Some "Frequently Asked Questions" about the ceremonial beverage of Japan.

What is Sake made from?

A. It's made primarily from Rice, Water, Koji and Sake yeast.

What variety of Rice is used to make sake?

A. The rice used for brewing sake is different from the ordinary table rice.
The difference is that sake rice kernel are larger, have a "shinpaku" or starch packet in the center of the kernel (the good stuff) and is more flexible so that it can be milled to less than 70% of its original size, since the surface of rice contains protein and fat that spoil the taste of sake.
For premium sake, we use the rice milled to less than 60% of the rice kernel's original size.

Unpolished brown "Yamadanishiki" rice and the same rice polished to 35%

Q. Is the quality of the Water used to brew sake important?
A. Yes, the quality of the water is extremely important.
The mineral content of the water affects sake taste.
Semi-hard water is most suitable for sake brewing due to its lower iron and manganese content.

Many of the sake breweries are located in areas know for their high quality water such as Fushimi, Nada in Japan and North California.

What is the Koji? What is the Sake yeast?

A. Koji, an enzyme, is added to the cooked rice to make "Koji Rice". The Koji, converts the starch in the rice into glucose. When yeast is added, the yeast "eats" the glucose and produces alcohol. Sake is unique among fermented beverages, in that the two fermentation agents work together to naturally ferment sake to 20% alcohol. For most sakes, water is then added to dilute the alcohol content to 15%.

How is Sake made?

A. See Sake Brewing Process

Q. How is sake different from wine?
A. You may have heard sake referred to as "rice wine." The Western palate associates the fruitiness and lightness of sake with beverages called wines, but this terminology is actually incorrect. Wine is an alcoholic beverage obtained from the single fermentation of fruits or plants, usually grapes and generally not grain. It yields an average of 12 - 14% alcohol.
Sake is made from rice grain and this distinctive beverage is obtained through a process called multiple parallel fermentation. Koji converts rice starch to sugar and yeast converts sugar to alcohol. Saccharification and alcohol fermentation occur simultaneously in the same phase. On the other hand, since wine (grape juice) contains a high percentage of sugar, it only requires a process of single alcohol fermentation.

Is sake more like beer?

A. The fermentation process of sake is more similar to that of beer, in that beer is also made from grains, including rice. But beer is still a single fermentation process and yields an average of 4 - 6% alcohol. The use of malts and hops also gives beer a taste that is more characteristically dry. Wine, beer, and sake all have their own distinct processes. Sake yields a variety of flavors, each as subtle as a flower. It is the perfect complement to a variety of international cuisine.

Q. If the brewing process is so complicated, the brewers must be extremely experienced.

A. Yes, controlling the complex Sake brewing process requires intuition as well as knowledge of special techniques. For this reason, every sake maker has its own brewery master known as a Toji.

The brewmaster checks the Moromi during the final fermentation stage

What makes Sho Chiku Bai unique?

A. The three most important elements in making good sake are: 1) quality of rice 2) good water 3) brewers techniques. All these factors contribute to the taste of Sho Chiku Bai.
In Japan, we use special sake rice for making all sake products. Our breweries are located in Fushimi and Nada known for their high quality water. Takara has been a leading producer of sake in Japan for more than 150 years. Takara Sake USA in Berkeley, California has taken pure snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and superior rice from the fertile Sacramento Valley. To that, they applied traditional sake-making craft and modern technology to produce a sake worthy of the Sho Chiku Bai.

Are there any advantages of sake made in the US?

A. In the case of sake, especially such as Nama(Draft) sake, the concept to keep in mind is "the fresher the product the better." Therefore, by making it here in Berkeley, we are able to get our products out to our customers much faster than imported sake.
Also by making it here, we are able to bring the cost down and sell it to our customers lower than the high price often associated with imported sake.

Q. Is sake "sweet or dry"?
A. The beauty of natural fermentation is the ability to observe and control the process. Since sake has two natural processes, we can achieve subtleties all the way from sweet and rich to dry and light.
Nigori Sake is a coarsely-filtered sake and is known for its rich, full, and sweet character.
See Tasting for detail.

Does sake contain preservatives like most other wines?

A. No, definitely not. It's illegal to add any artificial preservatives to sake.

How should we store the bottle to maintain its quality?

A. Since sake is a delicate alcoholic beverage that is sensitive to heat and light, it should be stored in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration is recommended. Exposing sake to sunlight can change its taste and color.
Exposure to air can reduce the quality of sake over time. This means that once you have opened a bottle, it's best to finish it fairly soon.

(c) Copyright 2002 Takara Sake USA Inc. All rights reserved.