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
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 brewers (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.
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. Representative Sake Brands:
Fumitoi (Yamagata). Bottles are clearly marked with blue sticker, so easy to find Dewa 33 sake, always from Yamagata.