Updated: Oct 17, 2021
In Japan, sake is traditionally the center of the meal: the food is served on small plates, intended to accompany the drink. Depending on the type of sake, it can be tasted like a good wine: throughout the meal, sake can be used with aperitifs or as with dessert. Generally, sakes go perfectly with fish and Asian cuisine. Some will be excellent with white meats, while others will go wonderfully with foie gras, cheeses and chocolates. And there is nothing better than this type of Sake known as Daiginjo halb trocken kalt. The main ingredients of sake are the following:
To make a good type of sake, the master brewer will obtain a type of rice from the sakamai category, which differs from our food rice (shokumai) by its nutritional qualities and its general appearance.
Sakamai is the popular name, which could be understood as "rice for sake", its real name: shuzokotekimai. It contains more starch. Shokumai has more fat and protein. Physically, the sakamai is heavier. Wider (by about 25%), it concentrates, often in its center, the desired starch. This center is called shinpaku, translated as "white heart". Starch is made up of molecules of glucose that are bound together, which will need to be separated to allow fermentation. There are many varieties of rice belonging to the sakamai family: Gohyakumangoku, Yamadanishiki, Miyamanishiki ... Each variety has its own taste characteristics.
· THE WATER
Sake is 80% water. This is used throughout the manufacturing process. To make good sake, the Toji (master brewer) will obtain rice from the sakamai category, which differs from our food rice (shokumai) by its high starch content and by a greater grain weight. Breweries get their water from deep natural springs or wells. It is an essential element. Well-known breweries are always located near good quality water. In Japan, we mainly use 2 terms to describe water; it will be strong (kosui) or weak (nansui). Strong water, rich in potassium and phosphorus, will give sake with rich and persistent aromas. Weak water will result in the creation of clearer and smoother sake. Iron and manganese are two harmful elements for the quality of sake.
· THE KOJI-KIN
The koji-kin (more simply called koji, or more scientifically aspergillus oryzae) is a single-celled microscopic fungus. It can be of several colors: yellow, green, black ... Koji-kin comes in powder form. This is spread over the rice in a special room (kojimuro) where the temperature and humidity are constant. Koji-kin produces spores which secrete enzymes called gluco-amylase. These will break down the large starch molecules into several glucose molecules which can then ferment into alcohol under the action of the yeasts.
When it comes to Sake in the past, master brewers exposed their fermentation tanks to the fresh air. Natural yeasts were deposited in the tanks and allowed the mixture to begin its fermentation.
Today, the yeasts are cultivated and preserved with care (sokujo method), either by the master brewer, or by the Japanese Association of Sake Brewers, or by research institutes from prefectural authorities.
These yeasts are all different from each other. They do not behave the same during fermentation. Some are more resistant to alcohol than others and allow fermentation to last longer, resulting in less sweet sake.
In the kimoto method, lactic acid bacteria are natural. In this way, if the tradition is respected, the yeasts also appear naturally. It is through the work of master brewers who have succeeded each other over the centuries that we obtain the sake of today.