In order to experience the daily life of brewery, the next day early in the morning, we had our breakfasts in the staff’s cafeteria together. The meal was just really sumptuous; with unlimited cod roe, delicious steamed rice, and miso soup, giving everyone a full energy in the morning. Actually, the real purpose of waking up early was to visit the rice steaming processes. The hot steam and the smell of rice were flooded all over the storehouse.
Our photographer with deft hand captured the photo of Mr. Takeshi, tasting on the steamed Yamada Nishiki sake rice, with a serious expression on his face. I also tasted the sake rice and finally experienced the texture of Yamada Nishiki rice just exactly as 「Hard outside and tender inside」as the one that ever described in the book.
Later, Mr. Tanamaru led everyone to visit the biggest brewery in Hakkaisan, with the highest annual production and brewing common types of sake. There were about 66 sakabune (also called as sake press) in this Hirokazu storehouse, with the capacity over 3 tons per press, including half of each Tokubetsu Honjozo and Futsu-shu.
Mr. Tanamura also showed us several examples of sake rice with the large variety of polishing ratio, including the king of sake rice: Yamada Nishiki rice, the major sake rice produced in Niigata: Gohyakumangoku rice, ゆきの精和トドロキワセ with other less common types of sake rice, and getting a taste of the original Futsu-shu. Although it was the original one, the freshness and coolness of this sake really amazed everyone.
Besides Koji and Shubo room, when we visited the second Hirokazu storehouse, it was really a coincidence that we could see the sake mashing (shikomi) process: Brewers need to do continuous stirring in every step of shikomi to keep the liquid inside mixed together evenly.
This stirring really needs a lot of energy output. Besides, there is also a room for research and analysis inside the brewery, a place to observe the sake liquid in every brewing steps to ensure the consistency of sake quality produced.
Mr. Tanamura said that the Kasu-buai (the percentage of sake lees left over after pressing the sake mash compared to the weight of the original rice used; the higher the ratio, the better the sake) of this year produced Futsu-shu sake is about 38%.
Maybe you think there is nothing special with this percentage, but do you know? The average ratio of Futsu-shu sake all over Japan is just about 19.9%, while in Niigata Pref. is about 29.3%. This is really a good proof of how Hakkaisan Brewery insisted on every quality of sake produced!
Later after the visit around the brewery, we rode on the cable car to the top of a mountain to visit ski field and Hachikai Shrine. Its beautiful scenery made everyone feel both relaxed and delighted. At lunchtime, we went to Keyakien (which was built in the Meiji period) to enjoy the regional cuisine there.
This Keyakien is famous for its 1500-years-old beech tree in the garden. Although the food here is local foods, both every cuisine and the displays are very sophisticated and exquisite.
From the chopstick’s holder that was made from the branch of camellia flower until the handmade matcha, showed us their masterpieces.
Different kinds of delicious cuisines, handmade egg tofu, the smooth and silky sesame tofu, and also seaweed rolls with yam that tasted really fresh, really made me fall in love with it.
In the evening, Mr. Tanamura set aside some time to have a talk with us, also sharing the concept and future target of Hakkaisan Brewery. Under the big and heavy snowfall, we rode the Shinkansen back to Tokyo, waving our unwilling goodbyes to this beautiful place.
The next day, Mr. Sasagawa Shinsuke, who accompanied us back to Tokyo, brought us to Kabukiza Theatre which is located on the well-known Ginza Street. There were a handmade of 36 four buckets (about 72 L) of Hakkaisan Sake barrels tied up there, also called as Tsumidaru, standing dignifiedly on the front door of Kabukiza.
Tsumidaru appeared in Edo Period and were the decorative gifts for Kabuki. The events of 2018 early spring of 「The Spring Festival of Kabuki」and on February 「The Kabuki of February」, which were performed by the famous three generations of Korai-ya kabuki family, who first performed after 37 years. These Hakkaisan Sake barrels are just full of hearty wishes and sincere congrats as well!
If you are a big fan of Hakkaisan Sake and get a chance to visit Niigata, you should never miss this「Ginza Sennen Koujiya Shop」on the B2 level of Ginza Six! Not only there are lots of famous brands of sake in this store, but also the high-class 「Hirokazu Nakadori Junmai Daiginjo」and「Hirokazu Fukurodori Junmai Daiginjo」also can be found on the rack in this store.
Not only sold in bottles but also available in single cups. If you want to try these rare and limited-edition of high-class sake, don’t miss this one!
There are also lots of special local products that you can find in Niigata and the snow room (Yukimuro), and the one I really want to recommend is this Baum cake, with a slightly sweet fragrance, light and smooth texture in the mouth, especially the flavor of “Miso” just tastes really special. Don’t forget to buy one after tasting sake!
Finally, in these several days trip to Hakkaisan Brewery, I would like to thank these following people: Mr. Takeshi (The Prime Minister), Mr. Tanamura (The Section Manager), Mr. Sasagawa Shinsuke, Mrs.Miyagami Yuzi, Erica who is Taiwan’s representative, and all other staffs, for giving me these unforgettable and pleasant moment in this trip! ありがとうございます!