Sake Destinations – Akita Prefecture
I just returned from Akita Prefecture where I visited a bunch of breweries and consumed a lot of their sake. Tough life! Made all the more difficult because they make great sake way up their in northern Tohoku where it was still cold and snowing when I was there. I will write about some of the specific breweries in upcoming issues of the True Sake Newsletter, and check out the section within this issue called Sake Styles – The Theme of Akita Sake where I write about the actual flavor, style and theme of Akita sakes.
There are 39 actively producing sake breweries in Akita Prefecture, a prefecture that is #2 in the consumption of sake in all of Japan. I met with Shin Kodama, who is not only the owner of the brewery called Taiheizan, but also the President of the Akita Sake Brewers Association. He shared with me some of the history of Akita sake making and presented a prefecture that does not have a lot of sake brotherhood amongst the brewers. Shin-san did not say anything negative about the brewing community in Akita, but he alluded to the fact that the breweries didn’t do much together other than meeting up to three times per year. He was very proud of his fellow Akita sake makers as well he should be!
After visiting my first two breweries I could tell that there was a certain aura of non-brotherly love in Akita that I had not experienced in other prefectures. It appeared that the breweries kept to themselves and did not like to align themselves prefecturaly? I asked each owner of the breweries that I met what they thought about the Akita breweries as a group, a team, a support group, and they all mentioned the fragmentation within the industry. On the whole they said that there was no animosity within the group but several spoke about a group of breweries called the “Next 5” which is a group of 5 breweries who meet in secret and are attempting to brew sake for a new younger sake scene in Akita. They tend to be younger brewers, so perhaps there is a friction between the younger and the older more established breweries.
The vast majority of sake produced in Japan and all over the globe gets pasteurized in one form or another. Some breweries only pasteurize their sakes once, others use lower temperatures to heat their brews, and still others pasteurize at different times of storage all to achieve the flavor of the sake that they want to produce. Typically sake is pasteurized twice, and this does alter the flavor and feeling of a sake. We know why they do it, to preserve the sake and to keep it from altering or changing stability in the bottle, but it does change the brew.
I am not writing this to slam the sake industry in Akita. I am all about the betterment of sake everywhere. I don’t like negativity, but I could not help feeling a little tension in Akita so I asked a friend of mine in the sake industry in Japan who knows the entire Japanese sake scene very well to provide a little more insight. This person said the following:
- Akita is a very interesting place. There are some breweries that get along well with each other, but I have to admit Akita breweries are some of the grouchier of the lot.
- The Secret 5 breweries, I think they call themselves the “Next 5”, are a group of younger brewery owners (younger being somewhat relative, but I think they’re all under 40 who have banded together to create a new Akita sake scene.
- Not every-one agrees with their style choices, especially some of the older breweries, and I think being the newer kids on the block they are often seen as up starts. I figure it will all work out in the end.
Again, and on the whole I did not hear one brewery owner say anything negative about another brewery, but there was just an air of something that was unfamiliar to me. That said, each person who I met with and each brewery that I toured was incredibly open and friendly and positive about their brewery and products. And it was a tremendous pleasure putting a face to the makers of the sakes that I have been selling and imbibing in for over a decade!
Well where did I go? Thank you so much for asking! I was fortunate enough to visit the following breweries (in no particular order):
- Chokaisan – I brought back two versions of the Junmai Daiginjo that we sell at the store – A nama version that is sold throughout Japan, and a Nama Genshu version that is only sold locally to the community around the kura! I am thinking of having a tasting for the True Sake peeps to try all three versions. Would you be interested?
- Yuki no Bosha – I met the most amazing toji ever at YNB and I look forward to writing more about a guy who was so fascinating that I now have a completely new outlook on making sake.
- Kariho – At long last I now know what the heck is going on with this brewery which also owns Dewatsuru and the brand Yamato Shizuku They have three different exporters for each of their three lines. Very interesting!
- Taiheizan – This truly amazing brewery got its fermenting start by first making miso and soy sauce, which they still do to this day! This is a fermentation meca.
- Aramasa – I was very excited to meet the young owner Sato-san, who showed me the splendors of Association Yeast #6 in a brewery that is placed like no other.
- Takashimizu – This was my flyer brewery, because I knew very little about it and did not think their sake was available in the US, but alas it is under a different exporting name. And guess what? The store now carries a sake from this the largest brewery in Akita prefecture. (See The Beau-Zone Layer)
I will go into more depth about what I discovered at each brewery and will say that it was an excellent time learning so many new aspects of making sake. The owners and tojis who I spoke with and in some cases broke rice with were extremely kind and giving and I want you sake drinkers to know that Akita is great prefecture to visit and imbibe in. They are blessed with big snow and big water, and as we all know they make great sake!