The Rice

Rice Kernels
Rice and Sake
Prior to 1945

Rice has always been a staple part of the Japanese diet. Up  until roughly 50 years ago, rice was in  short supply, with production volumes unable to meet domestic demand. Thus, the rice available for sake brewing was understandably limited, and brewing itself was  confined to the winter months, when lower temperatures and cleaner winter air  provided the best conditions for brewing and storage (natural refrigeration helped keep sake fresh for consumption months  after it was brewed). Such conditions made large-scale brewing unfeasible until recent times, and  resulted in regional sake brands that closely matched the local climate,  cuisine, and tastes of the local population. These fairly distinct regional styles can still be identified today.One exception, however, is a generic type of sake produced during the Edo period  (1600-1868). During this period, the new Warrior Class (samurai) had wrested power from the nobility, and demand for  sake increased dramatically amongst these warriors. Sake Top pf Pagebrewers (most notably in the  Nada brewing region  between Kobe and Osaka) began to produce sake with a refined flavor that appealed to these upper-class Edo consumers. Although Nada-type sake had no overwhelmingly strong  characteristics, there was  nothing to dislike about it, and its appeal was therefore widespread . Interestingly enough, its appeal is still strong today.See what specifications are involved for sake rice here.
Image from Suwa Shuzo BrochureSakamai
or Rice Variety
There are several types of rice used to make Japanese sake, and each type yields specific flavor profiles. Keep in mind that these nine types of rice are only part of the battle. How sake is brewed and the water used are the other parts of the story. Further, there is a massive range of styles and tremendous overlap across the board. Finally, the degree of rice milling plays a major role in the final product. Click here for more on rice milling. Click here for image of a typical rice bag.

1. Yamada Nishiki Rice: From Hyogo, Okayama and Fukuoka. The so-called  King of Sake Rice. Fragrant, well-blended soft flavor. Representative Sake Brands: About any daiginjo in the country (slight exaggeration). Hard to give one good  recommendation.  Nadagiku, Tatsuriki, Okuharima (all Hyogo) and Ginban (Toyama) are good examples.

2. Omachi Rice:
From Okayama. Generally less fragrant, more defined flavor elements, more earthiness. The only pure strain of rice left  in Japan (to my knowledge, so don’ argue for this point should you  choose to quote me). Representative Sake Brands:  Bizen Sake no Hitosuji (Okayama). Most visible  users of Omachi. Use it across a whole range of sake types . Lots of it good warmed. Some  fermented in Bizen-yaki tanks. Also look for Yorokobi no Izumi form Okayama.

3. Miyama Nishiki Rice:
From Iwate, Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi,  Fukushima, and Nagano. Slightly less dry sake, more rice-like flavor, more mouth feel, and quiet nose. Representative Sake Brands:   Sharaku (Fukushima), Hamachidori (Iwate). Both sake have  great mouth/tongue feel and presence.

4. Gohyakumangoku Rice:
From Niigata, Fukushima, Toyama, and Ishikawa. Smooth and clean and dry and slightly fragrant. Representative Sake Brands: Shimeharitsuru and Kubota, or just about anything from Niigata.

5. Oseto Rice:
From Kagawa. Rich and earthy, very distinctive.  Representative Sake Brands:  Ayakiku (Kagawa). They use only Oseto rice here, in all their sake.

6. Hatta Nishiki Rice:
From Hiroshima. Earthy undertones, usually in the background.  Rich flavor, quite nose. Representative Sake Brands:   Kamoizumi and Fukucho from Hiroshima. Two very different styles, the former being wilder and earthy and the latter being softer and sweeter.

7. Tamazakae Rice:
From Tottori and Shiga. Soft and deep,  with complex background  activity when brewed right. Representative Sake Brands:  Kimitsukasa (Tottori ). Hard to find but at Akaoni.

8. Kame no O:
From Niigata and Yamagata. Rich and flavorful and a bit drier and more acidic than other rice types, but I have not had enough to  intelligently comment. Representative Sake Brands:   Although there are several across Niigata and Tohoku, look for Kame no O (Niigata, Kusumi Shuzo).

9. Dewa San San:
From Yamagata and Niigata. Complex, not so dry, midly fragrant. Top of PageRepresentative Sake Brands:  Fumitoi (Yamagata).  Bottles are  clearly marked with blue sticker, so easy to find Dewa 33 sake, always from Yamagata.

Rice Milling – Seimaibuai
Premium sake is brewed with special rice in which the starch component (the shinpaku or “white heart”) is concentrated at the center of the grain, with proteins, fats, and amino acids located toward the outside. For more on special sake rice,
please click here.
MILLING. With increased milling, one can remove more of the fats, proteins, and amino acids that lead to unwanted flavors and aromas in the brewing process. Ginjo-shu (premium sake) has at least 40% or more milled away. Daiginjo (super premium sake) has at least 50% or more milled away.

Seimaibuai = Degree rice is milled before brewing

Unmilled Rice
Yamada Nishiki Rice
A top-grade sake rice

45% milled away = 55% seimaibuai
45% Milled Away
Seimaibuai = 55%
Ginjo Grade

55% milled away = 45% seimaibuai
55% Milled Away
Seimaibuai = 45%
Daiginjo Grade

Rice Water People Koji Yeast Koji Heart Tradition Nihonshu !