12 traditional steps to make sake

On this page I will explain how to make sake. Because the manufacturing process of sake is long, the explanation will be complicated, but I will write it as easy as possible.

According to the Japanese liquor tax law, “Sake is a thing filtered after fermented with Rice, Koji Rice, and Water as a raw material.” In other words, sake can be made by first fermenting rice and then straining it. That’s it. That’s the simplest way to explain the recipe of Sake.

But this explanation alone is not enough, so I will explain it properly after this.

Basic process of sake production

The whole process of making sake can be expressed in the following diagram.

As you can see, Sake is made in 12 steps.

Step 01: Polish Rice

First of all, polish rice. This is called “精米 (Seimai)”. Like rice for eating, brown rice is shaved until it turns white. However, the amount of shaving is different from that of ordinary rice. Usually, ordinary rice is shaved about 10% of the surface. However, rice for sake shaved the surface by about 25% to 50%. In some cases, there are Sake made by cutting more than 80%.

After this process, the size of the remaining rice is called “Rice Polishing Ratio – 精米歩合 (Seimaibuai)”. Sake made by scraping the surface of rice by 40%, Rice Polishing Ratio is called 60% and the Sake is called Ginjo Sake. For Sake made by scraping the surface of rice 50%, Rice Polishing Ratio is called 50% and the Sake is called Dai Ginjo Sake. For details on the relation between Rice Polishing Ratio and Premium Sake, please see the page “Premium (Junmai, Ginjo, Daiginjo) sake perfect guide”.

So why rice is polished like this?

That is because of starch, one of the most important components to make Sake is concentrated in the center of the rice. On the other hand, outside the rice, unnecessary elements are included for sake brewing, such as protein. For this reason, basically, it is thought that sake with lower Rice Polishing Ratio as a higher quality of Japanese sake.

Step 02: Wash and Soak Rice

Wash rice to remove the bran left on the surface of the rice. And soak rice in water.

By soaking in water, rice absorbs moisture. The taste of the final Sake varies depending on the amount of water absorbed by the rice. Therefore, this process is carefully managed by brewery craftsmen.

This is the video reporting how to Polish, Wash and Soak rice.

Step 03: Steam Rice

Steam rice soaked in water. Because the taste of the final Sake also varies depending on the length of steaming time, it is a process that is done with extreme caution.

Depending on the brand, though, the rice is steamed for about 1 hour. The ideal result of steaming rice is the rice become having stiff outside and soft inside. And the steamed rice is cooled while mixing. And the steamed rice will be cooled.

Step 04: Make Koji Rice

In order to make Koji Rice, mix Koji East with an appropriate amount of steamed rice, wrap it in a cloth, and lay it for about 1 day to 2 days. While leaving the rice, craftsmen will adjust the temperature inside the room. If the environment in the room changes, they must always respond. If this process is done by human hands, this will be a very time-consuming process. However, there are cases where this work is done by automatic machine now.

Koji Rice will change the rice’s starch into sugar in the process after this. As will be explained later, it is very important to make a good Koji Rice because no alcohol will be born without sugar.

Step 05: Make Shubo

Next, make Shubo (酒母). The kanji “酒母” has the meaning of “mother of sake”. Shubo converts sugar made by Koji East into alcohol. In other words, this Shubo becomes the base of sake to be made in the future.

Shubo is made by mixing Steamed rice with Water, Kobo East, and Koji Rice. By mixing Steamed Rice and Koji Rice, the starch in Rice turns into sugar. And Kobo East turns the sugar into alcohol. At this time, since Kobo East continues to live even after alcohol is born by a chemical reaction, Shubo can turn Steamed Rice and Koji Rice added later into alcohol.

There are easy-to-understand videos to explain this, so please have a look.

Step 06: Fermentation

Mix Steamed Rice and Water, Shubo, Koji Rice. As a result, fermented rice is made. In a technical term, we call this fermented rice “Moromi (もろみ)”. In short, this is the process of Fermentation of sake.

As I said earlier, Shubo will make alcohol in this process.

This fermentation method is called “Multiple Parallel Fermentation” because the process of converting the starch content in rice into sugar and transforming the sugar into alcohol is carried out at the same time. It is said that this fermentation method is unparalleled in the world.

I found a video introducing this process, so I will introduce it.

Rice is added in 18 seconds in the movie.

Fermentation of sake is usually done in 3 stages. Each process is called “Hatsuzoe (初添)” “Nakazoe (仲添)” “Tomezoe (留添)” in Japanese.

Steamed Rice, Water, Koji Rice is added for each step, and sake is gradually completed. It seems that the rice is added in this video probably as Steamed Rice is added to the Fermented rice.

Hatsuzoe, Nakazoe, and Tomezoe will be held each day. And because there is a rest day called “Odori” between Hatsuzoe and Nakazoe, Fermentation will be spent on a total of 4 days.

Step 07: Press Fermented Rice

The rice which was Fermented in the previous process is already in a liquid state. In Step 07, press this liquid and remove the remaining solid rice.

There are various methods of this Pressing. The traditional way is to put Fermented Rice in a bag and collect the exuding liquid by applying pressure to the bag, called “Funeshibori (槽搾り)”. Furthermore, a method of squeezing liquid with only natural gravity without adding artificial pressure to this bag is called “Tobindori (斗瓶取り)”. These methods are hand-crafted, so it’s difficult. On the other hand, there is also a way to do this work on a machine called “Yabuta (やぶた)”.

By the way, the solid matter left after Press is called “Sakekasu (酒粕)”. In Japan, people enjoy this Sakekasu in ice cream, in Miso soup or many other recipes.

Step 08: Remove sediment

The liquid after pressing is still white. The Sake that isn’t taken this white thing is called Nigori Sake. For Nigori Sake, I wrote in detail “What is Nigori Sake? Great drinks with nutrition”.

By removing this white thing, sediment from the liquid, Sake will be colorless and transparent. So here, Sake will be left gently for a while and removed the sediment collected at the bottom.

Step 09: Filter alcohol further

Filter sake more in the other way. There is a technique called “charcoal filtration” which removes unnecessary thing in Sake using activated carbon. The other technique is called “element filtration” which passes sake through a fine mesh filter.

A Sake without this process is called “Muroka Style (無濾過)”. There is also a brewery that sticks to Muroka Style sake.

Step 10: Heat Sake

Sake is usually heated once before storage. This is called “Hiire (火入れ)” in Japanese. If you translate this word as it is, it means Put fire into Sake, but in fact, Sake is just warmed up. Sake is heated at a temperature of 60 to 65 degrees. This process will stop the activity of the East that was alive in the liquor. This process has the effect of suppressing deterioration of Sake and stabilizing its quality.

On the other hand, we say “Namasake (生酒)” about alcohol that is shipped without being heated. Translating Namasake into English means “Raw Sake”. This Namasake’s fans are on the rise, I am one of them.

Also, many of the sparkling sake will be sold without being burned. As Kobo East in the bottle continues fermentation further, micro carbonic acid is born in sake.

Step 11: Store and wait for shipment

The sake before being packed in a bottle is stored in a large tank. At this time, water is added to adjust its taste and alcohol percentage.

Japanese sake that does not add water is also on sale. This is the “Genshu Type (原酒)”. As water is not added, the alcohol percentage of Genshu Type may be higher. For details, please see “What is Sake Alcohol Percentage?”

Step 12: Pack Japanese Sake in a bottle

Put Sake into the bottle. Traditionally, bottles of Sake are 720ml or 1800ml. It sounds like a simple work, but if it doesn’t control the temperature properly when bottling it, the taste of sake may deteriorate. Depending on the brewery, they use a special system for bottling processes.

For example, according to the website, “Dassai (獺祭)” make sake cold in a bottle, and then heat and ice it rapidly in order to manage the quality. This is done to prevent the scent from disappearing when sake is warmed. It condenses the scent into the bottle.

How to make popular sake “Dassai (獺祭)”

Dassai of Japanese sake, which is getting popular now, has released the way to make sake on the official website.

> How to make Dassai? | Asahishuzo CO.,LTD.

You must watch the video on the official website.

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