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Sake Destinations – Takashimizu Or “Mizu Shoi” of Akita Prefecture

Akita Destination May 2014 1On my recent trip to Akita Prefecture in Japan I had planned on visiting a brewery that I have always wanted to visit, but at the last minute they canceled on me! On me! NOBODY cancels on me! Just joking, I was trying to sound like a real diva there. Did it work? In any case I was pretty bummed, which is selfish thinking especially when I found out that there was a death in the family at the brewery. Yup I felt like a schmuck for projecting that they had dissed me. Bad me!

That said every rainy day has a silver lining? Or something like that right? My silver lining came in the form of another brewery. We requested a last minute visit and the Takashimizu brewery said “Absolutely” and I am now forever indebted to them and their wonderful team.

Everything happens for a reason so said a famous French philosopher who drank nothing but sake. (Part of that last statement is true) I was totally meant to visit the largest brewery in Akita Prefecture by hook or by crook. And in retrospect I am so glad that I did. Because not only did I know a relative of their sake family – hello Natsuki – but I also could sell their sake in the states when I had absolutely no idea that they exported. Does this sound like a win win situation brewing here?

Akita Destination May 2014 2Takashimizu began after the war when 13 breweries joined forces to form one brewery. They made great sake and soon became the top producer in Akita Prefecture. One of the 13 breweries was actually Aramasa, which I also visited, and would later find out became angry when they lost their toji in the process.

Today Takashimizu has two production facilities, one for their premium sakes and one for their more affordable brews. I did not know this and felt embarrassed when the President Junichi Hirakawa asked if I had time to go to their other facility? Huh? I actually didn’t have time, but I would very much like to one day! So we then spent several hours walking through their very clean and large kura. Their shubo or yeast starter room was one of the largest that I had ever seen, but it was so clean and cool. I still felt like I was in a jizake or small micro-brewery despite seeing rows and rows of shubo tanks.

In the shubo room the Junichi-san allowed me to taste active yeast starters of different ages. This was very cool and they served them to me in a small little plastic cup with a little ice cream spoon! Hello new sake sherbet flavor. The difference in ages was so radical in the difference of flavor – of course! But it was far more impressive to taste then rather than see the size of the bubbles for example. The shubo room was also all done out in this off green yellow which was a first for me of all of the breweries that I have ever visited.

Akita Destination May 2014 3We then made our way to the moromi tank floor, which also looked like a major production place. Again, it was so clean and professional and whilst there several kurabito came out on the floor with very large paddles (over ten feet) and started mixing the moromi with up and down poll movements that look like a cross better a punter on an Italian gondola in Venice and a shuffle board player. As most brewers do on tours such as this they try to impart upon you how dangerous making sake can be when you speak about zero oxygen. The number one killer in this industry is falling into a brewing vat of sake. It happens. It’s terrible. But you don’t have to fall into a tank to lose your balance by passing out. As such there is a monitor machine that shows you oxygen levels and whenever you put it over the mouth of a tank the needle drops to zero! Meaning it’s as dangerous outside the tank in most cases as it is inside. The oxygen monitor is a good tour trick!

After the tour Junichi-san took me to their on site museum and tasting celebration room. I love breweries that take pride in the past and retain ancient sake making items for display. I could spend hours looking at old whisks and paddles and tanks etc. I love it! Their collection was very good and I saw items that I had never seen before. Then it was tasting time on an old press – fune – that they had turned into a bar! How cool is that. Soon several of their wares made it in front of me and the rest is sheer bliss!

We started the tour with a card exchange and meet and greet in their boardroom. I love doing this because I get to ask questions about the brewery and the brewing industry. President Hirakawa was really really intrigued with my line of questioning and he made a very serious effort to answer my weird and prying questions. But one question would haunt him and I am grateful for that. I asked him what was the “Theme” of his sake at Takashimizu? He answered it on several levels, but only later he would nail it. So much later that it came in the form of a HUGE care package that they sent right to my store from their brewery. No way! Yes – way!

Akita Destination May 2014 4When I got home there was a large box waiting for me and in that box were masu, cups, glasses, totes, maikake, little bottles of sake, a large bottle of sake, and a competition –wholly molly- bottle of sake all from the brewery with Takashimizu written over all. But also in the box was what proved to be my favorite item in this amazing gift package. In the bottom of the box was a letter from Junichi-san. In this letter he thanked me for coming but more importantly he tried to re-define his answer about the “Theme” of Takashimizu sake. I love that guy!!!!

Herewith is the letter in his own words:

Dear Beau-san,

I hope this letter finds you well. Thank you for visiting all the way to our brewery the other day. It was really fantastic opportunity to show our brewery to you who has outstanding distinguished knowledge and great passion toward sake. We very much appreciate you giving such a wonderful opportunity to us! Hiroko and Miho also had a great time and were deeply impressed with your personality.

Toji was also eager to see you and talk with you about sake! I feel disappointed that I could not introduce him to you in this time as there would be something in common with you and him in terms of passion and sense toward sake. Someday, if you have a chance to visit Akita again, I would like to introduce another brewery. In order to provide high quality sake for more people all over the world hereafter, we keep putting as much effort into our sake brewing continuously.

Please receive our brewery goods and some sake. Inaniwa Udon which is one of Akita’s local famous products is also packed up and I hope you enjoy it with sake.

Regarding my theme toward sake, although challenging to brew ultimate quality is certainly one of themes that I aim, at the same time I also aim to make more people happy and satisfied by supplying high quality true sake with with the reasonable prices.

Generally, people, product and money are pointed out as three major elements of business; however, in my opinion, since everything stems from people, they should be people, people, people.

Also in brewing sake, the state of maturing humanly directly has an influence to the sake’s quality. Without great teamwork and human nature, I believe we cannot brew sophisticated authentic sake. Therefore, it is our pleasure if we can supply our sake which is reflected not only the skills of the brewery but also our spirits, passion, and stories.

Brewing sake is always facing microbe and nature which are unpredictable and enormous. The thing we never forget is that not to try to control them by human power, but to coexist with them with feeling and awe. As a result, great sake is brewed. Keeping this policy always in our mind, we continuously commit ourselves to brewing fine sake hereafter.

Again, thank you for giving such a wonderful opportunity to us. We are hoping to see you again in the near future!

Best Regards,

Junichi Hirakawa
Akita Shurui Seizoh Co. Ltd

How awesome was that? What a cool take on making sake the Akita way! I love this letter and it will go into my sake hall of fame! I know Hirakawa-san and Natsuki are reading this article and I want to thank Takashimizu so much for being awesome people, who make awesome sake. I am a huge fan now and will do my part in teaching people like my customers how tasty Akita Prefecture sake can be, and I look forward to sharing his “Theme” of their sake. Takashimizu you rock!!!
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