Sake World Email Newsletter #165
March, 2014

Dozo, dozo!

In This Issue


 Charcoal Filtration

Topic II

Sake Education Central

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Early Spring Greetings to all readers,

This year's brewing season sees the light at th end of the tunnel! 

Naught but moromi fermenting in tanks remains

As we move slowly toward spring - at least according to the calendar, that is - sakagura everywhere are sensing the end of this year's brewing "festivities." Most have steamed the last of their rice, yet have a handful of tanks still full of fermenting moromi (mash) upon which they can but wait. When the time is right, the moromi in those tanks will be pressed, and sent along to the next step. 

Surely there are many, larger kura that still have a long way to go. But the 90 percent of the industry that small kura comprise is ever-so-slowly getting ready to wrap things up. 

Except for the shortage of rice, and the drop in consumption of cheap sake, it has been a not-too-bad brewing year. Nice and cold (at least in the opinion of the micro-organisms), and otherwise fairly uneventful. 

Very soon, industry tastings of this year's new brew will begin. So we have that to which to look forward! 

Please enjoy the newsletter, some sake with it, and keep warm in the chilly spring, whereever you are.

John Gauntner

Sake Today - the Magazine

I am exuberantly pleased to announce that Sake Today, the world's first English-language printed sake magazine - is now available!

SakeToday - the Magazine

The inaugural issue of Sake Today is full color on high -quality A4-sized paper with an extra-thick cover and glued-in spine. It is 60 pages of well-written articles from experts in the field, beautiful photography and more. It is the world's first and only English-language sake magazine, founded by myself (John Gauntner) and publisher Ry Beville.

Read articles from sake industry luminaries like Haruo Matsuzaki and Chieko Fujita, as well as pottery specialist Rob Yellin, and the other usual suspects of the sake world. There is something in Sake Today for any fan of sake.

We are not yet set up for subscriptions but order your copy today for 700 yen (about $7) here. Check it out!

Charcoal Filtration in Sake-brewing

The concept of “filtering” in sake can be a slightly confusing one. One reason is that, at least in English, sake is filtered a couple of times.

For example, as most readers surely recall, sake is made by a process

Shizuku (drip pressing) - the most extravagant way to press sake

in which rice dissolves and its starch gets converted into sugar, and at the same time in the same tank a separate process is also taking place – that of yeast converting that sugar to alcohol. So starch-to-sugar and sugar-to-alcohol happen in parallel. What this also means is that when fermentation is complete, we still have a bunch of rice solids in the tank, components of the rice that could not be converted into sugar-then-alcohol.

So, that has to be filtered out. The mash is passed through a mesh of some sort – there are various methods – to hold back the solids and let the sake go through. So, it’s filtered. However, in the sake-brewing industry, a different word is used; this name for this process is translated as “squeezing” or “pressing.” And, in fact, many sake texts and articles in English also use the word pressing to talk about that first filtration of rice solids.

But there is a second filtration. After the sake has been pressed, and at some time during its maturation period, often it is mixed with a fine charcoal powder and/or diatomaceous earth, and after those particles settle out, it is passed through a series of paper filters to filter out the stuff they just put in.

The good news – and the reason they do this in the first place – is that

Powdered active charcoal - kasseitan

these porous active charcoal particles absorb several things. These include elements that give a goldenrod color to sake, things that can contribute roughness to the flavor, and even some bacteria that would be detrimental to the stability of the sake.

Sometime about 40 to 50 years ago, some brewers began using this active charcoal, and the resulting clean and clear sake became popular. And as a result, most of the sake adopted the practice too. And it is a good one – it serves a purpose that leads to great sake. Of course, it can be overdone, and it can be done poorly. But when done right and in the proper measure, it is a good thing.

This step, by the way, is also a filtration, and this one is actually called as such by the brewing industry. Roka means filtration, and its opposite, muroka, means unfiltered in the sense that no powdered active charcoal was used.

However, not all sake goes through this process. Not all sake needs to! It depends on the brewer, the method, the style of sake and even the water used. Some brew in a way that the sake comes out clear and clean, and simply do not need to do this step. Others prefer the goldenrod color deliberately avoid the charcoal. And others aim for a big, rougher, almost mineral-laced flavor and therefore omit this process.

There are also other ways to filter: ceramic filtration system and other solid-state mechanical filtration systems can be used. So charcoal is not the only way to go, but it does seem to be the most powerful way to remove color and roughness.

So, muroka refers to sake that does not go through charcoal filtration. Note, though, that this is not a legally-defined term, so that there can be and is some variance on the usage of the term. And we just have to deal with that. But I digress.

Paper filters are put in here, and the sake is passed through this machine

Bear in mind, though, this important point: Muroka is not unequivocally better than its charcoal filtered counterpart. It might seem that way to some, right? Natural. Unfiltered. Unsullied. And it is surely marketed that way by some. But it is not true. Sure, there is plenty of great muroka out there. If part of the deliberate design of the product, it often contributes to character and enjoyableness. But the charcoal-filtration process is a very precise, delicate and craftsmanship-laden one that contributes to better sake. So both are great for what they are.

This is one of those things that concerns me in the sense that a misunderstanding could hinder the growth of popularity of sake. It is like the thinking that says nama is better than pasteurized sake, or that aged is more special than young sake, or that junmai is better than non-junmai types (for any one of a myriad of silly reasons). Nama-sake (unpasteurized sake) is great! Aged sake can be fascinating and wonderful! And junmai-shu is without a doubt outstanding sake and an outstanding brewing philosophy! But these types are not at all unequivocally better than their (pasteurized, youthful, or added-alcohol) counterparts. Not at all.

And muroka sake is another one of these. Just because it says muroka on the label does not mean it is going to be … anything. It will not be better simply by virtue of that. It may not even be bigger or rougher. It might be – but nothing is guaranteed simply by virtue of the word muroka being present.

The best principle is of course to gather your own experience – try both and

Foaming moromi (fermenting mash)

note your observations. You may end up preferring sake made using one method over sake made using the other. But chances are you will find that it depends much more on a dozen other things going on with the sake, and with your own preferences.

What is Arabashiri sake?

Brewing in the daze of olde

What is “Arabashiri” Sake? It is a term we can see on labels of sake, but is actually independent of the grade of sake itself. Let's see what it really means. 

After a tank of “moromi” (fermenting mash) has run its course, it is ready to be pressed through a mesh to allow the clear or slightly amber sake to pass through, while the lees, the rice solids that did not or could not ferment, are retained behind. As alluded to in the article above, this "squeezing" or "pressing" step is known as “shibori” in Japanese, and there are several ways of doing it, each with its own attendant degree of labor intensiveness and resulting quality of sake product.

Most sake is pressed by a machine like this...

While most sake today is pressed using a large machine that does a more than adequate job, historically and traditionally sake was pressed using a simple box known as a fune that has a hole and short trough at one end on the bottom. Most fune are perhaps a meter wide, three long and two deep, and made of a non-aromatic wood like cherry or paulownia, although today many are also made of steel, or even concrete. When the mash is deemed ready to be pressed, it is poured into meter-long cotton bags holding about 10 liters each, which are then laid down in an orderly fashion into the wooden fune. The sake is then squeezed out as a lid is cranked down into the box. This process will lead to slightly noticeably better sake than a machine pressed sake, but at a price: it takes perhaps three times the time and manpower to press sake using a fune.

However: at first, when the moromi-laden cloth bags are laid into the fune, for a while, the sake will run out of its own accord, under only the weight of the bags, with no need to crank the lid down into the box yet. This free-run fresh sake is known as “arabashiri,” which means “rough run.”

And slightly rough it is, in a brash and appealing kind of way. So appealing is it that many brewers market sake with the term arabashiri on the label, and it is quite likely you will come across it from time to time.

After the arabashiri trickles to a halt, the sake is squeezed out with

laying bags of mash into the

pressure from the lid. This sake, known as “naka-dare,” “naka-dori” or even “naka-gumi” and is generally the most prized of the lot. After this long step, the bags are pulled out, rearranged in the box, and the lid is again cranked down to get the last few drops. This final bit of sake is known as "seme," and amounts to only about five percent of the batch. No one would market their "seme," but rather it will likely be mixed into other, lower grade sake.

Another interesting practice employed when pressing sake this way is to separate the sake as it comes out of the hole at the bottom of the fune into separate traditional sized 18 liter bottles, known as “ittou-bin.” The sake in each of these bottles will be slightly different in aroma and flavor. Often, these will be handled slightly differently, and the best of the best will be, for example, submitted to tasting contests.

There is an important note to remember with these terms: they are not legally defined definitions or even industry standards. That means that they way they are used can and does vary from place to place. So an “arabashiri” does not absolutely have to be a sake that was pressed using the fune box-pressing method. It can be any sake that a brewer wanted to call arabashiri, maybe for the rough-and-ready feel that the term has. So it can, in fact, apply to a drip-pressed sake or even a machine-pressed sake.

This lack of legally defined officialdom applies to the middle-pressing terms as well, which should not be surprising, seeing as there are three of them used more or less interchangeably.

But in general, arabashiri refers to the free-run sake that runs out under its own weight when sake is pressed using a fune. Just remember that there will be some vagueness and some exceptions!

Announcements and Events
Sake Professional Course in the US

The next Sake Professional Course will most likely be in Chicago Ill in
Sake Brewery Innards
 August. While the final dates and venues are being hammered out now, by all means, should you  be interested, please send me an email to that purport. 

The Sake Professional Course will of course include certification testing for the Sake Education Council-backed Certified Sake Professional exam. 


Sake Education Council Website

Please take a moment to check out the website for the Sake Education Council, the organization behind the Certified Sake Professional and Advanced Sake Professional certifications. We plan to grow steadily, strongly and continually, and we will need the support of all those that love sake to do so. Follow us through the "usual suspects" of social media.

Don't forget the archives!

Older editions of this newsletter are archived here.
Really old editions are archived here.

Sake Education Central

Sake's Hidden Stories and The Sake Notebook are now available for the Kindle, Nook and iBooks!

The Sake Notebook is now available for the Kindle as well as the Nook. And now, it is available for iBooks on iTunes as well!

Sake's Hidden Stories too is now availabe on the Kindle as well as the Nook. And now, it is available for iBooks on iTunes as well!

Both are less expensive than their original pdf version too. Now is your chance to learn more about sake from your phone or tablet! Check 'em out!

Sake Dictionary App for the iPhone, iPod and iPad
The Sake Dictionary App

"For 99 cents, this app ROCKS!!"
     -a satisfied customer

There you are, perusing a menu, or standing in front of a shelf of great sake, or perhaps reading a sake newsletter… and up pops one of those hairy, pesky sake terms in Japanese. You know you have heard it many times, but dammit, you just cannot remember what it means now…

No problem! Just whip out your iPhone or iPod and fire up your trusty old version of The Sake Dictionary. In a matter of seconds, you’ll be amongst the cognoscenti once again. But… if only you could pronounce it properly. Now that would really rock!

Done! Just tap on the term and you will hear a clear example of how to pronounce the term in Japanese. Repeat it a couple of times and the term is yours for eternity, to toss about and impress your mates.

What’s more, it’s less! Less than what it cost before, much less. Like less than one-seventh less. For a limited time only, the audio-enhanced version of The Sake Dictionary iPhone app is available for a mere $0.99.

What a great app!
The Sake Dictionary is a concise little package of all the terms you might ever come across when dealing with sake. Almost 200 of them - including sake grades, rice variety names, seasonal sake terms, special varieties, rare types, post-brewing processing words and the myriad terms used in sake production - many of which are not even familiar to the average Japanese person on the street - are listed up here with concise, useful and clear definitions and the written Japanese version as well. And now, with the new audio component, you can listen and learn just how to pronounce those terms properly.

Start to toss around Japanese sake terms like you were raised knowing them! Gain a level of familiarity hitherto unimaginable! Avoid frustrating paralysis when faced with a sake-related purchase!

Get your copy of The Sake Dictionary now and never be confused by sake terms - or how to pronounce them - again.

Get it here:

(Note if you have already purchased it, this upgrade to the audio version is free. Just go to iTunes and get it!) 

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Sincere apologies for the hassle, mixed with gratitude for reading this newsletter.

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.

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

All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.


John Gauntner
Sake World, Inc

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