Sake World Email Newsletter #125
July, 2010

Douzo, douzo!

In This Issue


Moss, Mold and Yeast

Sake Basics

Did You Know?


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Greetings to all readers,

Well, it’s summer here in Japan. Actually, we are still firmly Rain, rain go away...ensconced in the rainy season, but it will be over soon, and while the rain will go away the infernal humidity - that oppressive, suffocating humidity - will still be here. You can cut it with a knife.

But it is that very humidity, that wonderful, life-giving humidity, that makes koji mold so common here, and over the centuries, made sake what it is. So let us give thanks for humidity and the mold it supports.

But let’s sleep with the dehumidifier on as well.

Enjoy whatever season is upon you, and enjoy the newsletter as well,


Moss, Mold and Yeast

In March of this year, I visited a temple in Kyoto behind which lay a large, sprawling garden within which, we were told, there are 47 kinds of moss being deliberately cultivated. Upon confirming this, I was told that there are approximately 120 varieties of moss in the Only they can tell the difference...Arashiyama (a region of Kyoto) foothills area. However, we laymen can only discern about a half-dozen.  “In other words,” explained my moss-sensei, “the differences are subtle.” You don’t say…

For many of us not familiar with the attention to detail that typifies Moss grows on rocksJapanese craftsmanship, be it sprawling gardens or sake, the reaction might be, “Moss? You mean that green shit that grows on rocks? Moss is moss, iddn’t it?” Apparently, no; it iddn’t.

It is this very attention to detail - in this case to tiny living things - that makes sake what it is. And sake brewing asks no quarter of gardening, nor anything else, when it comes to precision in their cultivation. Most notably, consider the use of yeast and koji mold.

There are countless strains of yeast, and countless strains of koji Yeast in ampules from the Brewing Society of Japanmold. Sure, we hear about Number 9, and 18-01, and 7 and 301. Or we hear about Hiroshima or Akita or Alps or Meiri yeasts. But in truth, these big names are but the tip of the yeast iceberg. There are many, many more beyond that.

And they blend them in myriad ways and deal with their mutations over time. And, in the end, like the moss in the Arashiyama foothills, the differences are subtle. But to the brewers, just what yeast to use for what product, with which rice, in which climate, blended in which proportions and using which blending method can all lead to almost infinite permutations. And in the hands of an experienced toji, those subtle differences yield sakes that are worlds apart.

Yeast cellsAs I have mentioned in other articles on yeast, it all gets difficult to follow for us laymen. As one toji told me, “most of the folks that say they are using yeast number nine are in actuality using a descendent or variation of number nine. Not much ‘pure nine’ is out there anymore.”

So while we hear a lot about a few big yeast names, it is rarely ever that simple.

And, of course, there are many strains of koji mold out there. Koji mold is used in making many things, including miso, shoyu (soy sauce), shochu and awamori. Sake brewing uses a variety that looks Koji Mold Sporesslightly amber when propagated (and is therefore called “yellow koji”), but even within that genus here are innumerable varieties; somewhere, I am told, between a gazillion and a gazillion-and-a-half.

However, in the case of koji mold, even more important than the strain of mold is the method and skill with which the mold is propagated onto the rice. How much mold is used, is it propagated sparsely or heavily, does it hand around the outside surface of the rice or grow in toward the center - these and other factors make an incredible difference.

Koji Mold as Brewers Purchase ItThis concept of koji-making, “method over mold,” is significant enough to warrant an article of its own, one that I will get to in the near future in this newsletter. But in the meantime, consider that koji is made four times for any one batch of sake. And the characteristics of the completed koji will vary each one of those four times. It will also be different for each grade, each brewery, each milling rate, often each rice, and each season for sure. 

Moss schmoss. The micro-organisms used in sake brewing and their careful, meticulous cultivation are second to none in validating St. Exupery’s concept in The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Sake Basics
The Yeast Starter: Moto or Shubo - Why and HowMoto (Shubo) tanks - note their smaller size
Sake is brewed by first creating a small tank - a miniature batch really - in which the goal is to create a very high and dense population of yeast cells. Sure, alcohol will be created too, but the priority at this stage is to get the yeast to reproduce to the tune of as many as 200 million yeast cells per cc of mash. This yeast starter is called the “moto,” or the “shubo.”

Why? Because sake is fermented in a tank that is open to the world, which means all kinds of bacteria and wild yeast can - and will - drop in. Once the vigorous fermentation is moving along, the carbon dioxide gas blowing off will protect it, but until it gets that far, the sake yeast needs to win the battle through sheer numbers.

Did You Know?
Different Kinds of Moto

Pursuant to the topic above, there are several kinds of moto. The A moto under strict temperature controlmost common by very, very far is “sokujo” moto, a clean, fast and safe method for brewers to use, hence its status as the default method. Well over 99 percent of all sake is made using this method. Yamahai-moto and kimoto are two more methods that lead to gamier styles.

Then there is something called bodai-moto that was the precursor of other methods, developed in temples and shrines over a millennium ago.

More recently, a method called “Koh-ohn Toh-ka,” or “high temperature saccharification” which holds the materials at higher-than-usual temperatures to speed up starch to sugar conversion. And, of course, just to hose those of us trying to learn about sake, there are other methods that are combinations or variations on the above, like “Chu-ohn Toh-ka” (mid-temperature saccharification), and variations on the bodai-moto method as well.

But rest easy and know that almost everything you taste will be the first, default moto, with yamahai and kimoto being distant seconds in how often you encounter ‘em.  

Ginjo Bar open daily in ShimbashiThe Interior at Kuri

The Nihon Ginjo-shu Kyokai, that veritable group of 56 ginjo breweries around the country, will be using the space of Shimbashi Kuri from June to the end of August. From 2:00 pm until 9:00 pm you can taste the sake of these 56 sterling breweries from all over Japan. A small glass (45ml) will set you back just 200 yen to 400 yen, presenting the chance to try a wide range of sake for a reasonable outlay. A list of which brewers will be there pouring their brews and when can be found here:

Nihonshu Festival

Shuen KawashimaOn Sunday, July 11, the proprietors of the restaurant Shuen Kawashima will hold the tenth annual Nihonshu Festival, a tasting party replete with great food and a lively atmosphere. If you are anywhere near Tokyo, I highly recommend this bash.

What’s so special about it? Why, the sake that is there, that’s what. Sure, there are plenty of decently well known brands and established high quality producers. But on top of that, perhaps two-thirds of the sake there is from little known, smaller producers that might not get into mainstream distribution. Mostly hit, a little miss, a ton of fun. And the food is made by three or so restaurants that focus on sake, so you know it’s gotta rock.

The event has two sessions, 12:00 to 3:30 and 4:30 to 8:00. Pricing is complicated: 7000 yen for one session, 10,000 yen for both, 12,000 yen for couples attending one session. Day of show all prices go up 2000 yen per person.

Trust me: this one is fun, educational, and worthwhile. Be there if you are even close. More information can be found here

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Combine the above products, at a discounted rate, with the Notebook/Slideshow Package.

Japanese for Sake Lovers not only teaches sake pronunciation, it includes a native speaker pronouncing the words with a time lapse for your practice. You not only learn how to speak “sake”, you learn proper Japanese pronunciation without the cost of a Japanese language course!

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This offer is only available for 15 days – until July 15, so ACT NOW!

HOW TO CLAIM YOUR FREE SECOND PRODUCT: After purchasing one product from the Sake World Sake Education Central page, send an email to, pasting in that mail proof of purchase from the email confirmation from, (or from Apple if you purchased the iPhone app) and indicating your choice for a second product of equal or lesser cost. Upon verifying your purchase, we will send you a link for a download of the requested procuct. It's that simple!"

This is the first time I have ever made an offer like this and, as it is admittedly a test, it may not be offered again. Do not let this opportunity pass you by. As a sake beginner or connoisseur, you will find something for your “tastes” in any of these sake products. Enjoy! all begins with a guide to the theory of pronouncing Japanese, which

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This is not a language text. You will not learn grammar or much "Sake lined up for tasting"vocabulary outside of sake-specific terms; although, it does include a handful of phrases to help you navigate your way to sake bliss in Japanese when at a sake pub.  It is augmented by three audio files that allow you to practice, repeating the words and phrases after a native speaker.

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I hope you have found the above information helpful and entertaining. For more information about all things sake, please check out Until next month, warm regards, and enjoy your sake. Kampai!

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner, at this email address.

All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.


John Gauntner
Sake World, Inc.

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