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What is Sake?
Japanese Sake [pronounced ‘sak-ay’] is also known as ‘Nihonshu’ or in Japanese 日本酒 the first two characters mean ‘Japan’, and the 3rd character is the generic character for alcoholic drinks.

Sake is made by fermenting rice to generate the alcoholic beverage: a traditional process that has developed over hundreds of years. Sake can be drunk at temperatures ranging from 5C to 60C: sake is the only drink in the world that can be drunk at different temperatures to offer a variety of tastes.

Sake production is a fascinating process that offers an insight into little-known areas of Japanese life. This section explains some of the important terms in the sake production process.

Toji Toji
Sake is produced at a kura [brewery]: there are hundreds of such kura in Japan ranging from small micro-breweries to large renowned operations. Toji is the name of the head brewer of the kura, the person in charge of the sake making process. The production of sake is a delicate and elaborate process, more art than science. The intricate techniques and skills inherited and passed down through generations of Toji.

Kura-bito Kura-bito
Kura-bito [literally ‘brewery-people’] are the workers who man the brewery and warehouse. The traditional pattern is for rice-farmers to grow their crops during the summer months, and move to work in the kura in winter to make sake.

Seimai Seimai
Seimai refers to the process of polishing the rice prior to fermentation. Proteins and oils are removed with the rice husk, leaving a purer form of the carbohydrate-laden white rice. As a general rule of thumb, removing more of the rice grain exterior results in more delicate and pure tasting sake.

Seimai-buai Seimai-buai
Seimai-buai refers to the proportion of rice grain that remains after the Seimai process. For example, a sake with a seimai-buai of 60% means that during sake production 40% of the original rice-grain has been polished away. Household rice used for food has a seimai-buai of 90%, whereas sake tends to vary between 40%-70% on average. The seimai-buai of each sake will be written on the label of each bottle.

Nihonshudo Nihonshudo
A standard measure of the sake’s relative density to water, which in turn shows how much unfermented sugar remains in the sake. A sweet, full-bodied sake will have a minus value, and a dry sake will have a positive value. The greater the minus or positive value, the more sweet or dry the sake.

Koshiki Koshiki
Koshiki is the traditional large bamboo basket steamer used during the process of steaming the rice this is an essential element to the sake production process.

Kome-koji Kome-koji
Kome-koji is a mold [Aspergillus oryzae] applied to the steamed white rice in order to break down starch molecules into sugar molecules, which can then be processed by yeast cells for fermentation. In wine production, the necessary sugar is found in the grapes, and for beer production sugar is generated by enzymes in malted barely. For sake, the rice husks have been milled away in the seimai process, and so kome-koji is necessary to generate the necessary sugars for fermentation.

Seigiku-shitsu Seigiku-shitsu
The seigiku-shitsu is the special room in which the Kome-koji is administered. The application of kome-koji is an integral art in making sake variations in timing, temperature, humidity and type of kome-koji will all affect the properties and taste of the sake. Access to the Seigiku-shitsu is tightly controlled, in order to maintain close control of the room conditions and to prevent the introduction of outside bacteria. The seikigu-shitsu can be considered as the ‘control centre’ for the sake brewery.

Shubo Shubo
Shubo is the yeast starter for a batch of sake. Water, kome-koji, and steamed rice are added to lactic acid and sake yeast to make shubo. The Japanese characters for shubo ‘sake’ and ‘mother’: shubo is considered the ‘mother of the sake’.

Moromi Moromi
Moromi is the fermenting mixture from which the end-result sake is made. Shubo is added to kome-koji, steamed rice, water, and submitted to the danjikomi process in order to make moromi.

Danjikomi Danjikomi
Danjikomi is the process of mixing water, kome-koji, and steamed rice with shubo in careful gradations. Strict temperature control is enforced. This process prevents the propagation of unwanted germs whilst ensuring the effectiveness of the shubo yeast starter for fermentation.

Sakekasu Sakekasu
This is the term for the solid white by-product that results from the moromi undergoing a pressing process. Sake-kasu has an alcohol content of around 8%, and can be used in cooking - for example in making tsukemono pickles. Sakekasu is rich in nutrients, and has various uses for example in decreasing blood pressure.

Jozo alcohol Nigori-zake
This sake does not undergo the same fine filtering of clear sake so retains some of the white residue which gives this sake its milky appearance. This results in its characteristic sweet taste and higher alcohol content.

Shinpaku Shinpaku
Shinpaku is the white part in the centre of the rice grain. Shinpaku is soft and low in starch, with few proteins, which eases the cultivation process and results in strong fermentation. Shinpaku is a type of rice grain with a high proportion of this soft white centre, and is the best type of rice for making sake.

Genryo-mai Genryo-mai

Genryo-mai is the generic term for the various rice types used in sake production there are around 30 different types. The rice types used for sake production are also the highest-quality rice types for cooking.

Shirataki Sake Brewery uses the highest quality rice types in the production of our sake. The below list notes the different varieties:

Yamada-nishiki Yamada-nishiki
This is known as the ‘King of Genryo-mai’, and is grown in the highest-altitude rice paddies. Yamada-nishiki is a ‘shimpaku’ top-quality rice grain variety, used in the production of the finest sake for a deep, mild and mellow taste.

Gohyakumangoku Koshi tanrei
This is a new type of rice that was specially produced by cross-fertilizing two highly regarded kinds of rice that are famous in brewing circles: Yamada-nishiki and Gohyakumangoku. This new ideal blend is a large, plump grade that is low in carbohydrate.

Gohyakumangoku Gohyakumangoku
This is the most widely-used type of rice for sake production in Japan. The name literally means 500,000 ‘goku’, a ‘goku’ is a traditional measurement of size. When this type of rice was first planted in fields totaling an area of 500,000 ‘goku’, this name was applied in celebration. Sake made using this rice is refreshing and light, and its sometimes called ‘Tanrei Dry Sake’, referring its dry taste with relatively low sugar and acidity.

Miyama-nishiki Miyama-nishiki
This type of brewers’ rice has large, plump grains of uniform size. A relatively new variety, Miyama-nishiki has a rich taste, though with refreshing and light notes.

Takane-nishiki Takane-nishiki
In Niigata, this rice is regarded as the premier variety for the production of high grade ‘Ginjo’ sake. Sake made from Takane-nishiki rice has refreshing yet full-bodied taste notes.

Koshiji-wase Koshiji-wase
This rice is grown in Niigata prefecture, and is also widely used as a top-grade cooking rice variety.