Sake Trends: Exploring Innovations and Modern Approaches to Sake Production

Experts believe that the first “sake” was made somewhere between 300 BC and 250 AD, but it was very different from what we know today. Ordinary folks and those in shrines and temples made sake. There were even organizations that made sake for the imperial court. 

Eventually, the process became more complex. Sake creators started using drums to make larger quantities at a time. Sake production also started taking place during the winter time. 

Just like back then, the modern sake brewing process has also undergone some innovations. Would you like to learn about these and start on the road to being a sake professional? If so, read on!

What Is Sake? 

Before we talk about the differences between sake then and now, we should probably give a clear definition of what sake is. To put it simply, sake is a type of alcohol that brewers make from fermented rice. The resulting beverage has a sweet taste, a light color, and no carbonation. 

Historical Sake Production

Many of the methods that sake brewers used in the past are still used today. Some are not, and for a few sake brewing processes, it’s good that we don’t use these methods today. 

Harima no Kuni Fudoki 

A book called Harima no Kuni Fudoki or “The Topography of the Harima Province” mentions early rice alcohol brewing. It’s possible the alcohol mentioned here is an early form of sake. 

It mentions someone brewing “sake” from wet and moldy dried and boiled rice. Likely, the mold Aspergillus oryzae formed on this rice and helped make the sake. 

Kuchikami Zake 

Other experts suggest that the alcohol kuchikami zake was the ancestor of sake. This brewing process started as a Chinese technique. Then, the process found its way to Japan. 

The process for making it is, unfortunately, unhygienic. Villagers would chew rice and spit the contents into a communal vat. The saliva and yeast enzymes would change the rice starch into alcohol.

Sake no Tsukasa

The Sake no Tsukasa was an office within the imperial palace that had the job of brewing sake. The workers in this office brewed sake in a way similar to what we use today. 

The sake ingredients started as water, steamed rice, and rice koji (a type of mold). The workers would ferment this for ten days to produce a watery and thin sake. 

Lactic Acid Fermentation 

Shortly after this, a more modern version of the sake brewing process (known as kimoto) developed. Brewers created shubo or fermentation mash. The lactic acid in this mixture prevented microbial contamination.

Also, brewers started using polished rice for sake. Before this, they only used polished rice for making rice koji. This process created a sake that had a yellow tint.

Other Techniques 

Between them and now, many other techniques have found their way into the brewing process. Brewers began adding alcohol to the mixture, polishing the rice with water wheels, and heating the sake to make it less likely to spoil. Closer to the 20th century, breweries started using steel vats as they were more hygienic.

In addition, innovations allowed breweries to make sake at times other than the winter. This helped them to amp up production levels. So sake became more widespread across Japan. 

How Is Sake Made Today? 

Today, there are a wide variety of breweries. These range from small artisanal breweries to huge national brands. The techniques these breweries use can vary greatly. 

Traditional Grinding 

Some breweries use traditional methods rather than modern industrial methods. They do this mostly for taste. Traditional methods create sake that tastes different than sake made with industrial methods.

In some cases, breweries will go as far as using hand methods to polish their sake rice. This involves grinding the rice with paddles.

Using natural lactic acid is another more traditional method. Many industrial breweries will use artificial lactic acids instead. Artificial acids can make brewing faster and more stable, but it won’t taste the same as traditional sake.

Rice Experimentation

Most sake is made with Shuzokotekimai rice. This rice variety is only used for sake brewing. These rice varieties have huge starch interiors, low protein levels, and good water absorption. 

However, sake brewers do not have to use this type of rice. They can also use table rice, which is the rice used in Japanese dishes. Using table rice can benefit sake brewers because table rice is usually cheaper. 

In addition, many sake breweries are experimenting with other rice varieties. This will likely lead to some new sake types in the future. 

Market Adaptions 

Shifting tastes are also leading to new types of sake. Many breweries produce low-calorie sake for those watching their weight. Others produce low-alcohol and non-alcoholic varieties for those trying to reduce their alcohol intake. 

In addition, sake breweries are turning their attention to overseas markets. The popularity of sake is booming overseas but reducing domestically. Native Japanese individuals are drinking less sake and—as population trends show—fewer future sake drinkers are being born. 

As a result, there are a lot of sake breweries popping up in countries all over the world. These breweries are experimenting with the local climate and conditions. 

Sake Professional Changes 

The people who are making sake are also changing. A sake specialist used to only be a Japanese male. Many women are now entering the industry and rising through the ranks to become master brewers. 

Also, many sake specialists these days are not Japanese. Many breweries are hiring non-Japanese workers who wish to learn the sake brewing process. Hiring in this diverse manner can only lead to new techniques appearing in the Japanese industry. 

Become a Sake Professional 

Sake production has changed a lot over the hundred years the drink has been in existence. It will likely change a lot in the future as well. 

Would you like to make an impact on this change? If so, consider taking the sake specialist courses at the Sake School of America. Learn more about these courses on this page