Take a Journey of LOVE and Explore Sake

Sake is a whole way of life and anyone who enjoys Sake should learn about how it’s made and what the” language” of Sake is as well. Sake is an alcoholic Japanese beverage made from rice. This beverage is called sake o-sake refers to alcoholic drinks in general. The Japanese term for this specific beverage is Nihonshu meaning “Japanese sake”

However, unlike true wine, in which alcohol is produced by fermenting the sugar naturally present in fruit, sake is made through a brewing process more like that of beer. To make beer or sake, the sugar needed to produce alcohol must first be converted from starch.

Sake is produced by the multiple parallel fermentation of rice. The rice is polished to remove the protein and oils from the exterior of the rice grains, leaving behind starch. More thorough milling leads to fewer congeners and generally a more desirable product.

Newly polished rice is allowed to “rest” until it absorbs enough moisture from the air not to crack when immersed in water. After this resting period, the rice is washed clean of the rice powder produced during milling and is steeped in water. The length of the soak depends on the degree to which the rice was polished, from several hours or even overnight for ordinary milling to just minutes for highly polished rice.

After soaking, the rice is boiled in a large pot, or it is steamed on a conveyor belt. The degree of cooking must be carefully controlled; overcooked rice will ferment too quickly for flavors to develop well, and undercooked rice will only ferment on the outside. The steamed rice is then cooled and divided for different uses.

Some of the steamed rice is taken to a culture room and inoculated with kÅji mold. The mold-laden rice is known as kÅji and is cultivated until the growth of the fungus reaches the desired level. When the kÅji is ready, the next step is to create the starter mash, known as shubo or colloquially, moto KÅji rice, water, and yeast are mixed, and in the modern method, lactic acid is added to inhibit unwanted bacteria (in slower traditional methods, lactic acid occurs naturally). Next, freshly steamed rice is added, and the yeast is cultivated over 10 to 15 days.

After fermentation, sake is pressed to separate the liquid from the solids. With some sake, a small amount of distilled alcohol, called brewer’s alcohol is added before pressing to extract flavors and aromas that would otherwise stay in the solids. With cheap sake, a large amount of brewer’s alcohol might be added to increase the volume of sake produced. Next, the remaining lees (a fine sediment) are removed, and the sake is carbon-filtered and pasteurized. The sake is allowed to rest and mature and then it is usually diluted with water to lower the alcohol content from around 20% to 15% or so before finally being bottled.

There are three types of special designation’s sake HonjÅzÅ-shu (in which a slight amount of brewer’s alcohol is added to the sake before pressing, to extract extra flavors and aromas from the mash. This term was created in the late 1960s to distinguish it, a premium sake, from cheaply made liquors to which large amounts of distilled alcohol were added simply to increase volume. Sake with this designation must be made with no more than 116 liters of pure alcohol added for every 1,000 kilograms of rice.

Junmai-shu is “pure rice sake,” made from only rice, water, and kÅji, with no brewer’s alcohol or other additives. Before 2004, the Japanese government mandated that junmai-shu must be made from rice polished down to 70% or less of its original weight, but that restriction has been removed.

GinjÅ-shu is made from rice polished to 60% or less of its original weight. Sake made from rice polished to 50% or lower is called daiginjÅ-shu. However, distilled alcohol is added in small amounts to heighten the aroma, not to increase volume.

In Japan sake is served chilled, at room temperature, or heated, depending on the preference of the drinker, the quality of the sake, and the season. Typically, hot sake is a winter drink, and high-grade sake is not drunk hot, because the flavors and aromas will be lost. This masking of flavor is the reason that low-quality sake is often served hot. Sake is usually drunk from small cups called choko and poured into the choko from ceramic flasks called tokkuri. Saucer-like cups called sakazuki are also used, most commonly at weddings and other ceremonial occasions. Recently, footed glasses made specifically for premium sake have also come into use.

Another traditional cup is the masu, a box usually made of hinoki or sugi, which was originally used for measuring rice. In some Japanese restaurants, as a show of generosity, the server may put a glass inside the masu or put the masu on a saucer and pour until sake overflows and fills both containers. Aside from being served straight, sake can be used as a mixer for cocktails, such as tamagozake, saketinis, nogasake, or the sake bomb.


TÅji  is the job title of the sake brewer. It is a highly respected job in Japanese society being regarded as musicians or painters. The title was historically passed on from father to son; today they are either veteran brewery workers or are trained at universities. While modern breweries with refrigeration and cooling tanks operate year-round, most old-fashioned sake breweries are seasonal, operating only in the cool winter months. During the summer and fall most work elsewhere, and are commonly found on farms, only periodically returning to the brewery to supervise storage conditions or bottling operations

Let’s talk storage. After opening the bottle of sake, it is best consumed within 2 or 3 hours. It is possible to store it in the refrigerator, but it is recommended to finish the sake within 2 days. This is because once premium sake is opened, it begins to oxidize which affects the taste. If the sake is kept in the refrigerator for more than 3 days, it will lose its “best” flavor. However, this does not mean it should be disposed of if not consumed. Generally, sake can be kept very well and still taste just fine after weeks in the fridge. How long a sake will remain drinkable depends on the actual product itself, and whether it is sealed with a wine vacuum top.

The easiest way to know Sake is to learn the Four Basic Components. RICE: Sake rice is not your regular rice. It is about 3 times more expensive and there are about 60 different types used. But the best of all Sake rice is “Yamada Nishiki”. WATER: Water is 80% of the final product. Sake is made from Rice and requires the essential ingredient of water. This important element is the “Terroir” in Sake because each area’s water is slightly different. KOJI : Koji is a mold spore that is propagated with a special batch of cooked rice. Its enzymes convert STARCH into fermentable SUGARS. Without KOJI this Rice-based drink will be like “HORCHATA” which is Cinnamon Rice Milk without Alcohol.

While mold spore is purposefully used in Sake, mold spores or black mold spores are extremely dangerous when present in the air because they are highly toxic and can cause immediate health problems as well as long-term consequences. Mold exposure is unavoidable because spores are almost everywhere. Exposure to any mold (in large quantities) in people who are allergic to it may cause allergy symptoms. As a result, if you notice a musty odor or circular-shaped spots that are black/dark brown/green, you should either hire someone to conduct a mold test in your home or purchase a black mold test kit. The sooner you identify the issue, the sooner it can be resolved.

Coming back to the ingredients of Sake again: LOVE: This is Brewer’s secret where they add their special touch or love to make their Sake their own. They do this by using different rice, water, koji, and different techniques of polishing the rice. Why not explore and begin your love affair with Sake?


Elaine and Scott Harris
Vino Las Vegas Wine Club
2620 Regatta Drive, Suite 119
Las Vegas, NV 89128



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