To discover the new fine breweries, we have traveled around Niigata in the previous SAKEMARU Japan Tour.
As I described about Niigata at the previous article, Niigata has the greatest number of breweries and sake consumption volume is the highest in Japan.
It means breweries in Niigata have to satisfy those people have developed sense of sake taste. The quality of their sake is averagely kept in high level.
In the same time, Niigata is struggling with the dry sake syndrome. From 1970 to 1990, during this period, it was the era for breweries in Niigata.
One of the famous editor featured Koshinokanbai, which is one of the most famous brewery in Japan, in the popular food magazine.
As soon as the magazine was published, People became crazy Koshinokanbai and it became super super rare sake.
The life style of Japanese was gradually westernized in the same time, so that their taste was shifting to dry type sake to pair with rich and oily western dishes. Following with the success of Koshinokanbai and the change of life style, the demand for Niigata’s dry type sake had skyrocketed.
However, “all that prospers must decline” is the way of the world.
When it turned to be 2000s, needs of consumers were diversified and the rich and sweet type sake brewed in other prefecture started to be featured in lots of media. So, the bloom of dry sake was finished here.
However, lots of breweries couldn’t change the way of brewing and its philosophy. Lots of breweries disappeared up to the present time. This is the dry sake syndrome.
To view this incident from the opposite side, the breweries still alive in this severe sake war should produce the high quality sake worth to survive.
Moreover, they have birthed their original sake to differentiate themselves from the others, so that there are lots of unique breweries in Niigata.
Introduction has become quite long, but I would like to step into the story of our journey.
We firstly visited Koshinohana Shuzo located in Niigata city.
Koshinohana is a 144 years-old brewery loved by local people. They have been inheriting a word “Each sake has own character, when brewers put their sprits in brewing”. They stick with handmade classic production process with using local high quality water.
Also, their specialty is the quality of rice. They use basically 4 types of rice such as “Yamadanishiki” “Gohyakumangoku” “Kamenoo” “Koshiibuki”. Skilled brewers create very unique sake by extracting the character of each different rice.
The unique part of this brewery is the yeast they are growing by themselves. With repeating try and error for a decade, they finally succeeded to produce the satisfactory yeast.
One episode the owner told us with related to self-growing yeast was so interesting. One famous brewery had been opened to welcome visitors, however they quitted several years before.
The reason was like this. Other brewery’s spy was mixed in visitors and he stole an examiner of yeast and brought back to his brewery.
After a few years, some people recognized the taste became very close to that brewery’s one and it was brought to light.
I have learnt the importance of yeast in sake brewing.
Matsunoi is blessed with best environment to brew sake with the super pure water sprang from red pine trees, high quality rice field and climate. They also stick with handmade brewing process. Especially for Ginjo type sake, they use cotton bags to press, which takes longer time and more cost but better for sake. They have tons of data about brewing, and generate close quality of sake with partially using machine.
However, the nature is changing every year, every month, everyday. Matsunoi’s brewers believe brewers only living in that nature can fill the last piece of sake brewing.
We luckily could taste the difference between sake pressed by the weight from sake bag stocked and sake pressed drop by drop with just only hanging.
Both of them are taken from the same sake tank but the taste was totally different!!!
Latter sake was far smoother and cleaner than the former sake.
In the end of tour, brewery owner gave us try the traditional Japanese pickles made with Daiginjo sake cakes. The taste was totally beyond the description… As soon as I bited this pickle, the elegant aroma influenced by Daiginjo stimulated my nasal cavity directly. It was just amazing!
You never going to have this great experience unless you come to the brewery.
Tahara Shuzo is very rare brewery sticking with the all hand-made brewing process. Usually, breweries use machines for low-grade sake, however this brewery never uses machines. They have been keeping this classic style from 1897.
Especially their KOJI room is super unique. The wall of room is very thick like 20 cm and hollow. Tons of rice grain put in the hollow and cover entire KOJI room. This is the very very traditional KOJI room from the time there were not enough electricity. Normally KOJI room is heated by the electric wires put around the wall, however gas stove is used to heat the room in this brewery.
Rice grain retains heat very well and drain the unnecessary moisture. Even in the very cold winter, the room temperature goes up instantly with just setting fire for a few munities.
We also could get the chance to try their very very naked sake without any process after pressing. The taste and texture was very unique, it was difficult to say “delicious”, though. We highly appreciate to the brewers let us try the sake in the middle of trial and error process.
In the end, I really appreciate all the brewery to take their time to guide in the very busy brewery season.
I have already visited lots of breweries but I can stop visiting breweries, since each brewery has their own uniqueness and philosophy and it makes each of them differentiated.
Most of breweries use similar tools and the materials are very simple, rice and water and yeast. Therefore, they look very similar but you will understand the gaps of each brewery when we look into the detail in the brewery.
Brewery tour is a very great experience for the sake lovers.
You can drink sake only brewers can drink.
The local food makes us super happy.
Hot springs take us to the heaven.
You should try brewery tour once in Japan.
SAKEMARU will help your tour too!