SakeMasters Academy 5: Brief History of Sake (Development of Sake Making 3/5 - Edo Period)

During ”Edo" (江戸) period (1603-1868, Edo/Tokyo Capital), there were significant developments in sake making, which have become a fundamental basis of the current sake brewing technique. Such developments are, among other things, i) "Kan Zukuri" (寒造り), sake making in the winter season, ii) perverse use of "Hiire" (火入れ), pasteurization, iii) "Sandan Jikomi" (三段仕込み), three steps sake making, iv) "Toji" (杜氏), master brewer, system, v) "Seishu" (清酒), refined sake, and vi) "Hashira Shochu" (柱焼酎), usage of additional alcohol, and vii) water quality. We will explain some of these sake making techniques in more detail at a later intermediate level of SakeMasters Academy but will give you overviews herein.

i) Kan Zukuri: Since the Edo period, sake making in the winter season has become a sake industry standard rather than five times sake making throughout of the year. In 1667, this advanced sake making technique of Kanzukuri was established in "Itami" (伊丹), Osaka, which was able to reduce a risk of a propagation of bacterias (low temperatures allowed for long fermentations without contamination, resulting in better quality sake). Shortly after, in 1673, the government banned sake making other than winter to manage consumptions of rice. Also it was economical to utilize farmers, who did not have a job during the winter, for sake making.

ii) Hiire: Hiire means a pasteurization by heating sake at a low temperature of c. 60℃. This Hiire became a sake making industry standard during the Edo period. Luis Pasteur, French scientist discovered a pasteurization for wine and beer in 1865 as "pasteurization" was named after his name. It is fascinating to know that a technique of pasteurization was already widely used during this period without any thermo measure but relying on sake brewer's experience-based skills, a couple of hundreds years before Luis Pasteur "discovered" the pasteurization.

iii) Sandan Jikomi: Sandan Jikomi means three steps brewing, which was established in the Edo period. More specifically, it is a sake making technique to add sake ingredients of steamed rice, water and koji at three steps to make a fermentation process safer. 

iv) Toji: The Toji system is a multi-layered sake brewing hierarchy to assign roles based on each expertise. For example, Toji is the title of Master Brewer. "Kashira" (頭), literally Head, is the second-in-command as Toji's assistant.  Toji and Kashira instruct "Kurabito" (蔵人), literally Brewery People, as brewery laborers.

v) Seishu: Seishu is a refined and clear sake, which became common in the Edo period. Consumers of sake during that time started to prefer Seishu over "Doburoku" (どぶろく), a cloudy sake.

vi) Hashira Shochu: Hashira Shochu is a sake making practice to add high-alcohol content to "Moromi" (醪), mash, to prevent a spoilage. Shochu is a high-alcohol content spirit distilled from rice. During the Edo period, Toji had to rely on his professional intuition and experiences to gauge bacterial contents. Sometimes, all sake brewed in the season spoiled and Toji committed suicide with a sense of guilty.... It was a very important new technique to add distilled spirits to prevent a spoilage.

vii) Water quality: "Miyamizu" (宮水), a high quality of water, was discovered in "Nada" (灘) region of "Kobe" (神戸) city in "Hyogo" (兵庫) Prefecture. Miyamizu has an ideal mineral contents for sake brewing with little iron. People then rushed in the region to set up sake shops due to a great reputation of Nada sake, which made the Nada as the top brewing region in Japan in terms of sake production volume. Since then, water quality has been recognized as a critical part of high quality sake making.

The transfer of the capital city from Kyoto to Edo (current Tokyo) in 1603 shifted the center of consumption and production of sake. By the way, meaning of "Tokyo" (東京) is Eastern Capital, while "Kyoto" (京都) means Capital of Capitals. In 1666, there were 36 sake breweries in Edo although it looks lower than those in Kyoto. Edo sake breweries were not able to compete against Kyoto in terms of quality and prestige, instead focused on large volume production of sake for entry level to satisfy the needs from capital's middle class people. By 1698, the numbers of sake breweries in Japan grew to c. 27,000.

"All of my paintings drew before 70 years old is insignificant work. I could be a real painter if the god allows me to live for more 5 years"
-Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) (1760-1849)

Previous blog: "Brief History of Sake (Development of Sake Making 2/5 - Kamakura to Azuchi Momoyama Periods)"

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