Koji rice making
In a quiet room, men walk around slowly, shaking containers. Some may think this is some kind of religious ceremony or may find these movements humorous. In fact, these men are engaged in a rice malt-making process in which they sprinkle koji mold over steamed rice so that rice malt can develop.
The space where this hands-on process takes place is quite modern. The walls used to be Japanese cedar wood, which adapts to humidity on its own, but now stainless steel is used to ensure strict management of temperature and humidity, and to eliminate all risk of bacterial contamination.
Another characteristic unique to Dassai is that while many sake producers prepare for crafting only once a year, we craft Dassai 365 days a year. Air-conditioning is critical to this year-round approach because its a way to standardize air quality across all four seasons. To go year-round, a koji room was needed.
Inside our koji room, computers control conditions digitally while staff engage in analog actions. The contrast between the two worlds leaves a powerful impression. Workers sprinkle the koji mold, ideally attaching two or three spores of koji mold to each grain of rice. It consists in dispersing koji mold into the air and allowing it to settle onto the grains slowly and evenly.
Koji mold permeates the shinpaku, an opaque core of starch at the center of the rice grain. When koji mold enters the shinpaku, high-quality koji rice (rice malt) is developed. It has been said that making koji rice is the most important step in the sake making processes. While everyone agrees koji rice making is most important, there's no doubt that to make high quality koji rice, preliminary steps are extremely important. For instance, rice with shinpaku can readily absorb the koji mold and for that reason we pay careful attention to selecting the very best Yamada Nishiki rice, which typically has well-shaped shinpaku. Prior to making koji rice, we strictly control water content of the rice during hand washing so the koji mold is able to permeate deeply into the shinpaku.
Now begins three days of "caring" for the rice that has been sprinkled with koji mold. Once koji mold becomes active, it generates heat, which must be controlled by workers who manage both temperature and humidity. In a sense, it's like caring for a baby, when even a moment of inattention cannot be spared. The workers become sensitive to smell and sometimes taste the rice to check the condition of the koji mold. Meanwhile, samples are taken to the laboratory to be inspected scientifically. there, computers measure precisely how effectively the koji rice is suppling glucose to yeast.
Sake making for us is a transparent process. This is because every step has been planned and rationalized to accomplish the goal of making great sake. For a process that yields higher quality results when performed by hand, the work is done manually. on the other hand, when a process is more suited to a machine or computer, they use those.
Next comes a verification process. Information gained from workers and data collected digitally and analyzed by computers are thoroughly examined. there are no ambiguous elements that might be considered "secret" or "proprietary", and every step is explained and documented in writing.
The goal is not to handcraft sake but to make it great. The pure and clear flavor of Dassai is created from modern methodology and sharp thinking.