How to Make Sake?

Sake is an alcoholic beverage that’s considered the national drink of Japan. Although it is commonly referred to as “rice wine,” that brief description falls short of conveying the complexity of this fermented beverage. And it’s not surprising given that production has been going on for more than 2,500 years!

Steaming rice, koji, water, and yeast make up the majority of the ingredients in sake. Alcohol is additionally added to sake that hasn’t been polished to “smooth” out the flavor character.

What is Sake?

Sake is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage that is made from fermented rice. It is often referred to as rice wine, although the production process is more similar to beer brewing than wine-making. It has a long history in Japanese culture and is considered a significant part of Japanese cuisine.

Sake is usually served chilled or at room temperature, although some types can be enjoyed warm. It is often consumed in small ceramic cups called “choke” or in larger communal containers known as “tokkuri” and enjoyed with a variety of Japanese dishes.

Sake is known for its complex flavors, which can include notes of fruit, flowers, and rice. It is also typically higher in alcohol content than most beers or wines, ranging from around 15% to 20% alcohol by volume. It holds a special place in Japanese traditions and ceremonies, and it is also appreciated worldwide as a unique and versatile beverage.

How to Make Sake?

To make it, polished rice is first washed and then soaked in water. Afterward, the rice is steamed, and koji, a type of mold, is added to the rice to convert starches into fermentable sugars. The rice mixture is then mixed with yeast to initiate fermentation.

The fermentation process for sake typically takes a few weeks, during which the sugars are converted into alcohol. After fermentation, it is filtered to remove solids and then pasteurized to stabilize the flavors and prevent further fermentation.

Some varieties may undergo additional steps such as aging or blending to enhance their flavor profiles. The final product is typically clear or slightly cloudy and can range in taste from dry to sweet. Making it is a complex and time-consuming process that requires specific equipment and ingredients.

Here is a simplified overview of the traditional sake-making process:

Rice Selection

Choose a suitable variety of rice specifically grown for making it. Sake rice has larger grains with high starch content. Some popular rice varieties include Yamada Nishiki, Gohyakumangoku, and Miyama Nishiki.

Rice Polishing

The outer layers of the rice grains, which contain impurities and fats, are removed through a process called polishing. This helps to achieve a purer flavor and allows the rice to absorb water properly.

Washing and Soaking

Thoroughly wash the polished rice to remove any remaining debris. Then, soak the rice in water to replenish moisture and prepare it for steaming.


Steam the soaked rice using a steamer or specialized sake steaming equipment. The steaming process ensures that the rice becomes soft and ready for the next steps.

Koji Production

Koji is a crucial element in sake production. It is made by mixing steamed rice with a mold called koji-kin (Aspergillus oryzae). The koji-kin mold converts the rice starches into fermentable sugars. Spread the koji-kin evenly on the steamed rice and allow it to ferment in a warm and humid environment for about 2-3 days.

Yeast Starter

Create a yeast starter called shrubs or moto. Mix the koji rice, steamed rice, and water with a yeast culture (sake yeast) in a fermentation vessel. Allow the mixture to ferment for several days, during which the yeast multiplies and converts the sugars into alcohol.

Main Fermentation

Combine the yeast starter (shrubs) with more steamed rice, koji rice, and water in a larger fermentation vessel. The fermentation process takes place over several weeks. It is important to monitor and control the temperature and other conditions to ensure a successful fermentation.


Once fermentation is complete, the mixture is pressed to separate the liquid from the solid rice particles. This is typically done using a device called a sake press, which extracts the clear sake liquid.


To stabilize the flavors and prevent further fermentation, the freshly pressed sake is usually pasteurized. This involves heating the sake to a specific temperature and then quickly cooling it.

Aging (optional)

Some types of sake may undergo aging to develop more complex flavors. The sake is stored in a controlled environment for a certain period, typically several months to a few years.

Filtration and Bottling

It is filtered to remove any remaining sediments or impurities. It is then typically diluted with water to achieve the desired alcohol content. Finally, the sake is bottled and labeled for distribution and consumption.

What Does Sake Taste Like?

Sake can have a diverse range of flavors and aromas, depending on various factors such as the type of rice, brewing methods, and aging techniques. Here are some common characteristics and flavor profiles associated with it:

  1. Rice: It often has a subtle rice flavor, ranging from mild and neutral to more pronounced and sweet. The type of rice used can impact the flavor, with some varieties contributing a delicate sweetness or a nutty character.
  2. Fruity: Many sakes exhibit fruity notes, such as apple, pear, melon, or tropical fruits. These flavors can range from subtle and delicate to more prominent and juicy, depending on the sake variety.
  3. Floral: Some sakes feature floral aromas, reminiscent of flowers like cherry blossoms, honeysuckle, or jasmine. These delicate and fragrant notes add a touch of elegance to the sake’s overall profile.
  4. Umami: Sake can possess umami, a savory taste often associated with Japanese cuisine. Umami flavors in it can be reminiscent of mushrooms, soy sauce, or a hint of earthiness, adding depth and complexity to the drink.
  5. Yeast-derived: Sake yeast plays a crucial role in shaping the flavor. Certain yeast strains can produce unique characteristics, ranging from fruity and estery to more earthy or spicy. These yeast-derived flavors can influence its overall taste profile of it.
  6. Sweetness and Dryness: Sake can vary in sweetness levels, ranging from dry (karakuchi) to semi-dry (off-dry) or even sweet (amakuchi). Dry ones tend to have a clean and crisp taste, while sweeter varieties offer a richer and rounder mouthfeel.
  7. Texture: Sake has a light and smooth texture, often described as silky or velvety. It coats the palate with a pleasant and refined sensation, which contributes to its overall appeal.

What Color is Sake?

Sake is typically clear or slightly cloudy in appearance. Most traditional varieties have a transparent or pale color, resembling water.

However, there are also variations such as Nigori sake, which can have a milky or creamy appearance due to the presence of sediment or rice particles that are intentionally left unfiltered. In general, though, the majority of sake types are clear and do not possess a significant color.

What are the Different Types of Sake?

There are several different types and classifications of it in Japan, each with its own characteristics and production methods. Here are some of the main types:


Junmai sake is made purely from rice, water, yeast, and koji mold. It does not contain any added alcohol or additional ingredients. It tends to have a full-bodied and rich flavor with a pronounced rice character.


Honjozo is similar to Junmai, but a small amount of distilled alcohol is added during the brewing process. This addition of alcohol can create a lighter and more aromatic style, with a slightly drier taste.


Ginjo sake is made with highly polished rice, where at least 40% of the outer husk is removed. It undergoes a longer, slower fermentation process at lower temperatures. Ginjo sake is known for its fruity and floral aromas, delicate flavors, and clean, smooth finish.


Daiginjo is considered the highest grade of sake. It is made with rice that has been polished even more than Ginjo sake, with at least 50% or more of the outer husk removed. Daiginjo sake often exhibits complex and refined flavors, with a pronounced fragrance and a silky-smooth texture.


Nigori sake, also known as unfiltered or cloudy sake, is coarsely filtered or left unfiltered, resulting in a milky or cloudy appearance. It retains some sediment and rice particles, giving it a slightly creamy and sweeter taste. Nigori sake tends to have a fuller body and can be enjoyed chilled or on the rocks.


Futsushu is an entry-level, everyday sake that doesn’t fit into the specialized categories mentioned above. It is an affordable and versatile style, often characterized by a straightforward and easy-drinking flavor profile.

Apart from these main classifications, there are also various other specialties, regional variations, and limited-edition brews that showcase the creativity and craftsmanship of their producers.


In conclusion, sake is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. It holds a significant place in Japanese culture and cuisine. Its production involves steps such as rice polishing, steaming, koji production, yeast fermentation, pressing, pasteurization, and sometimes aging.

It can exhibit a wide range of flavors, including rice, fruity, floral, umami, and yeast-derived notes. It can vary in sweetness levels and has a light, smooth texture. Sake is classified into types such as Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, Daiginjo, Nigori, and Futsushu, each with its characteristics.

Exploring different types can provide a fascinating and enjoyable experience, allowing one to appreciate the craftsmanship and diversity within this revered Japanese beverage.