Ikeda Sake Festival
This past weekend I went to the Sake Festival in Ikeda – a small town in western Tokushima. This festival started at 10:00 am and ended at 3:00 pm. For about 10.00 US dollars, I was given a small sake glass and was allowed to sample an endless variety of different sakes. At any point, a sake taste test could be taken where 6 different sakes are to be matched with 7 possibilities. This test was difficult as I only made one match. After spending 3 hours sipping on sake, I went to two local sake breweries to sample and see how sake is made.
Five crucial elements are involved in brewing sake — water, rice, technical skill, yeast, and land/ weather. More than anything else, sake is a result of a brewing process that uses rice and lots of water. In fact, water comprises as much as 80% of the final product, so fine water and fine rice are natural prerequisites if one hopes to brew great sake.
The first step in making sake is with the rice, where it is washed and steam-cooked. This is then mixed with yeast and koji (rice cultivated with a mold known technically as aspergillus oryzae). The whole mix is then allowed to ferment, with more rice, koji, and water added in three batches over four days. This fermentation, which occurs in a large tank, is called shikomi. The quality of the rice, the degree to which the koji mold has propagated, temperature variations, and other factors are different for each shikomi. This mash is allowed to sit from 18 to 32 days, after which it is pressed, filtered and blended.