Spring is just around the corner, at least as far as the calendar is concerned. Here in Japan, we have had the coldest winter in a quarter century. Record lows in many areas combined with heavy snowfalls have
burdened quite a few people this year. And of course, the silver lining is that all this cold is good for sake brewing. And this follows a fairly decent year for rice, too, so that we can expect good things from this
year's brewing season. My apologies for missing the February newsletter. Every year I promise myself that I will control the flow of events so that I do not become buried, but the sheer volume of work in the months in
which most sake is brewed make that a goal beyond my means at that time. Next year! Finally, in terms of content, this month we look at the Japan-California rice connection, as well as a snapshot of the industry
today, and a couple more topics. Kick back with a glass of sake and relax while reading! Enjoy the newsletter, John
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Cal Rose Rice = Wataribune Rice = Omachi Rice?
Well, not quite, but......
Most of the sake being made in North America, be it
made at one of the several large production facilities, or one of the few smaller facilities, is made using a rice known as "Calrose." But what most people may not know, is that that rice strain, released to
California rice growers in 1948, was originally developed from a rice from Japan, and not just any rice strain, but a sake rice variety.
Yep. It's true. The rice from which Calrose was created, when it came
here from Japan back in 1908, was a rice known as Wataribune. And, in fact, if you go here you can see the proof that Wataribune did indeed go to the US from Japan.
Back then there were nor official designations of sake rice (known more formally as "shuzo kotekimai") and regular rice. And, a number of rice types were indeed used for both sake making and eating, Wataribune
being one, Shinriki being another, and just to beleaguer the point, Kame no O being one more. So while it is not likely that it was brought to the US to make sake, it still found its way there nonetheless.
There are countless strains of rice in the world, two main ones being Japonica and Indica. While there are several differences between the two, one is the length of the longer axis of the grain. Japonica is
short-grain, Indica is long-grain. And sake is brewed using short-grain rice.
Could it be done with long-grain rice? Sure, to some degree. But all that sake has become is based on centuries of making it using
short-grain Japonica rice, and as such it would likely be much more difficult to replicate today's sake with long-grain Indica. But I digress.
Back to Calrose, it was developed from a strain of Japonica; and
is referred to as a "medium grain" rice strain. And in fact, the "rose" part of the name refers to its somewhat wider structure. Indeed, it seems that Calrose has been brought back to Japan and had its genes pulled
down, and its DNA looked at. And some Indica has gotten in there. Originally I thought it was most likely via Indica pollen floating willy-nilly through the fields. But actually, it was a deliberate process
successfully performed by Rice Experimentation Station in Biggs, California.
So it ain't what it was. But it still is good for sake brewing. But wait! There's more! Wataribune is a rice that was and is grown
in the Kanto region, i.e. in the greater area surrounding Tokyo. While there is no airtight proof, a number of sources have shown that Wataribune is in fact Omachi, a prestigious variety of rice originating in Okayama
Prefecture in the western part of Japan, i.e the Kansai region, i.e. the prefectures surrounding Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. In other words, Omachi was at one point in time brought up to the Kanto area and for some reason
renamed as Wataribune.
So, with just a bit of a stretch of the imagination, Calrose is Wataribune is Omachi. While that is admittedly pushing things a bit, maybe more than a bit, it still is some serious
However, that does not mean it is still the same rice, or that it maintains even a remote resemblance. After first crossbreeding, and then more than 60 years of raising it using vastly different
cultivation methods, in a different climate, and for different purposes, much has changed in our beloved strain. It looks different, is not as big or voluptuous, and neither are there the trademark characteristics in
structure and content– at least not like we find in real Omachi or Wataribune here in Japan.
And this is important, lest we let ourselves go off on a marketing rant. As a comparison, one can take an
outstanding grape vine, crossbreed it with another, and then move it to a different part of the world, with a different climate, and grow it in a way that is different from how it had been grown before its travels to
the new region. And it would likely not be nearly as suited to its original purpose as its ancestor would be. So while the lineage is there, Calrose is no longer the same rice that its 1908 ancestor was.
is not to diss it. Not at all! The handful of North American brewers that use it are dong a wonderful job, making for the most part tasty sake, and generally getting better all the time. What would even be better (and
it might already be happening) is to see more feedback between those brewers and the rice producers with suggestions on how to grow it to make it even more suited for sake-brewing. Sure, that might drive price up, but
it will drive quality up too. And that can only be a good thing in the long run.
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Industry Snapshot, March 2012
As we approach the March 11 one-year mark since the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, the sake industry continues along its
paradoxical path of making better sake than any time in history, while at the same time contracting overall. Here is a quick snapshot of things as they are in this moment.
- Currently, there are 1272 breweries making at least some sake. This is down 30 from 1302 last year. However, note that not a single brewery went down due to the occurrences of March 11. Every single brewery
damaged or destroyed has some how managed to pick themselves up, and continue to make sake this year. Miraculous. While their future may still be perilous, at least they are here, now.
- Production for the 2010 brewing year was 440,000 kiloliters, down 6.3% from the previous year. Readers will surely remember that sake is brewed in a period surrounding the coldest months of the year. Smaller
brewers might brew from November to February, mid-sized kura from October to April, and behemoth breweries crank it out maybe September to May or longer. So the "Brewing Year" is defined as July 1 to June 30, so as
to capture one complete brewing season, no more and no less, and no matter what the scale of enterprise might be. So the 2010 brewing year ran from July 1, 2010 until June 30, 2011. And since we are now in the
middle of the 2011 brewing year (that began on July 1, 2011 and will end on June 30, 20112) for all intents and purposes the data is for "last year."
Also, against the backdrop of the slight drop in sake
consumption, it is worthwhile to point out that alcohol consumption in Japan has dropped in recent years as well.
- Of those 1272 active breweries, 310 make only premium sake, a small increase of premium-only brewers. And, a full 31% of all sake made was one of the premium designations. Wow. While I sincerely have nothing
against cheap sake, or standard "futsuu-shu," a movement toward premium is likely a good thing when viewed from the vantage point of long-term survival.
More information will be posted on my blog, as it
becomes available, at http://sake-world.com/wordpress/
Would you like to know when new stories are posted? Please follow me on Twitter.
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Sake Basics: Nigori
Nigori sake, or more correctly "nigori-zake," is cloudy sake. Why is it cloudy? Because when completed sake is filtered away
from the remaining rice solids, it is passed through a mesh. Nigori-zake is made by deliberately passing it through a coarse mesh that allows some of the lees, or dregs, known as "kasu" to come through. Why would they
do that? Because it is a throwback to sake of over 1000 years ago, when they did not bother to filter it out. While it can be very enjoyable, the presence of that kasu pretty much ensures that nigori will not be as
refined or delicate as normal sake. Note, nigori is mutually exclusive of grade. So you can have a nigori futsuu-shu, a nigori junmai-shu, or even a nigori ginjo-shu. However, since more kasu in your sake goes in the
opposite direction of the increased refinement that ginjo brings, rarely do we see nigori-zake amongst the top grades of sake. Nigori comes in all expressions: sweet, dry, smooth, acidic, thick-n-chunky, and thin.
Extremely thin nigori (i.e. just a pinch of kasu) is called "usu-nigori." While nigori is not that popular in Japan, it is massively popular in many overseas markets. Why? Some say its degree of familiarity. No matter
who makes it, it's called nigori. No matter where it comes from, it's white. And perhaps the whole pina colada aspect adds to that as well. The most prominent nigori-zake in Japan is Tsuki-no-Katsura of Kyoto. They
have pretty much made an art of it, or at least of marketing it. Rihaku from Shimane is another popular and very enjoyable nigori-zake available around the world. Now that that's been cleared up, enjoy your nigori!
酒 酒 酒 酒 酒 酒
For more information on what you can do with kasu, the dregs from sake brewing, in your everyday culinary life, see my blog entry here. Also, to see the state of sake in Australia, check this out.
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Did You Know? Yields in Sake Brewing
How much sake can be made from a kilogram (2.2 lbs) or rice? In truth, it depends on many things, such as how
far you let it ferment (sacrificing flavor if you go too far) and how tightly you squeeze the mash to press out the sake (with the same potential downside, i.e. sacrificing quality if you get greedy). But a very short
answer would be about 2 liters per kilogram, of junmai-shu at 18%. Water that down to 16% as most sake is and you have about 2.5 liters. Cut that junmai-shu with alcohol to make a honjozo, (non-junmai) ginjo or
daiginjo and you have about 2.8 liters. But again: there is great variation!
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Announcements and Events
Sake Professional Course in USA
Sometime in July, somewhere in Chicago...
The next Sake Professional Course is
scheduled for this July in Chicago. As you can see from the vagary-laden subtitle above, neither the date nor the location are as of yet determined. Should you be interested in receiving more details when they become
available, by all means, please send me an email to that purport. The Sake Professional Course, with Sake Education Council-recognized Certified Sake Professional certification testing, is by far the most
intensive, immersing, comprehensive sake educational program in existence. Three days of classroom lectures and tastings leave "no sake stone unturned." The cost for the course, is expected tobe $799. For
more information about the daily schedule and to read a handful of testimonials, click here. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions about the course, or to make a reservation.
Sake Tours, 2012 ~ Akita and San-in
Sake Tourism is alive and well! Check out this year's Sake Tours for sake-heavy tourism of Japan. Not nearly as intense as the Sake
Professional Courses, and sake is not the only thing you will experience on these special tours! But certainly, they are "sake heavy." Says the Sake Tours
Website: "Please join us for a very special journey through the regional brewing and culinary traditions of Japan. Tour destinations are filled with moments you cannot experience otherwise. In 2012, we will return
to San-in, the land of myth, and to the snow country of Akita for special breweries and onsen. Meet and speak directly with artisans to appreciate their history, philosophy, and the art of brewing. Learn from the
world's best sake educator, John Gauntner, and share the passion of brewers for their craft. Then, wind down at onsen to relax, and simply have fun!" Learn more and register now at the Sake Tours Website.
Sake Education Council
Please take a moment to check out the website for the Sake Education Council, the organization behind the Certified Sake Professional and Advanced Sake Professional certifications. We plan to grow steadily,
strongly and continually, and we will need the support of all those that love sake to do so. Follow us through the "usual suspects" of social media.
Sake Homebrewer's Online Store
Please be sure to check out Homebrewsake.com for supplies, information and a forum, including lots of supporting information on everything from recipes to history. I have been meaning to mention this site and the gentleman behind it, Will Auld, but have repeatedly forgotten in past newsletters. The site is replete with instruction, augmented with videos, schedules, and more. If you are even remotely interested check this site out right away.
SAKE EDUCATION CENTRAL
For Your iPhone & iPod: The Sake Dictionary App.
Newly improved, now with audio, and
drastically reduced in price to $0.99!
Get it here: http://itunes.com/apps/sakedictionary
There you are, perusing a menu, or standing in front of a shelf of great sake, or perhaps reading a sake newsletter… and up pops one of those hairy, pesky sake terms in Japanese. You know you have heard it many
times, but dammit, you just cannot remember what it means now…
No problem! Just whip out your iPhone or iPod and fire up your trusty old version of The Sake Dictionary. In a matter of seconds, you'll be
amongst the cognoscenti once again. But… if only you could pronounce it properly. Now that would really rock!
Done! Just tap on the term and you will hear a clear example of how to pronounce the term in
Japanese. Repeat it a couple of times and the term is yours for eternity, to toss about and impress your mates.
What's more, it's less! Less than what it cost before, much less. Like less than one-seventh
less. For a limited time only, the audio-enhanced version of The Sake Dictionary iPhone app is available for a mere $0.99.
The Sake Dictionary is 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. And now,
with the new audio component, you can listen and learn just how to pronounce those terms properly.
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 - or how to pronounce them - again.
Get it here: http://itunes.com/apps/sakedictionary
(Note if you have already purchased it, this upgrade to the audio version is free.
Just go to iTunes and get it!)
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 www.sake-world.com 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: www.sake-world.com/html/email.html
All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.