A Quick Introduction To Water.
Sake is composed of only four natural ingredients: rice, water, yeast, and koji. These ingredients each contribute to the taste of our favourite beverage. But there is one ingredient that stands out above them all: water. In its final stage, sake is approximately 80% water. As a result, the quality of water will have a significant effect on the quality of sake. Water consumption during all steps of the brewing process amounts to more than fifty times the total weight of rice. As well as adding water at the very end for taste adjustment and reducing the final ABV, it is also used to wash, soak, and steam the rice before fermentation even begins. There is no doubt that great sake comes from great water, so finding out what makes great water for sake is crucial. Once you learn what makes great water for sake you'll never look at it the same way again!
Water's taste and texture are affected by minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and calcium carbonate. Waters are either considered soft or hard to the taste depending on their mineral content. A high mineral content in water is considered "hard," while a low mineral content in water is considered "soft." Japanese water is thought to be exceptionally soft in comparison to others. Soft water makes sake brewing simpler, and Japan has an abundance of it, which is why it became the perfect place for sake production to thrive.
The following diagram illustrates a "soft to hard" scale of famous waters.
Water & Sake.
When you make great sake, you need the right water and the right elements.
Sake production requires potassium, phosphoric acid, and magnesium. They are essential for the propagation of yeasts in the starter (shubo) and for the development of the koji in the rice. Insufficient quantities of these three elements will lead to the yeasts not multiplying enough, influencing the whole fermentation process.
Water containing iron and manganese, on the other hand, is not suitable and even detrimental to sake production. The presence of iron darkens the sake and adversely affects the aroma and flavour. If the sake is exposed to light, it will become discoloured and dull.
As a result, it is imperative that sake water contains potassium, phosphoric acid and magnesium, and that it be free of iron as well as manganese. Considering all this, it comes as no surprise that most sake breweries in Japan are situated near plentiful sources of pristine water, such as rivers, wells, or springs.
One of the most renowned sources of high-quality drinking water in the country is the Nada region in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture.
The water from the Nada region is called "Miyamizu" and was discovered by Tazaemon Yamamura towards the end of the Edo period (1603 - 1868). One day, Tazaemon noticed that the quality of the sake produced in the Nada region of Kobe was far superior to the sake brewed in Nishinomiya, further west of the city. Seeing that the water used by the two breweries was the only difference, he immediately announced that "Miyamizu" was superior. Many breweries soon began competing for access to the famous water. In fact, it was even available across the country from specialised water vendors.
Miyamizu contains high levels of phosphorus and potassium, which act as food for koji mould and yeast, propagating enzyme activity. Moreover, the water contains very little iron, making it among the best sake waters in Japan.
The Fushimi region of Kyoto, home to some of the finest sake breweries in Japan, is also well-known for its incredibly soft water called "Gokosui." Fushimi used to mean "hidden water" or "underground water" and the great Tokugawa Ieyasu shogun even used to bathe his three sons in "Gokosui" water.
The difference between the soft sakes of Fushimi and the drier sakes of Nada is striking. You should definitely sample both and experience all the different flavours sake has to offer.
The Sorakami Team