When did sake contests start? 

The most traditional and prestigious sake contest held today is “The Annual Japan Sake Awards,” organized by the National Tax Agency. The first sake contest was held in the spring of 1911, held annually (currently in May) excluding 1945, when the contest was canceled due to wartime damage. The venue of the sake contest is The National Research Organization located on Takinogawa street in Kita ward, Tokyo.   
The Gold and Silver prize is selected from new sake brewed that brewery year, delivered from sake manufacturers nationwide for assessment. The total number of exhibition sake entries exceeded 1,000 at one point. However, entries are now limited to only one per sake manufacturer. Exhibition sake entries are narrowed down to approximately 700~800 and assessed, from which approximately 100 sake selections are awarded the Gold prize. After the assessment, the awarded sake selections are announced. Sake brewers, wholesalers, sellers, and beverage shop owners visit to taste the recognized sake selections, an event celebrated with great success each year. Approximately twenty members of the judging panel consist of technical officials and official appraisers of the National Tax Agency.   
Furthermore, the test facility was renamed as The National Research Institute of Brewing in 1995 and relocated to a new facility in Higashi-Hiroshima city. The first sake contest in Japan was titled “The First Japan Sake Awards,” held at the same National Research Organization, Ministry of Finance, in October 1911. The sake contest was organized by the Brewing Society (predecessor entity of the Brewing Society of Japan), formed by sake manufacturers nationwide and associated government officials of the Ministry of Finance. This sake competition is the “Fall Sake Competition,” held in the fall when sake ages, while “The Annual Japan Sake Awards” organized by the government is referred to as the “Spring contest.” Approximately 8,000 sake manufacturers were active in Japan at the time, with 2,137 entries submitted for the first contest.    
This sake contest evolved with each passing year, since organized every other year. For the fifteenth contest held in 1937, 4,991 sake entries were received. The award ceremony was held at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. In 1939 however, the control of sake production started, and the contest was canceled. After World War II ended, in 1949, the Brewing Society of Japan renamed and revived the sake contest as “Japan Sake Contest.” However, the contest was held only three more times until it ended in 1951. In 1961, Tokyo University of Agriculture organized the “Japan Sake Food Contest” and held the contest fifteen times until 1976.   

So many sake entries were submitted to this contest because the recognition received at this contest was honorable and effective for advertising. Not only has this sake contest contributed to improve sake quality, but the reputation of quality sake brewed in Nada and Fushimi districts – both historically renowned sake brewing districts since the Edo period (1603-1868) - brought recognition to an unknown regional sake brand, a major by-product of this sake contest.  
なお、同試験所は平成7年に 醸造研究所と名称が変更され、東広島市の新施設に移転している。 ところで、わが国で最初の品評会は、これより前の明治40年10月、同じ大蔵省醸造試験所で「第1回全国清酒品評会」が開かれている。主催は 全国の酒造業者と大蔵省の関係官僚によって結成された醸造協会((財)日本醸造協会の前身)。この品評会は酒が熟成する秋に行なわれる「秋の品評会」であり、これに対して、国の主催した「新酒鑑評会」は「春の品評会」と呼ばれたという。当時、全国には約8000の酒造業者があったが、第1 回には2137点の応募があった。
この品評会はその後も1年おきに行なわれたが年を追うごとに発展し、昭和12年の第15回には4991点が 出品され、授章式は東京宝塚劇場で行なわれたほどだった。しかし、昭和14 年には日本酒の生産統制が始まり中止。戦後の昭和24年、日本醸造協会は 「全国酒類鑑評会」と名を改めて品評会を復活させたが、昭和26年まで3回 行なわれただけで終わった。昭和36年からは東京農業大学が「全国酒類調味食品品評会」を開催し、昭和51年の第15回まで続いている。 
これらの品評会に多数の出品があったのは、ここで受賞することが栄誉であるばかりでなく、抜群の宣伝効果もあったためとされるが、一方で、酒質の向上に貢献したと同時に、それまで江戸時代以来の本場、灘・伏見 の名声に圧されてまったく無名だった地方の酒が認められるという大きな副産物があった。
#alljapannews #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #sake


Sake Nation “Noto Peninsula Earthquake and Sake Breweries ①”

By Kosuke Kuji
As the glorious New Year of the Dragon dawned on January 1, 2024, the voice of a TV anchor sadly urged viewers to “Please evacuate,” “head to higher ground quickly,” on the evening of New Year’s Day. 
The news reported the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake. 
Right after the earthquake occurred, a “Major tsunami warning” was issued around Ishikawa prefecture for the first time since the Great East Japan Earthquake, a tsunami warning was issued along the coastline of the Sea of Japan, and a tsunami advisory was widely issued.  
The sun had set, and it was dark outside. 
The New Year variety entertainment show switched to a special news report led by NHK, as various TV programs switched to news when major disasters strike to provide regular updates.
The new year started off as a tragic journey.    
The status of the tsunami was not known for a while after the major tsunami warning was issued. Aware of the damage incurred by tsunamis after the Great East Japan Earthquake, I prayed for the safety of survivors. My heart anguished over not knowing the latest status of victims on site following the disaster. 
Noto peninsula is also known as one of the three major regions of master sake brewers (toji), named “Noto Toji.” Home to nearly ten sake breweries, Noto peninsula is also home to my younger colleague’s brewery. From this issue on, I will share stories about the Noto Peninsula Earthquake and local sake breweries in the next several reports.       
#NHK #Noto #NotoPeninsula #NotoToji #earthquake #japan #japannews #newyear #sake #tsunami


Part 2: Reading the sake label 

Sake bottles normally display two labels. 
The large front label often displays the “sake brand” in the center of the bottle, while the right or left side shows the special sake designation (such as Junmai Daiginjo, etc.). 
The production year, month, and date indicated is the sake bottling date. The label also lists the alcohol content, volume of the bottle, and the names of the brewery and master sake brewer.  
The back label lists important information such as the sake meter value - a positive or negative value that indicates the sake is sweet or dry. Generally, the greater the negative value, the sweeter the flavor; and the greater the positive value, the dryer the flavor. This positive or negative sake meter value is determined by the sugar content in sake. The higher the sugar content, the greater the negative number; and the lower the sugar content, the greater the positive sake meter value. Sake with a positive sake meter value that is lighter in relative density than water is lower in sugar content, etc., while sake with a negative sake meter value that is heavy in relative density is higher in sugar content, etc. 
Generally, sake with scary names such as oni, kujira, otoko, etc., tend to be dry in flavor. 
Approximately sixty-five percent of all sake produced is standard sake. As sales of Ginjo and Junmai Ginji increase however, the overall sales of sake is also increasing.  
裏ラベルには重要なことが書かれてある。日本酒度は甘辛のことで、一般的にマイナスになればなるほど甘口、プラスになればなるほど辛口とされている。 このプラスとマイナスは、お酒の中にどれくらい糖分が入っているかどうかで決まり、 お酒の中に糖分が多ければマイナスになり、少なければプラスになる。比重が水より軽いプラスの値のお酒は甘味のもとである糖分などが少なく、比重が重いマイナスの値のお酒は糖分などがより多く含まれているため。
#alljapannews #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #sake


Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Year-end sales event)

By Ryuji Takahashi
Three sake breweries were invited to organize the 2023 year-end sales event at Kanemasu Brewery (Shibata city, Niigata prefecture). Thursday, December 28 felt like a half-day workday, yet many visitors arrived to purchase nigori sake “Hatsuyuki,” a popular nigori sake of this brewery. Some customers purchased sake in bulk since Kanemasu Brewery offers few bottled sake products. The sake products featured by Kanemasu Brewery were Junmai Daiginjo “Hatsuhana,” stored at freezing temperatures for two years; and “Kanemasu 36-year-old sake.”      
The container of “Kanemasu 36-year-old sake,” aged for thirty-six years since 1986, is eye-catching. The 360 ml titanium custom-made double wall tumbler was made by the renowned Horie Titanium Co., based in the Tsubame-Sanjo area. After the aged sake is finished, the uneven interior of the tumbler ensures silky froth beer foam. The 360 ml aged sake is priced at approximately 40000 JPY. Explaining the value of this aged sake to customers was very challenging.   
The sales event on December 29 featured “Nagatorogura” by Hakuro Brewery (Nagaoka city, Niigata prefecture) and new sake by both the Hakuro Brewery and Fujisaki Sobe Shoten (Nagatoro city, Saitama prefecture) of the same group. Hakuro Brewery featured their new sake, Junmai-Daiginjo Nigori Sake, and “Sanzui Junmai-Daiginjo Non-filtered Unprocessed Sake,” bottled in low volumes. New sake by Nagatorogura is unprocessed, non-filtered Junmai Ginjo sake with a flavor like fresh green apple juice. Customers came out in droves to the shopping district this day after completing their work for the year to prepare for New Year’s eve and New Year’s day. Many customers purchased fresh sake available only this time of the year. 
Nihonsakari was featured the next day, soon to become a classic sake featured during the sales event on December 30. The special set packaged in the Jinkichi bag (handbag made of durable canvas fabric used to transport sake from the sake shop) consisted of the Ginjo with gold leaf, Daiginjo with gold leaf, and “Souhana Junmai Ginjo,” also used when the Emperor ascended the throne, all products that suit the New Year ambiance. Sales personnel at Nihonsakari taught me the basics of selling sake before my shop opened. For the first time in over a decade, we teamed up so I could learn how to sell sake from a seller of a national sake brand, which is different from how local sake is sold. 
On the final day of New Year’s eve on December 31, two part-time workers were invited to sell out the rest of the inventory of the year. High-end sake sold out in no time, along with various new sake and New Year’s sake products that all sold out and concluded the year by 21:00. 
It is truly unusual to see this much sake sold at other times of the year. The phenomenon of high sake sales raises the question if domestic sake consumption is declining in Japan. If sake sales of this volume are consistent year-round, it would be safe to say the Japanese sake industry has a bright future ahead. 

*Jinkichi bag: handbag made of durable canvas fabric used to transport sake from the sake shop  
*甚吉袋: 酒屋からお酒を運ぶ時に使われていた丈夫な帆布生地でできている手提げ
#alljapannews #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #jizake #sake #tokyo


What is the stage mashing process used to brew sake?

Japanese sake is brewed from fermentation-mash prepared by adding yeast, steamed rice, koji, and water to the pure yeast starter cultivated in large volumes, in which alcohol ferments. Since the volume of steamed rice used to prepare the standard yeast starter is low at approximately seven to eight percent of the overall volume mashed (the yeast starter ratio is the ratio of the total volume of rice in the yeast starter to the total volume of rice used to mash the fermentation-mash one time), adding a large amount of ingredients (steamed rice, koji, and water) at once rapidly lowers the acidity of the yeast starter and the number of yeast starters. Therefore, the yeast starter cannot cultivate at the same pace, increasing the risk of bacterial contamination.    
Therefore, ingredients are not added at once, but divided and added in several stages to cultivate an adequate yeast starter while mashing. This mashing method is referred to as the “Stage-mashing process,” otherwise referred to as the “Three-stage mashing process,” as sake ingredients are divided and added in three stages. Some may suggest increasing the volume of the yeast starter to ensure safety in mashing in one stage. However, preparing the yeast starter is very time-consuming, and significantly increasing the ratio of yeast starter can compromise the aroma of sake, thus deemed unrealistic.   
The Three-stage mashing process is used to mash in three stages over a four-day period: “First stage,” “Second stage,” and the “Third stage” (also referred to as “tome-jikomi,” or the “final stage”). 
During the “first stage” on the first day, the volume after mashing grows to approximately three times the yeast starter. The mashing temperature is slightly high between 53.6~55.4 degF to revive the yeast in the yeast starter. During the “resting stage” on the second day, mashing is stopped for a day to sufficiently cultivate the yeast starter and increase the yeast in the fermentation-mash. During the “second stage” on the third day, the volume after mashing reaches approximately seven times the yeast starter at the mashing temperature between 48.2~50 degF. During the “third stage” on the fourth day, the mashing temperature drops further between 44.6~46.4 degF, and the volume grows to approximately fourteen times the yeast starter. This concludes the standard three-stage mashing process. However, the temperature is lowered to ensure safety as the mashing continues, for as the volume increases, the lactic acid concentration drops and becomes easily susceptible to bacterial contamination.  
To prepare sweet sake on the other hand, the final step requires the fermentation-mash prepared by the three-stage mashing process to be mashed one more time, referred to as the “four-stage mashing process.” 
三段仕込みは、「初添え」(「添え仕込み」または「添え」ともいう)、「仲添え」(「仲仕込み」または「仲」ともいう)、「留添え」(「留仕込み」 ともいう)の三段階に分けて仕込む方法で、四日間にわたって仕込む。 
一日目の「初添え」では、仕込み後の容量は酒母の三倍程度になる。酒母中の酵母の活性を呼び戻すため、仕込み温度は12~13度とやや高い。二日目は「踊り」と称して、一日、仕込みを休む。酵母を十分に増殖させて、もろみ中の酵母の優位性を高めるためである。三日目の「仲添え」 では、仕込み後の容量は酒母の約7倍になり、仕込み温度は9~10度とする。四日目の「留添え」では、仕込み温度を7~8度とさらに低くし、容量は酒母の約14倍となる。以上が標準的な三段仕込みだが、このように仕込みが進むにしたがって温度を下げていくのは、容量の増加によって物料中の乳酸濃度が低下して雑菌に汚染されやすくなるため、温度を下げて安全性を高めているのである。 
一方、甘ロの酒を造る場合に、三段に仕込んだもろみの末期にもう一度仕込む方法があり、これを「四段仕込み」という。仕込む原料は、蒸米、 酒母、甘酒、酒粕、糖化酵素剤などがあるが、近年は酵素の利用(「酵素四段」という)が一般的になっている。
#alcohol #alljapannews #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #sake


Sake Nation “Seasonal Sake ④: Cloudy sake released in spring”

By Kosuke Kuji
In this series that introduces seasonal sake, this report features “cloudy sake” released in the spring. 
The beautiful spring season of Japan is represented by blooming cherry blossoms. The sighs of plants and animals that survived the cold winter season are sensed during one of the most beautiful seasons in Japan.   
Spring is also a season of partings in the sake industry. The Master sake brewer and brewery workers who lived and worked at the brewery throughout the winter season return home in the spring to plant rice.    
“Nigori sake” is a category of sake sold by many sake breweries year-round. Freshly squeezed sake is slightly cloudy in the beautiful spring season. Recently, cherry blossom petals float on the surface of some nigori sake products released in the spring.  
Nigori sake is not thick and slightly cloudy. The Japanese also enjoy viewing cherry blossoms during the spring. Slightly cloudy nigori sake enjoyed while viewing the pink cherry blossoms create an elegant ambiance, the epitome of beauty. 
Please enjoy nigori sake while viewing cherry blossoms to experience the beautiful spring season in Japan.

#alljapannews #cherryblossom #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #nigori #sake #sakura


Best ways to store and enjoy sake

Please enjoy sake with an appropriate amount of food over time, rather than chugging down sake at once. The appropriate amount of sake that prevents stress to the liver is one to two cups. Please keep this guideline in mind and do not drink alcohol one to two days a week to rest the liver. 
Please do not consume sake with medication, during pregnancy, or during the weaning period. 
Also, please do not take a hot bath or engage in heavy exercise after sake consumption, nor pressure others to consume sake. 
The Japanese have a limited ability to breakdown alcohol, while Northern European nationals in Finland and Sweden tend to be highly tolerant of alcohol. Although there is an individual difference, two cups of sake is typically broken down between six to seven hours. 
Sake does not cause obesity. The calorie content of sake is 185 kcal per 100 ml. Obesity from sake consumption is caused by snacks enjoyed with sake, not sake itself. Also, while alcohol typically cools the body, this is not the case with sake (according to Health and Medicine of Alcohol Association).



日本酒を飲んでも太らない。日本酒のカロリーは100 mlで185 kcalで太るのはお酒と一緒に食べるおつまみが原因。また、アルコール体を冷やすが、日本酒は違う。(アルコール健康医学協会)
#alljapannews #japanese #japanesesake #sake


Tokyo Jizake Strolling (the very hectic month of December)

By Ryuji Takahashi
I continue to push myself despite feeling exhausted during the month of December, a busy and hectic month with no chance to rest until the new year. First on the schedule is the in-store sales event for Kondo Brewery (Kondo Shuzo Co., Ltd.) in Gunma prefecture. I happened to have new freshly squeezed sake, so I held the in-store sales event to sell the new sake and Junmai Ginjo “Kurobi” brewed using a centrifugal separator, winner of the Gold prize during the New York World Wine & Spirits Convention, over two days in the bitter cold weather.       
Kondo Brewery is the producer of the sake brand “Akagiyama.” Their flagship product is the Honjozo “Akagiyama Dry,” seemingly available in convenience stores, drug stores, and many stores that sell daily necessities. Seventy to eighty percent of this sake is consumed locally in Gunma prefecture, while seasonal and special sake are often not released in other prefectures. In Tokyo, only two stores including my own store deal directly with the brewery. At our store, customers from Gunma prefecture buy this sake product in bulk. 
The first day of the sales event concluded with an evening banquet at the brewery with lively discussions about sake, audio, and vehicles. The following week, I attended “An evening of Italian cuisine with sake” at the Italian restaurant “Karibe-tei.” Surprisingly, the event was attended by a record number of guests who feasted on luxury food ingredients such as lobster, shirako (soft roe), calf, and fresh oysters with eighteen sake bottles - nine different sake brands of two bottles each - the highest number of bottles consumed to date. The concluding dish was the bubbling Champagne Risotto. Guests took photos and videos of the bubbling Champagne Risotto.        
 The last collaborative event of the year featuring Italian cuisine ended successfully. I hosted the year-end hot pot dinner event with unrestricted time and appetizers brought by guests the following week. The final week consisted of three in-store sales events at Kanemasu Brewery in Niigata prefecture on the 28th, Hakuro Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. in Niigata prefecture on the 29th, and Nihonsakari Co., Ltd. in Hyogo prefecture on the 30th, leading into the New Year’s Eve sales event, the busiest event of the year.   
I was writing this article mid-December without encountering any major issue. I felt rushed to finish all my work before the end of the year, as I have many events and business trips scheduled in 2024. I feel deeply grateful for this past year that ended without any major injury or illness affecting my business, and for all the many customers who supported my business this year. I look forward to another year of sake fans consuming a lot of sake in 2024. 

#alljapannews #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #jizake #sake #tokyo


Sake production process

Sake production process 

Sake production cleverly uses the microbial functions of koji mold, yeast, etc. in various tasks. The sake production method was mostly established by the early Edo period (1603-1868) with basically no major change to date. Sake production generally consists of the following five processes.    

1. Raw material preparation process
Three steps are required to prepare steam rice: “rice milling,” “washing and soaking,” and “steaming.” 
Steamed rice is used in each of the following three processes: Koji making, yeast starter and mash preparation. 

2. Koji preparation process 
The process to inoculate steamed rice with seed malt to prepare koji requires both traditional manual labor and mechanical production. Koji breaks down starch in steamed rice, and yeast generates sugar required to ferment alcohol.  

3. Yeast starter preparation process 
Culture sake yeast only in large volumes to ferment alcohol as purely as possible inside a mixture of steamed rice, koji, and water. The sake yeast starter is also referred to as “moto.” Purely cultured sake yeast is generally used, while sake yeast strains that inhabit the sake brewery are also used in some cases. Lactic acid used to prevent bacterial contamination is most important in preparing sake yeast, placed by naturally increasing lactic acid bacteria (Kimoto-type sake yeast starter) or adding lactic acid during the preparation (Sokujo-type sake yeast starter).    

4. Mash preparation process  
“Mash” is prepared by mixing steamed rice, koji mold, and water into the sake yeast starter in which alcohol ferments. One characteristic of sake production is not to add the ingredients (steamed rice, koji mold, and water) into the mash, but to add the ingredients in several stages to propagate the sake yeast while gradually increasing the volume, referred to as “stage preparation.” Generally, the “three-stage preparation” is used to divide the preparation into three stages, while the “two-stage preparation” and “four-stage preparation” are also used in some cases. 
After fermentation, the mash is squeezed after a certain time, then divided into sake and sake lees. At this stage, unprocessed sake is high in alcohol content, approximately twenty percent in some cases. Distilled alcohol is added to sake other than Junmai sake before squeezing.    

5. Filtration, pasteurization, and aging 
Refined sake is still cloudy after squeezing. After the sediments settle, cloudy sake is filtered and pasteurized, then stored. Storing the sake harmonizes the aroma and generates a unique sake flavor. Sake is finely filtered using activated carbon before adding some water to adjust the alcohol concentration (generally fifteen to sixteen percent), then bottled prior to shipment.
蒸米に種麹を接種して麹を造る工程で、昔ながらの手作業と機械製造とがある。麹は、蒸米のでんぶんを分解して、酵母がアルコー ル発酵するために必要な糖分を生成する。 
アルコール発酵を行なう清酒酵母だけを、蒸米と麹、水の混合物の中で、できるだけ純粋に近い状態で大量培養する。酒母は「酛」とも呼ばれる。 一般には純粋培養された酵母が用いられるが、 酒蔵に住み着いている酵母を使う場合もある。乳酸を存在させて雑菌の汚染をいかに防ぐかが酒母造りの最大のポイントで、乳酸菌を自然増殖させる伝統的な方法(生酛系酒母)と、仕込み時に乳酸を添加する方法(速醸系酒母)とがある。一般には安全で操作も簡単な速醸系酒母が用いられている。
酒母に、蒸米、麹、水を混合したものが「もろみ」であり、この中でアルコール発酵が行なわれる。日本酒造りの特徴のーつは、 もろみ造りで原料(蒸米、麹、水)を一度に加えずに、何度かに分けて加え酵母を増殖させながら徐々に量を増やしていくことで、これを「酘仕込み」、「段仕込み」または「段掛け法」という。一般には3回に分けて仕込む「三段仕込み」が採られているが、「二段仕込み」や「四段仕込み」で造られる場合もある。発酵後、一定の期間をおいてからもろみを搾り、清酒と酒粕とに分ける。この原酒の段階でのアルコール度数は、高いものでは20%前後になる。純米酒以外は、搾る直前に醸造アルコールが添加される。
#alljapannews #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #makingsake #sake


Sake Nation “Seasonal Sake ③: Freshly squeezed draft sake”

By Kosuke Kuji

This series introduces the sake representative of each season. This report introduces the winter “draft sake.” 
Hot sake is delicious during the frigid winter season. Production starts with a new crop of sake rice harvested in the fall. New sake is first squeezed fresh from November into December. 
Many sake breweries release new freshly squeezed sake from sake rice harvested that year as a winter limited edition draft sake.    
New sake is fresh in aroma and flavor, with some slightly carbonated from the gas in the mash. New sake is a winter limited edition sake commonly enjoyed in the frigid winter season from December to March.
The fresh flavor of new sake is highly compatible with white fish sashimi or oden steeped in dashi broth.   
Also, many sake breweries also release rich, freshly squeezed “unprocessed sake.” 
In Iwate prefecture where snow falls heavily, chilled unprocessed sake is enjoyed with a hot pot seated below the kotatsu (Japanese table with a heater underneath), one of the best ways to enjoy the frigid winter season.    

#alljapannews #hotsake #japanese #japanesefood #japanesesake #sake


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