More information can be found at http://nihonshucalendar.com/kurabiraki.php
(Japanese version only)
According to system of 24 seasonal divides that originated in ancient China, Shokan(小寒) means the second coldest day (or period) and is January 5th this year. The ninth day from Shokan is called Kanku(寒九).
Coldness and drying keep away bacteria from developing during this period, so sake brewers used to draw water on this day. Even now a brewer draws mountain water on the Kanku day.
In some breweries, the preparation of materials for brewing new sake begins in late September. Its beginning period varies regionally. Many new sake go on sale in December. The sake-making season is from October to March.
|sake warehouse in Takayama|
From January 17 to February 27, six sake breweries are taking turns showing their warehouses to the public in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture. Visitors can enjoy sake-tasting.
|sugitama at a sake warehouse in Takayama|
In breweries, a large ornamental ball made with cedar leaves called sugitama or sakabayashi is hung from the eaves to announce that new sake has been produced. It has been a custom since the Edo period. Liquor shops hung a bunch of cedar leaves from the eaves of the shops as a signboard in the mid Edo period. It is thought that sugitama took on its present form in the late Edo period. The green sugitama changes its color to brown as it runs dry. Its color is a maturity indicator of new sake.
Omononushi-no-okami enshrined in Omiwa Jinja Shrine(大神神社) in Nara Prefecture is also the deity of Sake. The sacred tree of the shrine is a Japanese cedar tree.
(information about Omiwa Jinja Shrine at http://ichinen-fourseasonsinjapan.blogspot.jp/2013/01/new-years-day-2013.html)
|sake warehouse in Takayama|
Ikuhi Jinja Shrine(活日神社) which is an auxiliary shrine of Omiwa Shrine is dedicated to Takahashi no Ikuhi no Mikoto(高橋活日命). According to the Chronicle of Japan, he
made good sake as an offering to the deity
by order of Emperor Sujin and was enshrined as a deity of Toji(杜氏, chief sake brewers) in the shrine.
(information about sake making in ancient times and toji at http://ichinen-fourseasonsinjapan.blogspot.jp/2011/11/niinamesai.html )
|Visitors enjoy sake-tasting in Takayama|
Water is very important for making sake. So many traditional sake breweries are located in the areas where sake-friendly natural water is available.
Kyoto(Fushimi area) and Kobe(Nada area) are also ones of major sake producing areas of Japan.
Kyoto is located in a basin and was a lake bottom in ancient times. It is very hot in summer and very cold in winter, but Kyoto is abundant in groundwater. Some say major traditional masters of the tea ceremony built their houses on underground water veins in Kyoto. Thanks to abundant groundwater, Yuzen dyeing had flourished.
My aunt's house was located on land leased from a sake brewery in Nada area before the house was destroyed by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995.
Originally, sake is made from rice, water, and koji mold (麹, Aspergillus oryzae). However, some types of sake contain distilled alcohol, sugars, acidulants, and chemical condiments. Some people don't regard sake with additives as true sake. After World War II, sake was swelled by adding distilled alcohol, sugars, acidulants, monosodium glutamate, etc. because of rice deficit.
However, the boom of local sake occurred in the mid-1970s, and the growth of customer demand caused the increased production of honjozo-shu (a sake with less added alcohol and no added sugar) and of junmai-shu which was the original Japanese sake.
Classification of seisyu(清酒, refined sake) in the Liquor Tax Act:
(There are more detailed rules for the classification.)
Ginjo-shu(吟醸酒) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 60% of its original size(40% or more of the grain has been removed), malted rice, water, 10% or less distilled alcohol of the weight of the rice and is fermented for a long period at a low temperature.
Junmai ginjo-shu(純米吟醸酒) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 60% of its original size, malted rice, water and is fermented for a long period at a low temperature. No adding of distilled alcohol.
Daiginjo-shu(大吟醸酒) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 50% of its original size(50% or more of the grain has been removed), malted rice, water, 10% or less distilled alcohol of the weight of the rice, and is fermented for a longer period at a lower temperature compared to ginjo-shu.
Junmai daiginjo-shu(純米大吟醸酒) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 50% of its original size, malted rice, water, and is fermented for a longer period at a lower temperature compared to ginjo-shu. no adding of distilled alcohol.
Tokubetsu junmai-shu(特別純米酒) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 60% of its original size, malted rice, water. No adding of distilled alcohol.
Junmai-shu(純米酒) is brewed with third or higher class rice, malted rice, water.
No provisions concerning rice-polishing ratio. No adding of distilled alcohol.
Tokubetsu honjozo-shu(特別本醸造) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 60% of its original size, malted rice, and water 10% or less distilled alcohol of the weight of the rice.
Honjozo-shu(本醸造) is brewed with third or higher class rice polished to at least 70% of its original size, malted rice, water and 10% or less distilled alcohol of the weight of the rice.
In the making process of these sake, rice for koji making must account for 15% or more of the weight of the rice.
Futsu-shu(普通酒, Ordinary Sake) is a refined sake which do no fit to the above-mentioned classifications. Sugars, acidulants, monosodium glutamate, etc. can be added to it. Crushed rice, rice polished to more than 70% of its original size, more than 10% distilled alcohol of the weight of the rice can be used.
Saura Company Limited in Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture is a brewing company founded in 1724. When the company started selling Urakasumi Zen(浦霞 禅) in 1973, ginjo-shu was not yet common. This sake triggered a ginjo-shu boom in Japan. The sake contained distilled alcohol at first, but it became a junmai-shu later.I have drank it before. It was delicious.
The name, Urakasumi, is derived from a waka relating to Shiogama's scenery by Minamoto no Sanetomo.
These pictures show the manufacturing processes of Urakasumi(浦霞).
Sake making begins with polishing and steaming rice. Steamed rice is used the three processes of it.
Koji(麹, rice malt) is produced by sprinkling ki koji mold (yellow aspergillus) spores onto steamed rice. Koji converts rice starch into glucose.
Moromi(醪) is produced by mixing moto, steamed rice, koji, and water in a brewing tank. Moromi is a white-colored turbid bubbling thick liquid.
After being fermented for about 20 days, moromi is squeezed to separate the solids and liquid which becomes raw sake. The solids are transformed into sakekasu (sake lees).
Usually, Raw sake is filtered, heated twice, and stored until it goes on sale in autumn.
Raw sake and sake heated before shipping are also available.
Sake lees are rich in vitamins, carbohydrates, amino acids, etc. So we use sake lee in cooking such as kasujiru(soup made with sake lees), kasu-zuke (vegetables or/and sliced fish meat pickled in sake lees), amazake(sweet mild sake). One has to be careful that sake lees includes about eight percent alcohol.
As an aside, it is well known that sake brewery workers have smooth and fair hand skin although they do wet work in winter. Kojic acid is a natural antibiotic agent obtained from koji malt(Aspergillus oryzae) and is used as an ingredient to lighten skin in cosmetic products.
|Tono Dobekko Festival|
Tono Dobekko Festival(遠野どべっこ祭り) is held on January 19 and 20, February 23 and 24, March 2 and 3 in Tono City, Iwate Prefecture.
Unfortunately, entrance is strictly by advance reservation, and the event has already been fully booked this year.
Visitors can enjoy doburoku(unrefined sake) brewed with rice from Tono and nigorizake called Dobekko brewed by local breweries. At the festival, local dishes are served and kagura(ceremonial dances of Shintoism) are performed.
|doburoku at Tono Dobekko Festival|
Doburoku is a kind of sake produced by adding yeasts remaining in malted rice, sake lee and the like and other ingredients to steamed rice.
In most breweries, nigorizake is produced by straining moromi through coarse cloth.
|Tono Dobekko Festival|
Nigorizake and doburoku remain the rice's sweetness and are thick and smooth, but doburoku contains 14 to 17 percent alcohol and raw nigorizake have more alcohol than refined sake. Dry or light nigorizake are available now. I have drank dry nigorizake before. It was delicious.
Most nigorizake are not heated, so they contain living yeast. Sparkling nigorizake are smooth and popular among women.
Ginjo-shu and daiginjo-shu with a fruity fragrance are also popular overseas, but I also like thick, primitive-type sake.