The Great Sakes of Hiroshima

Japanese sake・The glossary of terms


Nihon-shu (Japanese sake)
Rice, kome-koji ( a kind of mold grown on rice), and water are the primary raw ingredients of sake. It’s described as “seishu” in the sake brewing method. Moromi (the fermenting mass made when rice and kome-koji are dissolved in water) is filtered through a cloth, and the collected liquid is sake while the solid content is sake cake. Jizake, made by local small breweries, is the limited quantities of sake sold at only designated liquor stores.

Tokutei meisho-shu terms

Tokutei meisho-shu (specially designated sake)
Among nihon-shu, in this broad category are Honjozo-shu, Junmai-shu, Ginjo-shu, Daiginjo-shu, Junmai ginjo-shu, Junmai daiginjo-shu, and Tokubetu junmai-shu. The brown rice quality must be level 3 or better as determined by the Agricultural Produce Inspection, and the amount of kome-koji and seimai-buai (rice-polishing ratio) should meet the requirements of the sake regulations as well. In the meanwhile, sake other than Tokutei-meisho-shu is called “Futsu-shu (ordinary sake) or “Ippan-shu (regular sake)”.

Junmai-shu (pure-rice sake)
Among Tokutei meisho-shu, it’s made only from rice, kome-koji, and water. Only rice and kome-koji are listed on sake bottle labels as raw ingredients. It highlights the umami of rice itself.

Junmai ginjo-shu (premium pure-rice sake)
Among Tokutei meisho-shu, it has less than 60% seimai-buai (more than 40% of the brown rice surface being polished away) with no-added alcohol. It’s brewed at cooler temperatures for kobo to be fermented for a longer period of time. It’s higher in acidity and umami with a moderate aroma, compared to Ginjo-shu. It’s recommended to be served Hiya or Nuru-kan.

Junmai daiginjo-shu (ultra-premium pure-rice sake)
Among Tokutei meisho-shu, it has less than 50% seimai-buai (more than half of the original grain of rice left after polishing) with no-added alcohol. It features an elegant gentle umami of rice and mild aroma.

Honjozo-shu (authentically brewed sake)
Classified as Tokutei meisho-shu, its raw ingredients are the rice of 70% seimai-buai, kome-koji, water, and jozo-alcohol (distilled alcohol). It tastes smooth, so it can be enjoyed at a various range of temperatures. It’s loved by the locals of the brewery as daily sake.

Ginjo-shu (premium sake)
Classified as Tokutei meisho-shu, it’s made with the rice of 50% seimai-buai, kome-koji, water, and jozo-alcohol. It tastes light and elegant. Serve chilled for enjoying the fragrant aroma. Nuru-kan is recommended for kan lovers.

Daiginjo-shu (super premium sake)
Classified as Tokutei meisho-shu, it’s made with the rice of 60% seimai-buai, kome-koji, water, and jozo-alcohol. Since its rice polishing ratio is higher than that of Ginjo-shu, it has even more refined taste and aroma. It’s often described as “kirei (clean, without unpleasant taste)”.

Jozo-alcohol (distilled alcohol, brewer’s alcohol)
As one of the ingredients of sake like Honjozo, it’s an inexpensive distilled alcohol made mostly from fermented sugar cane sediments or molasses. It contains more than 95% pure alcohol. In some cases, it’s added to moromi at the last fermentation stage in order to make sake’s taste lighter.

Designation Ingredients Seimai-buai Features including aromas
Junmai-shu rice, kome-koji up to 70% Conveys the umami of rice itself
Junmai ginjo-shu rice, kome-koji up to 60%
(more than 40% of the brown rice surface is polished away)
Brewed at cooler temperatures for kobo to be fermented for a longer period of time. Higher in acidity and umami with a moderate aroma, compared to Ginjo-shu. Best served Hiya or Nuru-kan.
Junmai daiginjo-shu Rice, kome-koji Up to 50%
(more than half of the brown rice surface is polished away)
No addition of alcohol. Conveys an elegant gentle umami of rice and mild aroma.
Honjozo-shu Rice, kome-koji, jozo-alcohol Up to 70% Tastes smooth. Enjoyable in a wide range of temperatures. Loved by the locals of the brewery as daily sake.
Ginjo-shu Rice, kome-koji, jozo-alcohol Up to 50% Tastes light and elegant. Best served chilled for enjoying the fragrant aroma. Nuru-kan is recommended for kan lovers.
Daiginjo-shu Rice, kome-koji, jozo-alcohol Up to 60% Higher rice polishing ratio than that of Ginjo-shu. Features even more refined taste and aroma often described as “kirei (clean, without unpleasant taste)”.

The terminology for tastes and aromas

Aminosan-do (Amino acid value)
The umami of sake comes from amino acids. Higher aminosan-do makes sake richer and more robust while lower aminosan-do makes it tanrei (sophisticated). Ginjo-shu has low aminosan-do. Junmai-shu, which has high aminosan-do, is favorable for kan.

Kan-zake /Kan sake (warmed sake)
It’s a traditional way to drink sake. Some sake, such as the ones brewed by using Ki-moto method with more lactic acids and low seimai-buai, and junmai-shu with rich flavor, taste more delicious when heated. The enhancement of taste by making kan is called “kan-agari”.

San-do (acidity)
It’s a measurement of acidity in sake. The higher acidity, the higher figure it will be. Nowadays the average figure is around 1.2, and sake will taste sour if it’s over 1.5. As a tendency, lower san-do makes sake lighter while higher san-do makes it drier and richer.

Nihonshu-do (sake meter value)
It tells you how sweet or dry the sake tastes. A lighter specific gravity is indicated by a + (plus) while a heavier one is indicated by a – (minus). Sake mainly consists of alcohol and sugar. It means that higher alcohol content makes sake dry while higher sugar content makes it sweet. However, it’s better to know that it’s impossible to express nihonshu-do of some sake, for instance, sweet dry one with high in both alcohol and sugar as well as light tanrei one with low in both.

The terminology for the brewery personnel

Sakagura (sake brewery)
Sake breweries are called as such. The mandatory sake brewing license cannot be obtained newly. Some sakagura have ceased production, and the amount of sake production goes on decreasing. Even in such situation, Hiroshima is seventh high in the number of breweries with 42 sakagura (as of 2016).

Kurabito (sake brewery worker)
It refers to as workers at sakagura. There are several duties. Females used to be prohibited from becoming kurabito.

Kuramoto (brewery owner)
The owner of sakagura is known as such. Most breweries adopt the line of hereditary succession since the brewing license can’t be issued newly. Some kuramoto even succeed the personal name for generations.

Toji (master brewer)
It’s referred to as the person who assumes responsibility for sake production. Historically, the farmers of snowy regions were hired as seasonal workers at sakagura during winter, leading to the birth of skilled sake brewers’ groups. Among them, the highest skilled brewers, called toji, started to lead the group. Akitsucho Mitsu in Higashihiroshima city is the birthplace of Senzaburo Miura who created the soft water brewing method. Mitsu toji from there is trained by him. Eventually, the brewing technique of Mitsu toji built the foundation for Hiroshima sake innovation.

The terminology for fermentation

Kyokai-kobo (BSJ yeast)
It’s the superior yeast strain distributed by Brewing Society of Japan for a charge. Since 1911, the society members searched for the superior kobo from moromi of breweries throughout Japan. Then, they have grown and sold it as the certified Kyokai-kobo from pure culture. From Hiroshima, the kobo of Kamotsuru has a history of being certified as fifth Kyokai-kobo and distributed to the breweries in various regions. In recent years, such kobo is produced by artificial crossing in the aim of pulling out brilliant aromas.

Koso (enzyme)
The koso for sake brewing, a kind of protein made from koji-kin (koji mold), converts the starch of steamed rice into sugar. It’s inanimate. Its components will be modified, resulting in loss of saccharification if more than 65℃ (149℉) heat is added to them. Since human saliva contains this diastatic enzyme, the table rice tastes sweet as it’s chewed.

Kobo (yeast)
It’s a single-celled microbe. It plays the leading role for sake brewing by producing alcohol and CO2 after consuming sugar. It basically plays the same role as the yeast for bread making. Kobo makes sake by producing alcohol while the yeast raises the bread by producing CO2.

Nyu-san (lactic acid)
It’s a kind of acids which is also contained in yogurt, cheese and butter. It kills everything except kobo. It plays the major role in repressing unwanted bacteria, and in making kobo alcohol fermentative.

Nyu-san-kin (lactobacilli)
It’s a microbe which produces nyu-san. It’s sure that koji-kin, kobo and nyu-san-kin are three microbes involved in sake brewing. Up until the end of Edo period, sake was brewed by natural fermentation (the method called ki-moto zukuri). In Meiji era (1868-1912) the sterilization method using the chemosynthetic nyu-san was developed. It is called sokujo-moto (fast brewing method) by which the majority of sake is made even today.

The terminology for rice, and brewing process

Kake-mai (kake rice)
It’s the steamed rice used along with koji rice for fermentation starter except for koji making. The cheaper rice, relative to koji rice, is selected for shubo-no shikomi (making starter culture) and sandan shikomi (a three stage mixing process of sake fermentation mash)’s soe (first stage), naka (second stage), and tome (third stage).

Koji-kin (koji mold)
It’s a fungus which multiplies by spores. It’s essential for making shochu (distilled spirits), awamori (Okinawa’s distilled spirits), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented soybean paste), and, not to mention sake. There are ki-koji, shiro-koji and kuro-koji, named after the color of each fungus. Ki-koji is used for sake, miso, and shoyu productions. Shiro-koji is mainly used for shochu, kuro-koji for awamori. Recently, shiro-koji has started to be involved in some sake productions. Shiro-koji contains citric acid which is not found in usual sake brewing process. Introduction of sake with new flavors has begun.

Ki-moto (ki-moto method)
Developed in Edo period, it’s a sake brewing method from naturally fermented nyu-san produced by nyu-san-kin with no added chemosynthetic nyu-san. It’s an elaborate skill-needed method using the complex combination of several microbes’ activities.

Yamahai-moto (Yamahai method)
Although it’s the same natural technique without added nyu-san as ki-moto is, the tireless process of “moto-suri (mixing ingredients with long poles)” is omitted in this method. Yamahai-moto, as well as sokujo-moto (explanation right below), was developed in the late Meiji era (1868-1912).

Sokujo-moto (sokujo-method)
Chemosynthetic nyu-san is added in this method of producing shubo (fermentation starter). Nowadays, the vast majority of sake in the market is made from the starter produced by sokujo-moto.

Ginjo-zukuri (method of brewing ginjo type sake)
The method calls for fermenting at cooler temperatures for a longer period of time, using sakamai which have been polished down to a ratio of at least 60%. Low-temperature fermentation makes sake clear, and prevents unwanted bacteria propagation. The brilliant aromas are pulled out of kobo under the severe cold circumstances. Thus, ginjo-zukuri sake, to which junmai ginjo-shu, junmai daiginjo-shu, ginjo-shu, and daiginjo-shu belong, has kirei sophisticated tastes, and gorgeous aromas.

Koji-mai (koji rice)
Out of the rice used for shikomi (preparation of the fermentation mash), koji-mai is made by cultivating koji-kin on steamed rice. Sake’s tastes highly depend on koji-mai. Around 20% of the rice for sake brewing is koji-mai. For making tokutei meisho-shu, the ratio of koji-mai in the polished rice is over 15%, and the quality of rice used is often better than kake-mai.

Saka-mai (sake rice)
It’s one of the raw ingredients of sake. The suitable rice for brewing sake is called saka-mai while the delicious rice to eat is called meshi-mai. The rice varieties differ; Koshihikari is meshi-mai, and Yamada-nishiki is saka-mai. Comparing the tastes, saka-mai tastes bland. Saka-mai is characterized as its big grain containing whitish shimpaku in the core. Since saka-mai plants are tall, and vulnerable to fall down, they are more difficult to grow than meshi-mai, resulting in low amount of yield, and high prices.

Sandan shikomi (three stage mashing)
Steamed rice, kome-koji and water are added to prepared shubo three separate times in order to increase shubo content. Roughly speaking, the first additions will double the volume of shubo, and that indicates the third addition will increase it by over ten times. Sandan shikomi needs four days which have special names: Day1 Hatsu-zoe or Soe (first addition), Day2 Odori (a rest between the first and second additions) Day3 Naka-zoe or Naka (second addition), and Day4 Tome-zoe or Tome (final addition). Sandan shikomi converts the sweet and sour shubo with low alcohol content into the final sake with higher one. This unique process is used only for brewing sake among the world’s brewing industries.

Shubo /Moto (starter culture/fermentation starter)
Shubo/Moto is known as the mixture of koji-mai (steamed rice with grown koji-kin), steamed rice, water and kobo. As saccharification by koji enzymes, and kobo fermentation go on, the mixture will become thick sweet sour alcoholic liquid (just like doburoku; unrefined sake). Shubo making, which takes about one to four weeks, is the very first stage of sake brewing.

Shinseki (soaking rice)
It’s the stage that polished rice is soaked usually for minutes for water absorption. But for some ginjo-shu brewing, a stopwatch is used to time in seconds. The moisture content is controlled in percent by the weight ratio of pre-soaked rice to the soaked.

Seikiku (koji making)
This step is to let koji-kin grow inside the steamed rice. It’s extremely hot during seikiku, so the workers at some sakagura do this task with no clothes on their upper bodies.

Koji-muro (koji making room)
It’s the seikiku room insulated from the outside air. It’s the only hot space with high humidity in sakagura during winter. Cedar wood is often used for the low ceiling and walls in the room. The entrance door is sealed with airtight packing, and surrounded by the thick heat insulators. And like freezer’s door, it’s bolted.

Seimai (rice polishing)
It’s the process of polishing away the brown outer surface of the rice.

Seimai-buai (degree of polishing)
It’s the percentage of polished rice relative to the unpolished. While nearly 10% of the meshi-mai’s outer surface is removed, 30 to 70%, or over 80% of saka-mai’s is polished away boldly. The more cores of the kernel are used, the more kirei sake’s taste will be.

Senmai (rice washing)
The objective of this stage of the brewing process is to remove the unwanted particles. A large amount of clean water along with rice is added in the polishing machine (like washing machine). Generally, rice is swirled around and washed in the machine’s whirlpool. But in some sakagura, the rice in a strainer is hand washed in cold water. At a time, a batch of 5 to 10kgs is washed at in some sakagura, and hundreds of kilograms are washed by the machine in some.

Chozo (sake maturation)
There are basically two ways of chozo in sakagura; maturation in the bottle or in a larger tank. In the case of the former, issho-bin (bottle of 1.8 liters) or yon-go-bin (4 go bottle, 720milliliters) is used, and there is little change in the taste since sake is rarely exposed to the air. In the case of the latter, the tank is the size of more than 1,000 issho-bin worth of sake. Sake is easily exposed to the air, so it matures faster, leading to taste changes. The degree of chozo temperature varies from sake to sake between 0℃ (32℉) and the room temperature.

Nuka (rice bran powder)
It’s a by-product of seimai stage. The farther from the core it comes from, the darker it will be.

Heiko-fukuhakko (multiple parallel fermentation)
The conversion of starch to sugar by koji and that of sugar to alcohol by kobo occurs simultaneously. The interaction of saccharification with alcohol fermentation makes sake what it is.

Mushi-mai (rice steaming)
The rice is steamed during this stage. Unlike cooked table rice, steamed sake rice is firmer, and less moist and sticky, allowing koji-kin to multiply exceptionally. Steaming is complete in about an hour, using 3 meter-big vat, known as koshiki. The steamed rice with its hard outside and soft inside, known as “gaiko-nainan (literally, hard outside and soft inside), is regarded to be in prime condition.

Moromi (fermentation mash)
It’s the mixture of shubo, jo-mai (steamed rice) and kome-koji diluted by water. The rice about to be dissolved, alcohol and water together will become porridge-like after mixed in a large tank. The fermentation will make the final sake in 3 to 4 weeks.

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