History of Japanese Sake
There are various theories regarding when sake was first made in Japan. It seems that rice farming began during the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD), and sake brewing using rice began around that time. In ancient times, sake making was the work of shrine maidens and was made for the Japanese gods and goddesses known as "Kami" in Japanese.
In the Nara period (710-794), brewing methods were established similar to the present day style, and a brewing office called "Sake-no-Tsukasa" was established, and systematic sake brewing was carried out by the entire government. From the Edo period to the present day, sake brewing is still a special job done by craftsmen. Although sake brewing became popular among households, since the Meiji era (1868-1912), homemade sake has been prohibited by the Liquor Tax Law.
It is an essential custom in Japan to enjoy sake with friends and family during ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and special events such as the New Year.
How Sake is Made
Sake is made by alcoholic fermentation of steamed rice using “Koji (rice malt)", rice and water. Rice contains no sugar and cannot be fermented on its own, but the starch is saccharified by the Koji, and the yeast then ferments it into alcohol.
The process of making sake involves about 12 steps, each of which is carried out delicately by craftsmen, including the management of Koji bacterium, and the use of high quality rice and water carefully selected for sake making.
In addition to each process, the taste of sake differs depending on the raw materials used such as rice and water, as well as the Koji used in each brewery, making it possible to taste completely different sake depending on the region and brewery in each part of Japan.
What is Sake Made of
Rice is the main ingredient of sake. For sake brewing, a special type of rice called “Saka-Mai” is used, which has larger grains and higher starch content than edible rice. In order to produce sake with a clear taste, the rice is polished by the craftsmen of the brewery. The craftsmen carefully polish the rice and remove the proteins, fats, and other substances on the surface of the rice.
"Koji" Rice Malt
According to Japanese old teachings, Koji is the most important ingredient for brewing sake as rice does not contain the sugar needed for alcoholic fermentation. Koji is a type of mold fungus, but not the type that has harmful effects on the human body. It contains enzymes such as amylase that breaks down the starch in the rice to sugar. Koji is been passed down through generations as an important material for saccharification of rice. Since Koji is a living substance, it is strictly controlled by the craftsmen of sake breweries.
It is said that the amount of water required for sake brewing is about 50 times the total weight of rice. The composition of water used for sake brewing is subject to stricter standards than that of the water that Japanese people usually drink, and the content of iron, manganese, and other elements is particularly subject to strick guidelines. Spring water in Japan is basically soft water that has a good flavor, and sake breweries are concentrated in areas with particularly good water quality.
Types of Sake
There are different types of sake depending on the process of brewing and filtering. Here is a list of the basic types, but there are many more varieties, so if you travel to Japan, we highly recommend that you visit a sake bar and try a variety of sake. Also, there is a sake set that goes well with each type of sake.
Junmai Sake is sake made purely from rice, Koji, and water with no brewing alcohol added. Because it is made only from rice, you can enjoy the organic flavor and the rich aroma of the rice.
Goes well with Sake carafe and Ochoko set
Ginjo is a type of sake to which brewing alcohol has been added. Especially Daiginjo has a higher degree of rice refinement, combined with the aroma-enhancing effect of brewing alcohol, resulting in a dry, clean aroma.
Goes well with Sakazuki, Trumpet shaped Sake cup
Like Junmai sake, it is a pure sake made from only rice, Koji, and water, but with a higher degree of rice polishing, like Ginjo sake, which gives it a gorgeous aroma and mellow taste. Junmai-Daiginjo has a sweeter taste with the highest degree of rice polishing.
Goes well with thin Sake cup.
Hon-Jozo is a type of sake in which brewing alcohol is added and the rice is not highly polished. It is easy to obtain on a daily basis and can be enjoyed at any temperature.
Served warm or coldGoes well with Guinomi, or any type of Sake carafe and cup
"Nigori" means "cloudy sake", which is sake with lees that have settled. It is characterized by its strong flavor and sweet taste. Shake the bottle slightly to stir the settled lees before pouring.
Goes well with Guinomi, Glass sake cup, thick ceramic sake cup
The process of brewing sake depends on the season and the temperature. Arabashiri is sake that first comes out from the filtering cloth without any squeezing. It has a fresh, powerful aroma and taste, also is the one of the most popular types of sake in Japan.
Goes well with any type of Sake cup. Drink as soon as you get it!
It is also called "Kizake" or "Nama-shu." It is a sake that has not been heat-treated and is characterized by the fresh and gorgeous aroma of live Koji. It sometimes has a slightly sparkling taste. Rarely seen outside of Japan.
Served at room temperature or cold
Goes well with bud shaped cup or wine glass
Doburoku is an old folk sake that was often made at home before the Meiji era (1868-1912). It has a stronger, muddy taste than Nigori sake, but is still freshly made. In modern Japan, there are hardly any opportunities to enjoy homemade sake due to liquor tax laws.
In the past, people drank this kind of sake directly from the sake bottle or in a large cup