New Trends In Japanese Sakes

  • By Yoshinobu Kimura
  • 31 Mar 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Moto Shibori Sake from Akishika Sake Brewery - Credit : CHARTIER "Créateur d'harmonies"

Japan's National Tax Agency reports that the annual consumption of sake has declined steadily for the past seven years in the country. Last year's decline was 7% lower than the previous year. There are over 1,300 sake breweries in Japan, but that number continues to decline, given the decrease in consumption.

To compete and survive in the current market, most sake breweries have had to adapt, producing a regular sake and a new variety, created explicitly for both sake and non-sake lovers. Each brewery chooses a unique approach, elaborating its signature sake products. Generally, there are six trends in sake production, as follows:

  1. Unique sake rice 
  2. High rice polishing rate 
  3. Original sake yeast  
  4. Kioke (wooden barrels) 
  5. Ageing in oak barrels 
  6. Blended sake (Although blending has existed in sake making for quite some time [for consistency, different tanks made with different rice and yeasts etc.], the Tanaka 1789 x Chartier sake project is the first to be “blended for food and wine lovers”)  

Most sake breweries use at least one of these six trends to enhance their new style of sake, and more recently we have seen some producers (Sawaya Matsumoto, Kamoshibito Kuheiji, Aramasa, and others) market sake with bubble capture (minimal manhandling after pressing to keep the CO2 in the sake leading to sake with a little pétillance). Vintage dated sake is also something that we are seeing more and more of.

And So To Moto Shibori 

I believe there is another trend that will become popular soon. This newest trend is known as "Moto Shibori" (shibori means “to press” in Japanese), which is a sake made from a yeast starter.

The Akishika Sake Brewery, founded in Osaka in 1886, produces Moto Shibori. As far as I know, it is the only brewery producing this type of sake. The brewery also harvests its own organic sake rice and practices what it calls “recycle-oriented organic farming”. Akishika Sake Brewery does not add distilled alcohol to its sake.

Moto is the initial stage of brewing dedicated to the growth of the yeast mold that produces alcohol, which is the objective of moromi fermentation. Moromi is the sake mash, mixed with steamed rice, Japanese koji mold, and water.

As sake quality is closely related to yeast quality, handling the yeast starter has long been considered crucial to brewing. Developing large quantities of good, pure sake yeast in shubo remains a constant objective (The Society for Nada Sake Research).

Therefore, since Akishika Sake Brewery carefully harvest their own unique sake rice, the moto is inevitably special. On the other hand, the elaboration of this sake is quite simple.

As I mentioned, the brewing technique consists essentially of pressing the moto (the yeast starter, or shubo) and bottling it. The moto is typically supposed to move to sandanjikomi (three-stage fermentation), which triggers the alcoholic fermentation process and finalizes the alcohol content at approximately 14% - 16%. Surprisingly, this Moto Shibori sake shows impressive sake meter value numbers (nihonshudo or SMV), with good acidity levels and amino acids as the moto is pressed with the remaining fermentable sugar.

When one considers that there are usually three additions of water, rice and koji added to the tank before fermentation is carried out, it becomes apparent that Moto Shibori is very small batch sake.

The Akishika Sake Brewery provides the following information on its 2020 Moto Shibori, and it is worth noting that the acidity and SMV are stratospherically higher than the average sake:

Sake Meter Value: 77  
Acidity Level: 9.5  
Amino Acid: 3.3  
Rice Polishing Rate: 70%  
Sake Rice: Yamada Nishiki  
Alcohol Content: 8%  

The taste of this is unique. It is rich, full-bodied, complex, and has a natural sweetness produced by fermentation. Its high acidity is refreshing on the palate. Furthermore, its distinctive taste goes well with many ingredients and types of dishes, especially sea urchin, which is the perfect pairing with this Moto Shibori sake. Its low alcohol content also makes it easy to drink.

One of the fundamentals of creating a new trend is to produce something easily drinkable, food-friendly, with a low alcohol content. I hope that this type of sake will become more widespread. But since only the moto, or shubo (yeast starter) is used to make Moto Shibori sake, it produces a low yield. New standards are needed to create more Moto Shibori sake, which would help to maintain and even increase sake consumption.

By Yoshinobu Kimura, co-owner and head sommelier of Sushi M restaurant, in Tokyo, Japan (Formerly head sommelier for 10 years at Narisawa restaurant, 2 Michelin stars, # 1 restaurant in Japan, 2nd best restaurant in Asia and 9th best in the world)

Moto Shibori Sake from Akishika Sake Brewery - Credit : CHARTIER "Créateur d'harmonies"