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Newsletter Archive 2010

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Sake World Newsletter


Aug. 2010


Top Story

Method Over Mold: Making Koji

Method over Mold - Making Koji
I have written many times about koji and koji-making - as well I should, since it is the heart of the sake-brewing craft. As such, most readers likely recall that koji (rice with koji mold propagated onto and into it) firstly creates sugar from starch. This gives the yeast what it needs to make alcohol. But on top of that koji, contributes countless other compounds that contribute so much to sake flavors and aromas.

Last month, we alluded to the fact that while there are countless strains of koji mold, the way that each brewer propagates that onto the rice holds more sway over the nature of the resulting sake than the strain of mold itself. Way more. In other words, "method over mold."

And I promised to get back to that, which I will do it now while the thought is still fresh in our minds. (If it is not fresh, you can freshen it here.)

Let's look at some of these differences, and how they are applied. First of all, the house style of a kura (brewery) dictates much about how the koji is made. If a brewery makes light, delicate sake, the koji will be made in one way, but heavy, rich sake will use koji made a totally different way.

Next, even within one kura, the way the brewer makes koji, specifically just how the mold is coerced onto and into the rice, will vary with each grade of sake they produce. The way koji is made for cheap futsuu-shu is totally different from the way it will be made for junmai-shu, and again for ginjo-shu. Since almost all brewers make almost all grades of sake, that means there is a different way of making the koji for each of these grades within the same kura.

For what it's worth, cheap sake and heavy sake tend to use more mold, more thickly grown. Ginjo and light sake tend to use less mold, grown more into the rice then on its surface. But this is a massive oversimplification.

Next, bear in mind that koji is used four (count 'em!) times within one given batch: once for the moto (yeast starter), and once for each of the three successive additions to the batch that follow. And the way the koji is made for each of these four times is again different. Again oversimplifying, each successive step calls for less powerful koji.

On top of all this, koji-making must be adjusted for each rice variety, for each milling rate, and to some degree for each season's harvest! There is just no end to it all.

So: kura style, grade, step of the process, rice variety, milling rate and harvest all affect how koji is made. As Carl Sagan might say if he were to visit a sake brewery, when it comes to ways of making koji, there are "billions and billions" of 'em.

What is different in how they do it? Ah, let me count the ways…

  • The amount of mold used. It might be 30 grams to 100 kg or rice. Or it might be 25, or 35 grams.
  • The temperature at which it is processed. 
  • The moisture content of either the rice, or the room, or both.
  • How the mold is applied. By machine? By hand?
  • How often it is mixed up. Every two hours might be one extreme, three times over the two days might be another.
  • How long it takes to make it. Could be 35 hours, could be 70.
  • The size of the containers. It might be a 1.5 kg tray, or ten times that size, or even a huge bin or hamper.
  • Where the mold grows, and how heavily it grows. It might be grown thickly around the outside, or it may be just flecked on the surface but coaxed to grow in toward the center.
  • Et Cetera, Ad Infinitum, Ad Nauseum.

Note, too, that the above is just related to making koji by hand. Throw in the added dimension of machines that replicate the skills of humans to varying degrees, and it gets even more complex.

Method over mold. Clearly, just as "moss is not just moss," koji is by no means just koji. Never has been; never will be. While we need to know exactly none of this to imbibe our sake, the awareness of it will surely contribute an added dimension of respect. Consider all this at least once the next time you enjoy your sake.


Did you know?
Rice Haverst Timing

Of the 100 or so varieties of sake rice, each will be ready for harvest at a different time. Rice is planted sometime between April and June, and might be harvested anywhere from August to late October. Examples include Gohyakumangoku, typically harvested September 25 or so, and Yamada Nishiki, often harvested as late as the end of October.           


Sake Basics
Nada and Fushimi

While sake is brewed all over Japan, with the lone exception of Kagoshima Prefecture (the home of distilled shochu), there are major regions of production. The most notable two are Nada and Fushimi, names worth remembering. Nada is half in Kobe and half within the city limits of next-door Nishinomiya, and perhaps 40% of all sake comes from that neighborhood. Solid, full, decidedly not ostentatious sake is their style. Fushimi is a neighborhood in the city of Kyoto making another 15% of all sake in the Universe, and has much softer, more delicate sake. And they're only about an hour apart by train, if that. These two neighborhoods ensconce the biggest brewers â€?and of course some smaller ones as well. Remember these two names; you will come across them time and again in your sake travels.  


Ginjo Bar open daily in Shimbashi. The Nihon Ginjo-shu Kyokai, that veritable group of 56 ginjo breweries around the country, will be using the space of Shimbashi Kuri from June to the end of August. From 2:00 pm until 9:00 pm you can taste the sake of these 56 sterling breweries from all over Japan. A small glass (45ml) will set you back just 200 to 400 yen, presenting the chance to try a wide range of sake for a reasonable outlay. A list of which brewers will be there pouring their brews and when can be found here.

Sake Educational Blog
I have begun a sake educational blog, that will have a weekly posts on the fundamentals of sake - plus a bit. Some of the content will be similar to some of what is in this newsletter, but a shorter, more concise, more focused educational angle. View it and subscribe to it here, and be sure check it out while it is in its nascent stages, so as to not miss a single entry!


Sake Professional Course, Portland Oregon
November 6 - 8

Information that's so new... it's tentative! In early November, I will hold the next Sake Professional Course in Portland Oregon. This promises to be a special one, and the closest to date to the versions of SPC held in Japan. Why? Because we will have the chance to visit a sake brewery in action, thanks to the cheerful cooperation of SakeOne nearby, and also because the wonderful array of sake joints in Portland will allow us to enjoy an evening meal with good sake all three nights of the course.

Participation is limited to 50, and you can reserve a spot with an email of that purport to me at . It is expected to fill up quickly, so make your reservation now. Note, this information is tentative and the details have yet to be set in stone. Feel free to email me if you are interested, but I will send out a separate mailing when all details have been confirmed.  Please send all inquiries and expressions of interest in attending to  

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For Your iPhone: The Sake Dictionary
Give the gift that keeps one drinking...only $6.99

Announcing the release of iPhone application version (if you have iTunes, the app will appear by clicking on that link) of The Sake Dictionary - available now. The content is the same as the "normal" Sake Dictionary (see immediately below, available for $8.99). Note the $2 savings for the iPhone app version!

The Sake Dictionary...only $8.99
Announcing The Sake Dictionary. Have you ever found yourself out and about at perhaps a retail shop or at a sushi bar, perusing the sake menu and wondering - or trying to recall - just what the dickens all those terms actually mean? Wouldn't it have been great to have a quick guide that fits in your pocket, pda, or phone that you could whip out to confirm a term or two? Well, here it is.

The Sake Dictionary is just that: A concise little package of all the terms you might ever come across when dealing with sake. Almost 200 of them - including sake grades, rice variety names, seasonal sake terms, special varieties, rare types, post-brewing processing words and the myriad terms used in sake production - many of which are not even familiar to the average Japanese person on the street - are listed up here with concise, useful and clear definitions and the written Japanese version as well.

Start to toss around Japanese sake terms like you were raised knowing them! Gain a level of familiarity hitherto unimaginable! Avoid frustrating paralysis when faced with a sake-related purchase!

Get your copy of The Sake Dictionary now and never be confused by sake terms again. So click here to purchase your copy of The Sake Dictionary and eliminate sake stress and get a permanent grip on those pesky�erms, and start really enjoying your sake. Go here to get your copy now.


Japanese For Sake Lovers
A Guide to Proper Pronunciation

Here it is: something that ensures you will enjoy your sake experience more and more - a short, concise instructional guide on how to properly and naturally pronounce the Japanese language, sake brand names, and all the terminology that is a part of the sake world. With the help of this little course, you will sound like a native when talking about sake.

No more butchering sake names in Japanese!
Learn how to properly pronounce the sake you love!

Japanese for Sake Lovers consists of a short text and three audio files. It all begins with guide to the theory of pronouncing Japanese, which you will soon realize is surprisingly smple. Following that you have the opportunity to practice pronunciation of all the important terminology surrounding sake, and dozens of brand names that cement in your mind the principles, fundamentals, and idiosyncrasies of pronouncing Japanese. 

This is not a language text. You will not learn grammar or much vocabulary outside of sake-specific terms, although it does include a handful of phrases to help you navigate your way to sake bliss in Japanese when at a sake pub, augmented by three audio files that allow you to practice, repeating the words and phrases after a native speaker.

For the rest of the month of April, Japanese for Sake Lovers is being offered at an introductory price of $9.99, after which the price will be raised a smidgeon. Go here now to order your copy, and feel one step closer to the beverage you love �guaranteed.


Sake's Hidden Stories
I am very pleased to announce the publication of my new ebook, Sake's Hidden Stories, subtitled The Personalities, Philosophies, and Tricks-of-the-Trade Behind the Brew.

Sake's Hidden Stories ($14.99) will give you a view to what goes on in the sake industry behind the brew we all love so much. The book goes into stories much deeper than the information we most commonly encounter; way beyond simply what ginjo-shu is, what junmai-shu is, or what the role of koji is. You will learn about the personalities behind the sake. You will see in just how much detail some brewers make sake, and how each is different in where importance is placed. And most significantly, something that has not been written about in any book on sake in English, you will meet more than a dozen brewers, and encounter their personalities. You'll see what makes them tick, what drives them in their work, and how their histories and idiosyncrasies affect the sake they brew.

For more information on content and get your copy, go here.As with any ebook or informational product I offer, satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. If you don't like it or feel it was worth what you paid for it, I will cheerfully refund your money. Finally, for a nice third-party review of the book, check out this cool blog.


Sake Educational Products
Jump-start your sake savvy

Just a reminder to check out the Sake-World e-store, currently offering three educational products immediately downloadable for your education and further sake enjoyment. We offer three products, with more to come soon, including a full-blown, comprehensive self-study course covering all the material in the Sake Professional Course, and more.
First is The Sake Notebook, a 15-page pdf file guaranteed to jump-start your sake understanding and appreciation. It covers everything related to sake in a tight, concise and easily digestible presentation replete with plenty of photos and diagrams for at-a-glance enlightenment. Sake basics, history, grades and quality levels, aging, temperature, storage and more are all briefly touched upon to create a foundation upon which more sake learning can flourish. There is also a list of 250 (count 'em!) sake brands to look for and try. Finally, included with purchase is access to a password protected area on known as "The Goodstuff" a regularly updated list of good sake recommendations, replete with brief commentary on each, and some indication of John's personal recommendations and preferences. Available for $15.
Next is The Sake Production Slideshow, an executable file (Photojam) wherein resides a 15-minute slideshow of photos of the sake-brewing process from beginning to end, giving you a glimpse into the day-to-day brewing environment of sakagura in Japan. Available for $15. Also, access to "The Goodstuff" comes with this product as well.
Third is a bundled package of both The Sake Notebook and The Sake Production Slideshow for those that cannot make up their minds or simply have to have - or give - both as gifts. Available as a set for $25.
Surely these would make wonderful gifts for those close to you that are itching to get into good sake, and their easily downloadable digital format makes it all that much easier.          


More information on the following topics can be found at

  • Sake Homebrewing
  • Books on Sake
  • Information on the archives of this newsletter
  • General information related to this publication

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner. Email John from this link:
All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.

Copyright 1999 - 2010

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