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Japanese Sake is now a worldwide boom. Especially in this few years, young master brewers are increasing and the high quality Sake are made from a new ideas. In addition, an increase in the number of Japanese sake manufacturers using their own individual styles has been on the rise and helped to improve sake’s over popularity. Meanwhile, in the last few years “Senkin” has been drawing attention as one of the brands that will contribute to the next-generation Sake industry by improving the quality by drastic improvement. This time, while touching the basic knowledge of sake, we asked about ingenuity and the way of thinking about sake brewery of “Senkin” to Mr. Kazuki Usui who is the senior managing director of  Senkin Co., Ltd. (Sakura-city Tochigi) and the leading figure of the brewery.

Contents
1.What is Japanese Sake
2. The only one sake making beginning from “Domainization” of rice
3.The taste and pairing of “Senkin”
4.The restaurant that can drink “Senkin”

What is Japanese Sake

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Japanese sake is alcohol brewed in a similar style to wine. Brewed alcohol is made through the process of alcoholic fermentation by adding yeast to convert the sugar contained in ingredients into alcohol. The fundamental ingredients used in making Japanese Sake include rice, water, a specially-cultured mold known as “koji,” and yeast. Using koji for brewing is one of the defining characteristics of sake production. The reason why koji is used is because sugar is not contained in the rice itself, so an additional ingredient is required. This can be made by sprinkling steamed koji onto the rice, which creates the sugar-inclusive “koji rice”. Then, sake is made by combining steamed rice, koji rice, water, yeast, which do not sprinkle koji mold. Below is the basic outline behind the process of making sake.

 

Rice polishing:Cut out the outside of the brown rice according to the aiming alcohol quality

Rice washing:Wash rice that has been milled always with a calculated number of seconds

Immersion:Immerse washed rice in water and let it absorb water for a minutes that is predetermined

Steaming:Steam the absorbed rice

Making koji:Sprinkle koji mold to steamed rice and make koji rice

Making yeast starter:Cultivate a large amount of yeast

Making “Moromi” (fermentation mash):”Moromi” can be made by alcoholic fermentation mixing yeast starter, rice koji, steamed rice “kake rice” and water

Pressing:Press fermentation mash

Racking:Precipitate floating matter such as rice debris and yeast

Filtration:Filter it cleanly with a filter machine, and do decolorization and adjust flavor.

Heat sterilization / Bottling:”Heat sterilization” is a technique to remove excess microorganisms and enzymes without deteriorating the quality of liquor by heating it to about 60 ℃. It is usually done twice, but the one that does not at all is called “Namazake”. After that, it would be bottled and shipped.

The only one sake making beginning from “Domainization” of rice

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Senkin Co., Ltd.

Senior Managing Director

Mr. Kazuki Usui

11th generation member of a brewery established in 1806. After graduating from a Japanese Sommelier School, he was given the chance to work as a lecturer at the school. Following that stint, he took over the Senkin brewery and reformed their quality. “Domaine” is the French term used to describe how producers of rice have total control from start to finish by using their own vineyards, handling their own bottling etc. This influenced Senkin as we decided to make rice in the paddy field, which is on the same vein as the warehouse stock water, and handle everything including rice milling, brewing and bottling. Senkin have gone to the front of the sake industry with only one brewed sake which does not rely on yeast.

The sake brewing process used by Senkin goes even further than the above steps by also making rice in their own paddy fields. Since Senkin’s rice uses water on the same vein as the brewery stock water, the company describes it as “Domaine” for the production of sake according to the wine terms. In this interview, we heard stories ranging from rice making to pressing, which are the main processes of brewing sake.


Rice making

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A country farmer’s paddy field which is located about 5 minutes by car from the Sake brewery. The seedling is the “” in the beginning of June.Although we use herbicides now, after that they are going to raise without using pesticides, and from 2018 switch to complete organic. There are three rice to use in “Senkin”, 60% of the total is Yamada Nishiki, 25% of is Kamenou and 15% of Omachi.

Rice polishing

“The main process of Japanese Sake making is divided into chapters 1 to 4. Chapter 1 is ingredient processing. In the process of  rice polishing, washing rice, steaming rice, people can calculate and control precisely here. Chapter 2 is koji making, Chapter 3 is making. And chapters 2 to 4 cannot be calculated by humans, the mains are koji and yeast. We will go to support.”(Mr. Usui)

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By polishing the rice themselves, the proportion of white rice remaining is consistently at the levels ideal for production. A rice polishing machine is shown on the left. Rice grains are flushed from the second floor of the building and polished here. The basic rice polishing percentage used by Senkin is 40% and it takes around 50 hours to achieve this target. In addition, the lowest rice polishing rate is 7% and it takes roughly 2 weeks. Sake made from this 7% rice polishing rate is mainly shipped to Hong Kong, and some is used for the flagship brand known as Kamosu.

Although it is not specified on the label of Senkin, in general sake that uses rice with a rice milling commission of 50% or less is known as “Daiginjo”, and it is said that it is easier to obtain “Ginjouka” (which describes a fruity aroma like apples and bananas, unique to sake) as the rice milling rate is lowered. The picture on the right is a machine that filters bran, a by-product of scraping brown rice. It is divided into three kinds: red bran, white bran, silver bran.

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Yamada Nishiki with milling rice percentage of 40%. This rice is used for “Modern Senkin Purity” which is standard in the company.

 

 

 

Rice wash / Immersion

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Washing rice on the afternoon of the day before steaming the rice.Wash rice in 10kg batches with a dedicated rice washing machine. Not only the type of rice, but also the amount of time needed to wash rice is different depending on the temperature and water temperature.

 

 

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Immerse washed rice in water for about 10 minutes. Drain water and leave it overnight.

 

 

 

Steaming

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After being left overnight, the rice will start to be steamed from 7am. If you place steam directly on rice, it will cause damage to the rice, so a special plastic rice is laid down to soften the steam intensity. Generally, correctly-steamed rice is said to be “hard on the outside, soft on the inside” and it is said that good koji rice can be produced in this state.

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Steamed rice will be cooled uniformly by the chiller in the picture.

 

 

 

 

Making koji

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Picture provided by Kurodamakibi

This is done in a koji making room with a constant temperature of 35 degrees or above. The steamed rice is spread across a rubbing floor known as “Momi doko” and koji is sprinkled onto it. This must be spread uniformly and thorough temperature control is required so that the koji mold may grow easily. The entire process or creating koji rice takes around 48 hours.

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The finished koji rice. It has an interesting sweetness when eaten.

 

 

 

Making yeast starter

A lot of yeast is needed to make sake, so there is a need for a “yeast starter maker” which will cultivate large quantities of yeast. Ingredients for making this yeast starter are water, koji rice, steamed rice, lactic acid (or lactic acid bacteria), and yeast (in some cases, yeast is not used). Lactic acid is added since yeast may be eliminated when it comes together with other microorganisms, and this may adversely affect quality. The lactic acid therefore becomes an essential part of this process. In addition, yeast starter is divided into “quick-fermenting yeast starter” which adds liquid lactic acid for brewing and “kimoto yeast starter” which takes in lactic acid bacteria in nature.

<Quick-fermenting yeast starter>
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The picture is the tank of quick-fermenting yeast starter. Quick-fermenting yeast starter of “Senkin” is made from ordinary quick ferment which performs temperature management at 20℃ or less together with water drawn from underwater flow of Kinugawa flowing to the brewery, koji rice, steamed rice, lactic acid, Tochigi’s yeast starter (New Delta).

<Kimoto yeast starter>

30% of the sake making is a kimoto yeast starter and uses yoshino cedars. By keeping the prepared water, koji rice, and steamed rice together and maintaining the environment at 6 to 7℃, it could be able to take in lactic acid bacteria in nature. And, when lactic acid bacteria themselves make lactic acid, the yeast that lived in the brewery begins to grow. The whole process of making yeast starter requires more than 50 days.

In addition, the process of making kimoto’s yeast starter is seperated into “kimoto” and “yamahaimoto”. Kimoto refers to doing “Yamaoroshi” which grinds rice with a stick called “Kai” to promote saccharification of rice. Yamahaimoto means to abolish this yamaoroshi and melt rice with just koji. In Senkin, they decide whether to make it from kimoto or yamahaimoto by looking at the state of melting of rice during making a yeast starter.

Making moromi

<The shikomi using quick-fermenting yeast starter>

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After finishing the yeast starter making, the prepare (shikomi) for sake will start. In sake brewing using a quick-fermenting yeast starter, firstly they put a yeast starter in a thermal tank that can be controlled, add koji rice, steamed rice, water. This is referred to as “First stage”. After “rest” which means waiting for breeding of yeast for 1 day, they will do “second stage” which is adding the koji rice, steamed rice, water again the next day. Then, the same ingredient is added next day which is said the “third stage”. Since these operations are carried out three times, it is called “three-stage preparation”, and alcohol is fermented by simultaneous rice saccharification and alcohol fermentation, whereby sake is made by “parallel multiple fermentation”. The preparation is done for about a month, and what is finally completed is called moromi.

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The first day is “first stage”. Alcohol fermentation has not been done yet, and rice grains are clearly left.

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Day 6 of preparation. Foaming is because yeast is actively, producing alcohol while emitting carbon dioxide and carbonic acid gas.

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Day 13 of preparation. The bubbles decreases and it becomes the state of the ball.

<The shikomi using kimoto yeast starter>

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For the Shikomi of kimoto yeast starter, Yoshino cedar wooden trough are used like making yeast starter . It has three stages, rest day is provided for two days. The amount charged in one wooden pail is about 2,000 bottles in sho bottle (about 1800㎖). Sake made with this yeast-free kimoto yeast starter is sold under the brand “Senkin Nature”, and each cedars has its own individuality.

Picture provided by Kurodamakibi

 

Pressing

It is called “Joso” to squeeze the finished moromi to separate sake cake and liquid. In “Senkin”, according to the quality of the sake that want to make, it is squeezed in three ways: bag hanging, Sase-style, and Yabuta (automatic crusher).

<Fukurozuri>

Pour the moromi into the sake bag made of cloth, bind the mouth with a string, collect only the drop of sake that drifts naturally. Because it does not apply pressure, it is said to have a gorgeous and delicate flavor. The prime series of the company “Senkin issei”, “Urara”, “Kamosu” adopt this squeezing method

<Sase-style>

Spread the sake bag that pours the in the tank, press from the top and squeeze for 3 days. This is a method which is called Sase-style. In this case, the liquid which comes out first is called is “Arabashiri” , the next is “Nakatori, Nakakumi”, the last is called “Seme”.

<Yabuta>

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An automatic crusher so-called Yabuta. It is in a refrigerator at room temperature of 3℃. By squeezing at once in a machine, the merit is that there is almost no oxidation of sake.

 

The taste and pairing of “Senkin”

“There is no clear difference as to wine grape varieties about the difference in used rice and the taste of Japanese Sake. In order to obtain a complicated fermentation process, the used yeast  and the manufacturing process are reflected largely in the taste. However, as an image of the taste, sake using Omachi is plump and masculine, kamenou is tight and feminine, Yamada Nishiki is a unisex type in Omachi and kamenou. ” (Mr.Usui)

Modern series
Modern Senkin

Taste: Juicy, sweet and sour

Used Rice: Domaine Sakura・Yamada Nishiki (Modern Senkin Purity), Domaine Sakura・kamenou (Modern Senkin kamenou), Domaine Sakura・Omachi (Modern Senkin Omachi)

Polished rice rate: Koji rice 40%, kake rice 50%

Drinking temperature: 8~10℃ (About 46~50°F)

The example of pairing: It is compatible with western cuisine and meat dishes.

Modern Senkin Purity  “Mozzarella cheese and tomato salad” “Seafood marinated herb flavor” “Raw spring roll salsa sauce” “Margherita pizza”

Modern Senkin kamenou “Boiled white asparagus” “Cold steamed chicken” “Summer vegetables ratatouille” “Stir-fried eggplant by olive oil”

Modern Senkin Omachi  “Sea urchin dishes” “Grilled salmon with butter” “Roast of lamb” “Crab butter”

Picture provided by Kurodamakibi

Classic series
Classic Senkin kamenou

Taste: “Acid” which is the characteristic of “Senkin” is expressed gently.

Used Rice: Domaine Sakura・Yamada Nishiki (Modern Senkin Purity), Domaine Sakura・kamenou (Modern Senkin kamenou), Domaine Sakura・Omachi (Modern Senkin Omachi)

Polished rice rate: Koji rice 40%, kake rice 50%

Drinking temperature: 12~15℃、40~45℃ (About 53~59°F, 104~113°F)

The example of pairing: It is compatible with japanese cuisine, soup stock.

Classic Senkin Purity “White-grilled Confucius with Yuzu pepper” “Soba” “Thinly sliced flounder with ponzu sauce” “Fried shrimp with lemon”

Classic Senkin kamenou “Boiled vegetable” “Chicken breast strips tataki with plum meat” “Japanese rolled eggs” “Chikuzenni”

Classic Senkin Omachi  “Soft roe with ponzu” “Salt-grilled sea bream” “Pork Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly)”

Picture provided by Kurodamakibi

Prime series
Senkin Issei

Taste: Elegant and has a sweetness. Sensitive and gently, the characteristic is the discreet acidity.

Used rice: Domaine Sakura ・ Yamada Nishiki

Polshed rice rate: Koji rice35%, Kake rice35%

Drinking temperature: 5℃ (About 41°F)

Example of pairing : It is compatible with sensitive dishes

“Winter melon with crab sauce” “Yuba dishes(a delicacy composed of fresh layers of the skin of soy milk)” “Clam steamed by sake”

Picture provided by Kurodamakibi

Urara

Taste: Gorgeous and sensitive,the characteristic is the elegant and discreet acidity

Used rice: Domaine Sakura ・ Yamada Nishiki

Polshed rice rate: Koji rice17%, Kake rice17%

Drinking temperature: 5℃ (About 41°F)

Example of pairing : It is compatible with simple cuisine using fruits and vegetables

“Scallops and grapefruit salad” “Jellied seafood” “Sea urchin mousse”

Picture provided by Kurodamakibi

Kamosu

Taste: Three varieties combine to express silky texture and precise thickness

Used rice: Domaine Sakura ・ Yamada Nishiki + Domaine Sakura ・ kamenou +Domaine Sakura ・ Omachi
Polished rice rate: Domaine Sakura・Yamada Nishiki 7% Domaine Sakura ・ kamenou 35% Domaine Sakura・Omachi 40%
Drinking temperature: 5℃ (About 41°F)

Example of pairing: It is compatible with high-fragrance dishes such as vegetables, fruits, herbs

“Thinly sliced white fish with yuzu ponzu sauce” “Plain steamed scallops” “Boiled white asparagus” “Mozzarella cheese and tomato salad”

Photographed by the editorial department of Pocket Concierge

Nature

“Nature” which means natural in French is made with the slogan “Kimoto is responsible for the future of sake “, making full use of the individuality of the brewery. It reproduces the old style kimoto that the manufacturing technology of sake is not yet developed, ingredient rice is not rice suitable for brewing but uses the ancient rice kamenou. Rice polishing rate also follows the era when the technology is not developed, more than 90%.They do not add yeast, but attract yeast that lives in the brewery and make yeast starter. Individuality of alcoholic beverage differs for each wooden tree, and the brewing in 2017 is ” Senkin nature un” “Senkin nature due” “Senkin nature trout” “Senkin nature quatre” and “Senkin nature cinq”.

Senkin “Nature”

Taste: Fresh yet fresh, and rich juicy feeling

Used rice: Domaine Sakura ・ kamenou
Polished rice rate: Koji rice more than 90%, kake rice more than 90%
Drinking temperature: 5℃  (About 41°F)

Example of pairing: It is compatible with sauces of meat and western food, rich flavor dishes

“Calf of spices grilled” “Sauteed foie gras” “Escargot sauteed by butter” “Dong po rou” “Oxtail-stew” “Glaze-grilled eels”

Restaurants that can drink “Senkin”

Nishiazabu Kikuchi (Nishiazabu Tokyo)

Two-Michelin star Japanese restaurant that stands quietly in a  residential area of Nishiazabu. Make the most of the taste of the seasonal ingredients, you can enjoy selected sake, besides “Senkin Issei” (as of July 2017) along with cuisine made simple and politely.

Sushi Bando (Shinjuku Tokyo)

Opened in June 2017 as “annex” in a place about a minute on foot from “Takumi Tatsuhiro”. Using the same shari and neta as the head office, second hand holds. They also do lunch sales and can enjoy only nigiri-zushi reasonably too. Sake is the same lineup as the head office.
【Interview・Writing】Naohisa Shiraishi
【Photography】Kimihro
【References】Nihonshunomoto(Sake service institute)
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