Does anyone know why all the kashrut organizations (that I know of), require all sake (the Japanese alcohol) to have a hechscher? I would think that since junmai sake is required by law to contain only contain rice, yeast, water, and koji mold, it would be fairly safe (like beer).
In "Is Sake Kosher?", a 2009 article1, the OU, referring to (but unfortunately, not clearly citing) a responsum by R' Hershel Schachter, explains that one should not assume that uncertified sake is kosher for the following reasons:
Early in the sake-making process, rice is cooked. As cooking rice transforms it from an inedible product to one that is edible and can be served in dignified settings, that could render it bishul akum, and therefore, forbidden. As the rice is ultimately a primary ingredient in the sake, that could render the sake forbidden. In the case of beer, there is no intermediate product that is cooked and edible, as the sake rice is.
Sake may be processed or stored in equipment that is also used for non-kosher wine, which could make the sake, in turn, also forbidden.
1. Hat-tip to Danno for the link.
The reason that all kashrut organizations require sake companies to have hecshers is that they stand to receive monetary gain by expanding hecshers to new items when that item is already permissible. When it comes to reading the halachic works of kashrut organizations, one needs to know the rules for themselves, because the ps'aks released by kashrut organizations often leave out other important opinions that go against their policy. Another person gave an answer with a link to an article released by the OU, which cites two major concerns, bishul akum and use of different equipment for storage and or processing.
Already at the initial stage, when the rice is steamed, the rice is subject to the issur of bishul akum.
What they don't mention (but they are surely very aware of) is that according to the opinions of Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yitzchak Abadi that bishul akum does not apply to companies, because bishul akum is a gezirah to prevent intermarriage, which doesn't apply to a company that you have zero connection to.
Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi applies general principals and rulings to encourage one to navigate buying products to eat without need of supervision, and if indeed the two concerns are bishul akum, and "equipment," then according to Abadi, there is no issue with Sake. The only issue with sake would be drinking sake during Pesach as there is yeast used. According to him (and Rav Moshe Feinstein) Bishul Akum does not apply to packaged food. And last i checked you would be buying sake from a grocery store. Notice the following question, someone is questioning Abadi where he got his base for saying bishul akum does not apply to packaged foods, because this opinion is not made to be very well known.
Subject: bishul akum
Questioner: Do you have a recorded halachic source to base your heter for bishul akum on packaged goods or is it the opinion of R' Abadi based on his understanding of the halacha? (Just find it odd that no other Rabbi that I know of makes such a distinction.)
Reply: Igros Moshe CYA
Subject: bishul akum Message: Dear Rav:
Is there a bishul akum problem for Sephardim for any commercially canned or jarred veggies, beans, fruits, tomato sauces, pastes? Please explain why - either way. Thanks.
Reply: No problem. It is based on a p'sak from Rav Moshe, that bishul akum by a Palter (one who cooks/bakes foods to sell) is not applicable by a company. CYA
Regarding the risk of the wine being stored in containers that may be used for other wines. Again, there is no definitive prohibition happening. There would be concern if they were stored in uncleaned containers that had small amounts of actual wine in them that would mix with the sake, but if that happened, then the leftover wine would have to be listed in the ingredients. In my opinion, rice wine vinegar has the same "risk" of being stored in containers used for other wines, and they are okay per Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi.
Subject: Roland rice wine vinegar ok for pesach Message: Ingredients-Rice wine vinegar(reduced with water to 4.5%Acidity by volume )
THANKS ! Reply: yes for all CYA
If the concerns preventing sake from being kasher without supervision are bishul akum, and storage and or processing, then they aren't applicable according to my interpretation of the rulings of R Abadi. Thus: enjoy your sake.