Logan (my 6 year old) and I headed out on a MWR tour to learn the process of making sake at the Seiun Sake Brewery and washi paper at Washi-no Sato. I wasn’t sure how he would enjoy the sake brewery tour but even though he had no idea what sake was, he enjoyed learning about the process to make it and the machinery involved.
Sakabayashi is a cedar ball, (pictured above) that lets you know the brewery has sake available for tasting. Before modern invention, sake was not available year round, or even produced every year. So the cedar ball was a sign that let tourists and locals know that fresh sake had been made. When the cedar ball turned brown, it was a sign the sake had been aged enough to drink.
Sake Fun Facts:
– Until I came to Japan, everyone I know (and I) pronounced sake – saki…as in sa-key. First things first, the “e” in sake is pronounced like a long “a”. So you say it sa-kay.
-Sake can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature. A lot of cheaper restaurants will serve sake hot. This is because when sake is heated too much it masks the flavor (or lack of) and you are unable to tell the difference between a good quality sake and a poor one.
– Sake is classified into four categories: flavorful, light and smooth, rich and aged.
– Sake has an alcohol content of 13% – 16%
-Amazake (sweet, non-alchoholic sake) is often served to children and the elderly. Our tour guide likened it to sweet grape juice, but obviously made with rice.
-The Japanese word for “cheers” is “Kampai!”
For all the information you ever wanted to know about sake included the different types and varieties (they vary based on how much the rice was polished, how it was brewed, etc.) head to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association website for a detailed description (in English!)
Here’s the brewing process taken from the pamphlet they provided. I’m sure there is a better illustration on the website above as well. But this gives you an idea of brewing process differs from wine making.
Some of the machines at the brewery.
Top: Rice polishing and steaming
Middle: Aging tanks/fermentation (I think)
Bottom: Mash filtration – pressing
White, mud walled storage rooms keep the sake safe from fires, an added insurance policy.
This is the tax collectors office. Sake is highly taxed and to keep the tax collector happy, they use to give him a nice comfy office at the brewery. I wasn’t sure if this was still used today however, or if they’ve modernized the tax collecting process.
The quality of water plays a large role in the quality of sake. Certain regions can produce better quality of sake because of the climate and the water. They have a natural spring underneath the brewery that they take water from.
Storing and labeling the sake and stamped “paid” by the tax collector.
A look at the sake tasting room after the tour. They even have sake ice cream which has a small amount of alcohol in it and are fine serving it to kids.
After sake tasting (and buying) we continued on to Washi-no Sato, the “Village of Washi Paper” and Kawagoe, Little Edo. I’ll continue on another blog post though since this is getting a bit long.