aldehydes and amino acids and others. Japanese cedar barrels are considered an indispensable tool during this critical period.

Toji is the Japanese name for the position of brewer. This is a highly respected profession in Japanese society. This work is placed on a par with the art of musicians and artists. In the past, the title Toji has historically passed from father to son. Today, Toji are either veteran workers or rarely university students.

Nowadays, modern breweries with cooling systems work all year round, and the most old-fashioned are seasonal and work only in the cool winter months.


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