Friday, March 30, 2012

An old friend

It has been quite a while since my last post, but I thought I would kick things off again here with an old friend, one of the first posts on this blog, Gasanryu Gokugetsu!

Gasanryu Gokugetsu 雅山流 極月
SMV +1  Alc 16~17%   Polish 40%

Nose: medium nose, very sharp, fruity.

Palate : very sharp medium body, big fruit and good acidity. Overall balance is excellent, enters the mouth slightly sweet and fruity but finishes very dry thanks to the crisp acidity.  I am reminded why thiis is one of my favorite sakes!

Well that's it for this post, I hope I can post a little more frequently from now on (^_^;)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Liqueur Tasting!!!

The spring tasting was a big hit...
So we are back this weekend with a Japanese Liqueur Tasting!
Ume-shu, Yuzu-shu, Natsu-mikan, and much much more!

If you are in town please stop by!

Sendai Summit post coming soon!

Meishu no Yutaka staff


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2010 Sendai Sake Summit

I will be attending the Sake Summit in Sendai on July 7th.
A gathering of Sake makers and sake stores; the Sake Summit is a great way to get a good look at a wide variety of sake, and to exchange info with other sake stores in Japan.
This will be my second time attending the Sake Summit (the first being last year together with my wife) and my first time there on my own, the only white boy in a sea of Sake experts (^_^;.

The biggest event at the Summit will be a 100+ bottle blind tasting.
I don't know how many people out there have gone up against a 100+ bottle tasting, but it is one heck of a challenge. (Although listening to the stories our company president tells about 300+ bottle tastings, makes the Summit sound like a walk in the park.)

This year they introduced a new section to the summit in which the participants where to pick a bottle of sake (from any maker, participating or not), and write tasting notes for it, and send it in with their registration. I picked Nagano prefecture's, Daishinshu Shuzo's, Restricted lable Kozuki (香月) Junmai Ginjo Naka Gumi. One of my favorites. Daishinshu is not participating in the Summit, and I figured that this was a good opportunity to spread some love for one of my favorite breweries.

If I had taken the time to read the BIG RED fine print that was right under the part that said I was supposed to send in the tasting notes, I wouldn't have been surprised when about a week later I received a phone call asking me to send a bottle of the brew in, so that every one could taste it at the summit. Apparently they decided it would be a good idea to get some outside suggestions, and they liked what the white guy said.

So in celebration of being picked, I bring to you:

Kozuki / 香月
Junmai Ginjou Naka-gumi / 純米吟醸中汲み
Alcohol: 16% / Polish: 50%
SMV: +4

Tasting notes:
On the nose: Big nose with sweet melon and lots of rice. Slightly zesty and very fresh.

On the palate: Medium to full bodied with big rice flavors. Hints of melon continue to a very dry finish. Well balanced with a finish that cuts like a knife (In a very good way).

Other notes:
  • The Kozuki label is a very limited release brand, being that not all of the stores that carry the main Daishinshu label, can can sell the Kozuki label.
  • This sake comes in a pasteurized and nama version. The Unpasteurized (Nama) version is released around February and ends when it sells out. The pasteurized version is available almost all year. (this post is about the pasteurized version)

I will post more about the Sendai Sake Summit (with pictures) soon.

Meishu no Yutaka staff


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring brews at last!

Spring is finally arriving here in Hokkaido, although we still have about a month left until the cherry blossoms come.
In celebration of the spring season, it's time for some spring sake!

This time I would like to introduce a brewery that you probably have never heard of (although they did enter their sake into the U.S. national sake appraisal in 06, 07, and 08). I know I hadn't before the breweries Toji gave us a call, out of the blue, to let us know he was coming for a visit.  I have to admit that we were a little put off by this first impression (as most of our sake selection is built out of long term relationships and hard work, not sudden phone calls), but the sake we tasted was fantastic, so we decided to give it a go.  We have been carrying this brand for almost a year now and it has created a pretty big fan base. I bring to you:

本洲一 / Honshu-ichi
 春限定 おりがらみ純米酒
Limited Spring release Origarami Junmai-shu
Alcohol: 16-17% / Polish: 65%
SMV: +4
Umeda Shuzo / Hiroshima Prefecture

Tasting notes:
On the nose: Light and slightly sweet, with hints of fruit and flowers over a base of rice and koji. A very inviting nose.

On the palate: Very full bodied with a burst of ricy sweetness from the Ori (Origarami or Ori-zake is kind of like a Nigori, but with less solids. Ori is the solids), followed by strong acidity and a slight astringency, giving it a bit of a sweet and sour tanginess.  Fruity with a quick clean finish.

Other notes:
  • Honshu-ichi is a really really really small brewery. With a brewing capacity of a little under 500 Koku (1 koku is roughly equal to 100 Issho-bin or 180L. 500 koku would then be 90,000L or 23,775 Gallons for those of you living in the US), which is or smallest brewery and a small fry in the sake world where most breweries do about 1,000~2,000 Koku or more.
  • Origarami is a type of sake very similar to a Nigori. Sometimes you will even hear people refer to it as a Usu-Nigori (thin nigori or only lightly cloudy). What exactly does this mean? This:
The Ori is settled at the bottom of the bottle. A little hard to see but it is a really fine white almost milky substance with very few large pieces.

Here I gave the bottle a little shake so you can see the Ori better. Once thoroughly mixed it looks more or less like a regular Nigori.

  • One of the fun things about a Origarami is: you get two sakes in the same bottle. Now don't start thinking "yeah if I mix the two half bottles in my fridge together, I have two sakes in one bottle too!" Although that is technically true, that's not quite what I'm getting to here. More precisely you get two different flavor profiles out of the same sake. By this I send out a challenge: Go out and buy a bottle of Origarami (a good lighter nigori is Probably ok too Usu-nigori better), let the bottle sit until the Ori is all settled at the bottom of the bottle. Without shaking the bottle carefully pour yourself a glass, and taste it.  Then give the bottle a light shake (more like putting the cap back on then tipping it upside down and back slowly) then pour out another glass and compare the two. If you think they taste exactly the same, then I really want to know what you are drinking!
So keep your eyes out for a bottle of Honshu-ichi near you, because it is a sure hit!

More to come!

Meishu no Yutaka staff

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spring Sake Tasting!

Here is a call going out to anyone following along from the Sapporo area who has been thinking about stopping by, but just hasn't found the right incentive.

Meishu no Yutaka's first (and not the last if I have anything to do with it!) SAKE TASTING!
We will have an arrangement of about 6 spring sakes on taste for free. Just in Time for the Cherry Blossoms!

If any one is interested please stop by.
I will be around pretty much the whole time and would love to talk sake!

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Meishu no Yutaka staff

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New website + Samurai action!!

The new English website for the store is finally up and running!!
Please take a look and let me know what you think!

Coming up in May, Japan has a holiday for boys (Holiday for girls was in Feb. sorry I didn't take any pictures), And it is traditional to put up a display of a samurai warrior (or in some houses just the armor).
We have our display up in the store, so I thought I would write a post about it as an interesting tidbit of Japanese culture (although sake isn't involved).

This is our "Kabuto" or Samurai display:

It is now about 27 years old, although it doesn't look it, And since there aren't any children in the family now, it gets proudly displayed in the store every year. Really intricately hand made, with a real rabbit skin rug for the doll.

Well I will get a some tasting notes up here soon.
We got some new really good spring sake into the store recently, although unfortunately the ones that I really want to post here are ones that I can't even mention on the internet (restricted by the brewery).

New Nama sake from Hiroshima prefecture that I am hoping to taste soon too.

More soon!

Meishu no Yutaka staff

Thursday, April 1, 2010

4 Months and no posts???

You are probably all wondering where the heck I have been for the past 4 months.
That is if any one out there is still checking in.
I apologize for the lengthy lapse in posting, and hope to get a few new posts in over the next couple of days.

As to the where:
I have been to the depths of webpage building hell, and come back with a fire breathing dragon of a new website for the store
Take a look if you like.
English webpage is still in the works; I hope to have it up and running in the next week.

Thank you to all those who check in periodically, and I shall resume posting very soon.

Meishu no Yutaka staff

Friday, December 18, 2009

From water to wine

From water to wine, this is the story of the next steps in sake making.
Taking Kome-koji, where we left off last time, and steamed rice, mixing it with a little water and yeast, waiting for a month, then presto you have sake.
Well it's not exactly that easy, but those are the basic steps involved (I suspect magic).

Here is a little something I forgot to put in the last post.  When steaming the rice, what makes the steam? This huge boiler of corse.  This thing was impressive. Once started it emitted a earth rumbling growl, as it created enough pressure to blow up the entire brewery if it exploded. (^_^;

This story starts very similarly to the story of kome-koji, as both require rice milling, washing, and steaming.  I will skip the milling and washing steps this time, as they are the same as those for kome-koji. Daishinshu has two rice steaming pots, the one that was in the last post on the second floor, and the other on the first floor. The second floor steaming pot is used primarily for kome-koji rice and yeast starter (Shubo 酒母 in Japanese, literally written as sake mother), wile the first floor steaming pot is used exclusively for the Moromi (main mash) tanks. This is a picture of the first floor steaming pot taken from above, on the second floor.

As we are starting with the shubo, this rice was steamed on the second floor where the shubo tanks are located. The steaming hot rice was then hand carried and dumped out on the cooling table, where it was spread out and mixed until cooled to just the right temp.

The rice is then transfered into the shubo tank.

Then stirred like crazy by the Toji in order to equalize the temperature. The temp is checked frequently, and the temperature is adjusted by the temperature of the rice that is added in. If it is too cold then the rice is added in without cooling very much, and if too hot, it is thoroughly cooled before it is added.
The kome-koji is then added in in a proportion of about 30%.

The finished product is a super sweet mixture of steamed rice and kome-koji. This is then kept at a relatively high temperature (around 45˚C) for about a day. Keeping the temperature high increases the speed in which the koji enzymes break down the starch in the steamed rice, further sweetening the mixture. In short, this is yeast heaven in a 200 liter tank.

The story of the Shubo is a two part story that happens in parallel. At the same time that the sweet mixture above is being concocted, the yeast is being populated. This is done in a very scientific manner (or at least it looks really scientific). The yeast is populated in beakers filled with a sugary liquid in an oven at about 30˚C. The beaker's stopper is made out of a sponge like material which lets out the CO2 gas produced by the yeast. That being said, I still heard many stories of having the stopper pop off the top of the beaker like a champaign cork, while being stirred, and having half of the contents jet out of the bottle much to the holder's dismay.

After the Yeast army has assembled in large enough numbers, it is left to settle, and most of the liquid is poured off leaving a fine white sediment at the bottom of the beaker (which is the yeast). The yeast is then added in to the sweet rice mixture, and a small portion of lactic acid is added in to raise the over all acidity of the shubo. The lactic acid, which can be created naturally like in the Yamahai and Kimoto styles, but takes a lot more time, acts as a guard against unwanted bacteria and foreign yeasts. The mixture is then kept warm for about a day to give the yeast a good foothold.

The next steps? 1) Get ice.
(You may be thinking "hey didn't I see that ice maker in the Motel 6 I stayed in the other week?"
No this is an ice machine on steroids. Instead of using dingy motel water this baby runs on pure sake water! that's right folks ice that won't change the flavor of your favorite brew!)

2) dump ice in shubo tank.
It may be a little hard to see, but yes this is a pile of ice on top of the shubo they just made.
3) Stir!
It just so happens that the quickest way to cool a brew is in fact to add ice. This of course also adds water to the mix, so it has to be added into the calculations later on. A lot of other breweries use large metal jugs of ice water (or hot water if you wanted to heat things up), but cleanup is a pain, and the ice thing works pretty well.

For the fine tuning, a cooling belt (a rubber belt with hoses running through it that circulate cold water) is wrapped around the tank. The cooling belt helps to keep the heat produced by the yeast from building. Getting the belt on is not easy (and this is a small tank, think about wrapping one around a tank the size of an 18 wheeler!).

Making shubo takes about 10 days (using the method that Daishinshu uses, there are many ways to make shubo and all of them differ in the amount of time it takes) This is a picture of one of the tanks that was just about finished. The sugur, acid, alcohol, temperature, and yeast levels are checked frequently throughout the 10 days. Taste wise I like the shubo tank at about day 3, it was sweet and sour and selled really good.

When the shubo has reached the desired super yeast population, it is transfered to a larger tank. Daishinshu uses a series of increasingly larger tanks for their "san-dan-shikomi," the process of increasing the volume of the mash in three steps over four days. Using one large tank is also common, however it is much easier to fine tune in a smaller tank.

The shubo is moved by hand using a big ladle and a barrel shaped bucket.
At this point Katsumi-san (in the picture above) turned on the pressure with his nonchalant "This is a Daiginjo, so don't spill anything."

The last bit of shubo is extracted by pulling the plug out of the bottom of the tank, tilting it, and then pouring a little water around to wash all the rice out.

The next step is to add more water, rice, and kome-koji. I don't have any pictures of them dumping the rice into this tank, so you will just have to take my word for it. While the rice is being added the toji continually stirs the contents of the tank, while keeping a close eye on the temperature (the long thin probe that Komatsu-san is holding is a digital thermometer).

At this point, the brewing sake ceases to be called Shubo and becomes the first step in the san-dan-shikomi "Soe Jikomi." It is again cooled, although this time down to a chilly 8˚C! Above picture is the ice I was stirring in.

After a day the Soe jikomi is moved into a tank roughly twice the size of the last (a little over a 1000L). Rice, water, and kome-koji are again added doubling the volume of the mixture. At this stage the brewing sake is called "Naka Jikomi." This picture was snapped towards the end of the 2 days this part of the brew sits for.

After the naka jikomi has rested for two days, it is moved again to an even larger tank. This move is done with a special pump designed to limit the stress of pumping the sake around (although it looked like a pretty old pump).

The next step in the process is to add in a ton or two of rice. Daishinshu, like many breweries these days, uses a cooling and vacuum transport machine to move the rice from the steaming pot (the one way~ up at the top of the post) to the moromi tanks. This machine uses a series of mechanisms to mix and aerate the rice until it is considerably cooled, then shoots it through a tube...

And then finally down a canvas pipe into the moromi. It is a really interesting thing to see, although the cooling machine is very loud. the kome-koji is added by hand from the second floor by pouring the trays of koji rice down the canvas pipe.

The finished product. This stage is called "Tome (literally translated as stop)" and is the end of san-dan-shikomi, and the beginning of the moromi.

The next thing that happens in the moromi stage is that the rice sucks up most of the water in the tank, and the whole thing solidifies into a giant glob of mushy rice..

A close up of the saturated rice. This continues for several days. During this time the moromi is not stirred, as stirring it would make the rice break down more quickly (which is generally not a good thing, not to mention that it is really hard to move the pole around in the tank).

After a few days the water is released from the rice, and the moromi becomes much more fluid. The yeast are busy doing their job eating sugar and making alcohol (sounds like a pretty good job to me!).

This is a movie of the moromi in Action. I was hoping that you would be able to hear the bubbling of the moromi, but at least you can see it in action. the voices in the back ground are Katsumi-san, and another Hokkaido sake store owner who joined us for a couple of days.

When and how much you stir the sake during the moromi period is extremely important, as too much or too little stirring can have a pretty big impact on the final product. The above picture is the Toji stirring one of the 22 ton (22,000L the one I said was the size of a 18 wheeler) tanks, containing futsu-shu. Most of the tanks that Daishinshu uses are 2~4 ton tanks.

After about a month of bubbling and alcohol making, the moromi reaches it's peak, and it is time to press it! All of Daishinshu's sake is pressed in a Yabuta (accordion press), as seen above. From the picture above it would seem as though that giant hydraulic piston presses the sake by squeezing the plates, thus the accordion part. Oh contrair! In fact the pressure is applied gently and consistently by a series of airbags that are built in to the walls of each of the plates inside (more detailed photos below).

This is what a Yabuta press does for about 10 hours.... Exciting stuff.

The liquid sake then runs into a holding tank beside the press, where it is later pumped into a storage tank to either be aged for a period of time or bottled right away for that delicious shiboritatte (fresh pressed sake) taste.

After the sake has been pressed, the piston is released, and the plates are then shifted one by one, by hand, until the part that had the sake in it is reached.

Once there, the sake kasu, or pressings, is revealed! Cleanly stuck on to the walls of the press, the sake kasu must then be scraped off. You can see each individual panel in this picture; underneath the white fabric cover is the airbag that does the pressing.

The kasu is then neatly stacked, packed into 15 kg boxes and shipped off to sake stores, like mine, to be sold as sake kasu for Amazake (sweet drink make by mixing the sake kasu with water and sugar usually consumed warm; very tasty!). In my opinion, one can not truly understand the full taste of a sake until you have eaten that sake's sake kasu. Why? The sake kasu is half of the sake it'self. The sake you buy in bottles is only half of the taste, the rest of it is still trapped in the kasu.

After you have pressed the sake, the next thing you do (for a shiboritatte anyway) is to put the sake into bottles! Before that, however, one must ensure that nothing falls into the bottles, and that means cleaning the roof. What's the best way to reach the roof? A fork lift of coarse!

This is the bottling machine that they use at the brewing facilities. Like I mentioned in the first post, Daishinshu is broken up into two locations, one for brewing and one for offices and bottling, so I don't know if they have a fancier bottling/labeling/capping machine at the other location (as I didn't visit the other location).

As the bottles go around the machine they are filled with sake. The bottles are placed in and taken out of the machine by hand.

Then passed to a table where the tops of the bottles are checked for chips and cracks, and the amount of sake in the bottles is added to or subtracted from as needed. The bottles are then capped and boxed.

Here is a wider angle view of the bottling. The boxes to the right are full of empty bottles.

The finished product: Shiboritatte Nama sakes!
These are two of the sakes that they were making while I was there. the green bottle on the right is the sake they were bottling in the pictures above. Both sakes are big on the palate light on the nose and very fresh!

Someone asked me the other day "So now that you have been there, what makes Daishinshu sake so good?" My reply, well maybe it's the hard work, or the fun working environment that keeps everyone in high spirits. But if you really want to know, I think it's the classical music they play to the brewing sake.

That's the end of the sake making part of the Daishinshu posts, but not the end of the stories. I will be back to post more tidbits of the sake world in future posts!!

Well it's getting into the new Years rush here in Sapporo,
and with the crowds in the store comes the inability to post to my blog.
This will probably be my last post for the year (will start up again in January), although I will try to get some pictures of the end of the year madness if I can.

Wishing everyone happy holidays and a prosperous new year!
Just remember, Christmas may be ruled by wine, but New years, sake is king (here in Japan anyway)!

See you next time!

Meishu no Yutaka staff

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Koji making, no wimps allowed

This episode is all about Koji.
That magical mold that makes sake what it is.

Koji mold, unlike that mold that is growing on the thanksgiving leftovers sitting in the back of the refrigerator, is a needy mold that requires lots of attention to grow into a fine fungi.
This is the story of the little Daishinshu Koji mold, that started out as a spore on his mother's rice kernel, and grew up to be a Ginjo class kome-koji.

Making kome-koji is a process that includes a lot of heavy lifting, dangerous steaming pots, lightly burned hands, and worn thin skin. It takes a lot of determination and attention to detail (apparently monthly massages too, although that's a trade secret) to make sake the traditional way, And thus I have given this post the name "koji making, no wimps allowed."

First off I would like to share with everyone something you don't often see when shopping for, or studying about, sake, the faces behind the sake.

The picture above is team Daishinshu. With a team of only 9 people, Daishinshu brews about 50 different kinds of sake (including seasonal and limited quantity varieties). The person in the white hat in the front row is Daishinshu's Toji (master brewer), who is now the head Toji, after the previous Toji retired last year at the age of 92 (although he still stops by to check on things). The women on either side of the Toji are seasonal workers (although most of them have been working in the brewery for close to 30 years); in the off season they are apple farmers. In the back row (from left to right) are Katsumi-san, Komatsu-san, Hayashi-san, and Morimoto-san, all seasoned sake makers, and full time employees. And last but not least, Yokomizu-san, who started this year at the beginning of the season (October 1st).

If you are going to tell the story of Kome-koji, then the logical place to start would of course be, the Kome (rice). Daishinshu gets most of their rice from two farms in Nagano prefectures. About 70% of the rice Daishinshu uses is grown under contract, which gives them the ability to work with the farmers closely in order to get exactly the kind of rice that they want. Daishinshu's main sake rice varietal is, Hitogokochi (also known as super Miyama-Nishiki, a varietal bred in Nagano), although they also use a mix of Yamada-nishiki, Miyama-nishiki, and others.

These Guys grow the rice.

Of coarse the rice's tale starts in the paddies, but this story will start a little later after the rice has become big and strong Gen-mai (元米 unpolished or brown rice). Daishinshu polishes 60% of their own rice, something that not all sake breweries do these days, as polishing machines cost about as much as a mid sized house. The other 40% is polished in a local polishing facility. The reason that they don't polish 100% of their own rice is simply time. in order to polish 800~1,000 kg of rice to around 60% it takes upwards of 30 hours of continual polishing, and that amount of rice doesn't last all that long. Thus it is hard to polish all the rice they need themselves, especially in the start of the season when they need to start brewing as soon as possible. The 40% they don't polish themselves is mainly used in the first brews of the year, and for their Futsu-shus.

Huge sacks of unpolished rice, (Komatsu-san jumped in for dramatic effect). This pile totaled 9 metric tons.

Daishinshu's polishing machine (costs upwards of $300,000 USD or 3千万円)

Collecting the rice flour from the polishing machine.

It's a dirty job, but somebodies gotta do it.

There is a dirty little rumor floating around that the portion that is polished off the rice, the "Nuka" in Japanese, is wasted, or thrown away. This is in no way correct. The Nuka is used in a variety of different ways, the "red nuka," the first 20% of the rice polishings, is used in Livestock feeds, whole grain foods, and Suke-mono (Japanese pickles), The "naka nuka (say that 10 times fast)", the 20~30% portion, is used in whole grain foods  and other bread products, and the "shiro nuka", the 30%+ portion, is used in High end confections and as high quality rice flour.

After the rice is polished, there is still a thin coating of Nuka on the rice that must be washed away.  Until a year or two ago this was done by hand with large buckets and strainers; A very labor intensive process which took 5 or 6 people, and a lot of time. Now, Daishinshu uses these neat little rice washing machines that wash the rice by circulating it with a jet of water. A method that now only takes 2~3 people, about half the time, and is softer on the rice.

Rice washing machine

Pouring rice into the washer

Washer in action

The rice is washed in about 20 kg loads for about 2 minutes, then soaked in water for a specific amount of time (differs depending on the type of rice and the polish rate). Everything is timed down to the second using a stopwatch.

Morimoto-san soaking a bag of rice (notice he is holding a stopwatch)

Polished and washed Sake rice, in the midst of saoking

How do you know when the rice has sucked up enough water? Weigh it!

Generally when the rice has sucked up around 30% of it's own weight in water it's ready for the next step, Steaming!

The large steaming pot (Koshiki in Japanese) capable of steaming around 800 kg of rice at a time. The white sacks around the rim are full of small plastic beads. The sacks are placed at the bottom of the pot so the steam does not hit the rice directly and cause it to break.

The steaming pot ready to be loaded with rice

The steam is started and then the rice is added in a little bit at a time. this allows the steam to thoroughly permeate the rice and give it an even steaming.

After all the rice has been loaded into the pot a fabric cover is placed over the top of the pot and tightened down to create pressure inside the pot.

The steam flow is controlled by a flap at the top of the cover, closing the flap creates more pressure and increases the heat inside the pot, opening the flap allows more steam to escape, and lowers the pressure and temperature.

The steaming pot is truly a site to see, once turned on a huge plume of super heated steam bellows out, making it a spectacle as well as a true danger, as being horribly burned is quite possible. Steaming the rice takes about an hour, while the rice is steaming the crew eats breakfast.

The freshly steamed (and extremely hot) rice is then shoveled by hand into a bucket

The bucket is then wheeled at break neck speed to the cooling area outside the Koji-muro (Koji room)

The rice is then spread out on a cloth and allowed to cool. (Yes that's me bending over the steaming rice) Even with gloves my hands were mildly burned (when I took the gloves off my hands were bright red). The rice is cooled down to about 35~40˚C before being moved into the Koji-muro. The stands that we are cooling the rice on was hand made by the Toji this year, up until now they cooled the rice on top of rubber sheets on the floor which, as I found out a couple of times when the loads were big and we had to use the floor, was extremely back breaking and knee hurting work.

Once brought into the Koji-muro, the rice is further cooled to around 31˚C before applying the Koji spores. During the cooling process the rice is mixed and flipped several times to allow even cooling.

The Toji then applies the Koji Spores

The can used to apply the koji spores, the lid of the can has a screen mesh built in, from which the spores float out.

Steamed rice with Koji spores on it (the green powder is the koji)

After the spores are applied, it is left to rest for a few minutes before the rice is mixed and flipped. The sporing process is repeated again two or three times.

After the koji spores have been applied, the rice is let to sit for a few hours. Then piled,

And bundled in blankets. It is then allowed to sit for about a day.

The next morning at 5:30 am the rice is unbundled and passed through a metal screen to break up any clumps. At this stage the rice is getting harder, as it dries out a little, but is not yet visibly coated with koji mold. This is one of the thin skin parts.

The Toji then transfers the rice into wooden trays

At first only half of the tray is used. This is to ensure that the rice does not cool too much before the koji has started to fully develop. The koji rice is then left to sit for about a day.

The next day the koji rice is mixed thoroughly and spread out so that it takes up the entire tray. At this point you can just begin to see white spots of koji mold growing on the rice. (more skin thinning)

The trays are then wrapped in blankets and allowed to sit for another day. During this time period the trays are rotated several times to keep the temperature in all the trays even. The temperature of the koji rice can climb to as high as 45˚C during this time.

The next day the koji rice (which, maybe it's just me, I thought would be granulated like you always see in books, but was actually clumped into one big piece in the shape of the tray) is mixed and the clumps are broken up until it is more or less individual kernels. This is of coarse done with your bare hands. Not only is the koji rice hot, if it were bath water at 45˚C you probably wouldn't want to get in, but the rubbing action required to break up the clumps, again makes your skin quite thin. (my hands were bright red at the end of this step too)

Finished koji rice after it has been broken up and mixed. You can clearly see a white coating of koji mold at this point. I don't know if anyone else out there has eaten warm koji rice before, this was a first for me (although I had eaten cooled koji rice before in the past), the sweet koji flavors expand in your mouth, and as long as you keep chewing, even long after the kernels have disappeared, the flavor keeps coming out kind of like gum. A truly incredible experience.

The koji rice is then spread out on the trays again, and a pattern of a circle with two lines in the middle is drawn into it (in order to assure even cooling and drying). The koji rice is then left uncovered for half a day to cool in the koji-muro. At night when the other trays are being shuffled around, the finished trays are pushed out of the koji-muro into the cold brewery rice cooling area. The koji rice is thoroughly cooled over night, effectively halting the koji growth and hardening the koji rice considerably.

This is the end of the Kome-koji making process, but not the end of the kome-koji's story. At this point the kome-koji is ready to be used to make sake, and it's story continues inside the story of brewing sake (told in the next post!).

I hope that this post is helpful, I had a lot of fun working at the sake brewery. It is really hard work, and I have developed a real appreciation for the people who are willing to brave this kind hard work in order to make the sake that we all love and enjoy.

Join me in the next post, and delve into the brewing world of the sake brewery!

Meishu no Yutaka staff