The right place to taste sake

yachiya-2764.jpgKaga-Tsuru by Yachiya Shuzo BreweryIf you are a big fan of sake, you are probably curious about the locations where alcohol is brewed! Sake is mostly brewed in Northern Japan, and of course in Hokuriku as well. About this region for example, Tateyama (which literally means standing mountain) brand sakes are well-known as Toyama’s, while Kokuryu (meaning black dragon) is popular as Fukui’s brand. But what about Ishikawa? Tengumai (meaning dance of the tengu) is quite popular, yet rankings are difficult to give. Everyone has their personal favorite, so it’s not easy to pick one as the best! Some people love a “dry” taste, while others prefer a mild flavor. Why don’t you visit Hokuriku for tasting different local sakes? You’ll find your preference for sure!

Mizu: Water

Clear water is indispensable for brewing good sake

Sake is basically formed from rice, rice malt, and water, with 80 percent of the contents being water. No wonder most breweries are founded in rural counties where natural clear water is in abundance. We have tons of “meltwater” from great alpine peaks all through the year, such as Tateyama Renpo and Mt. Hakusan. Thus Hokuriku has become one of the famous sake-brewing regions in all Japan. Breweries can pull plenty of good water from subterranean rivers for brewing, washing sake tools, and even for the brewers' bathing! Breweries are required to give public notice in advance of their water sources. Natural water in Japan generally doesn’t contain much iron and manganese, minerals which can ruin the taste of sake.

酒米 Saka-mai: Sake Rice

Special rice for brewing sake is distinguished from edible variants

Rice for making sake has two different uses: malting and steaming. For specially designated sake (see below), typically a particular grain called saka-mai is utilized, while general, non glutinous rice is used in making ordinary sake. As a result of searching for a refined sake, breweries started to polish rice grains to remove bran, cereal germ, and also endosperm.
Saka-mai is specially crossbred for brewing, and hence has a larger grain in order not to be smashed into smithereens from the polishing process. Though the Yamada Nishiki brand rice from Hyogo is well known as the ultimate saka-mai, recently local “micrograin” saka-mai from our region is also being utilized.


snow_office2.jpg気候 Kikoh: Climate

Breweries commence their operations just before winter arrives. Low temperatures are essential for fermentation.

Brewing sake is a sensitive job. The alcohol should be fermented at a low temperature. That’s why people in Northern Japan could start brewing in the first place. Besides it was a tradition that people such as farmers, who typically are free during the snowy season, would work as brewers. Being in the brewing business was somewhat risky in the past. A notorious bacterium could attack the entire brewery, completely ruining the alcohol. It took a several years to get rid of it, sometimes bankrupting the family in the meantime. Technology has developed systems to control any temperature nowadays, yet environment still plays a vital role in brewing.

A bit of trivia for selecting sake

< Ordinary sake >
• Futsu-shu (普通酒) [ mostly for hot sake ]
Made of rice, rice malt, water, sake kasu (lees, or residual yeast), and some other ingredients.
*Affordable sake usually drunk hot (typically referred to as atsukan).

< Special-designation sake >
Junmai-shu (純米酒) [ either for warm or chilled sake ]
Made of rice (mostly unpolished), rice malt, and water. Junmai-shu is historically the origin of sake.
Honjozo-shu (本醸造酒) [ either for hot, warm or chilled sake ]
Made of rice (polished under 70%), rice malt, water, and distilled alcohol (under 10%). Watered down to weaken alcoholic content before release.
Ginjo-shu (吟醸酒) [ mostly for chilled sake ]
Made of rice (polished under 60%), rice malt, water, and distilled alcohol (under 10%). Fermented slowly at low temperatures to obtain a “fruity” aroma, the so-called Ginjo-koh.
Dai-Ginjo-shu (大吟醸酒) [ mostly for chilled sake ]
Made of rice (polished under 50%), rice malt, water, and distilled alcohol. With its process, technique and taste, it’s considered to be the premium sake.
Junmai Ginjo-shu (純米吟醸酒) [ mostly for chilled sake ]
Made of rice (polished under 60%), rice malt, and water.
Junmai Dai-Ginjo-shu (純米大吟醸酒) [ mostly for chilled sake ]
Made of rice (polished under 50%), rice malt, and water – the premium Junmai.

< Nihonshu-do / Alcohol Proof > *Check the label!
Very Dry: over +6.0; Dry: from 5.9 to +3.5; Medium Dry: from -3.4 to - 1.5
Medium: from +1.4 to -1.4
Medium Sweet: from -1.5 to -3.4; Sweet: from -3.5 to -5.9; Very Sweet: under -6.0

Published: December 5, 2013