How Sake is made

Below is an example of the sake brewing process. The Sakahan brewery in Osaka has graciously allowed us to visit their facilities to explain how a modern sake brewery works.

Step 1: Polishing
Milling Rice

The rice grains are first run through a milling machine that strips away the outer (and some of the inner) layers to expose the starchy cores.  These milling rates are the determining factor on what category the sake will fall under (i.e. Junmai Daiginjo).

Step 2: Washing
Washing rice

The rice is then washed to remove excess particles and protein residuals that still remain after milling. These impurities would otherwise affect the quality and taste of the brew.

Step 3: Soaking
Soaking the rice

The newly polished rice is then soaked for a specific amount of time in order to add moisture to the grain which will aid the steaming process.

Step 4: Steaming
Steaming the rice

Steam helps to bring out the starch molecules in the grain as well as help to sterilize.

Step 5: Saccharification
Adding the Koji

Koji mold is sprinkled on and carefully massaged into a portion of the rice to convert the starch to sugar.

Step 6: Moto or Yeast Starter

The beloved Yeast starter

A yeast starter (made of water, koji rice, yeast, and in most cases, lactic acid) is added to "super-charge" fermentation.

Step 7: Moromi aka "The Main Mash"

The mashing of the sake rice

Saccharification and fermentation (multiple parallel fermentation) occur simultaneously when all of the ingredients are added in specific amounts and at the right stages.

Step 8: Pressing

Pressing out the sake rice

Unfermented rice particles are removed from the liquid.

Step 9: Filtering

Filtering the sake rice

In most cases, the liquid is then charcoal filtered to remove unwanted and damaging elements.

Step 10: Pasteurization 

Pasteurization of the sake rice

Unless the sake is a nama, it is either flash steamed in the bottle or run through a pipe submerged in super-heated water at least two times.

Step 11: Dilluting

Diluting the sake brew

Many breweries add filtered water to the end product to bring the alcohol content down to a more manageable 15% from 20%. Not all sakes are diluted in this manner though, for example, Genshu brews are not.

Step 12: Bottling and Labeling

The finishing touches on the bottles of sake!

The bottles are filled, labeled, and sent out to be enjoyed by the world!