Sake Water – There Is No Drought In A Sake Bottle
April showers bring May flowers, but in California there have been no showers! The result is the Governor of CA has mandated a 25% decrease in water usage, which directly affects local sake makers, who A) use a lot of water in the production of sake and B) buy rice from farmers who require a lot of water to grow rice. What does this mean? I asked Mr. Shinichi Washino from Takara Sake USA (Sho Chiku Bai) how it affects his brewery and he replied, “Mainly, the price of rice is up, because the farmers have to save water 25% [more] than usual and less rice planting.” Basically they are not allowed to grow as much as usual and this directly increases the price of rice. Bummer!
But, there is no drought in Japan! Yipee! This is good news because sake breweries use a ton of water for making sake. Most breweries have one water source, which is usually pretty awesome well or spring water that is fantastic for making sake. What makes awesome brewing water? Any water that is very low in iron quantity.
Iron is a killer and makes for terrible brewing water. Historically the best water was found in Kobe (known for hard water), and Kyoto (known for soft water), but when you think of water in general for Japan keep in mind they have some of the softest water in the world. Both hard and soft are easy to brew with and the resulting sakes can taste very soft and “feminine” or more firm and “masculine”.
Some breweries have two water sources. They have “city” water for cleaning and washing all the equipment, and special well or spring water for brewing. And some breweries actually truck water to their breweries, because water is that important. One brewery in Yamagata prefecture is so blessed with water that they share it with all of their neighbors with a tap out on the street for public usage. Their special water is actually so good for brewing that they bottle and sell it on the market around Japan and in the US! Yes! The brewery is called Takenotsuyu and I am making their “Sake Water” my Beau-Zone sake of the month. (Check It Out) You can actually taste fantastic water, which is a lot of fun to do. I actually have been saving their water for 7 years in a row, and will do a vertical tasting when I next see the brewery owner. I’m so weird that I even warm sake brewery’s water to check out how it does in another temperature zone. Weirdo! I know.
If you are interested in exploring more about the watery side of sake here are five brews you should check out:
Takenotsuyu Hakurosuishu Junmai Daiginjo "Winter Water"
- Buy a bottle of "Sake Water" and then tast this wonderful Junmai Daiginjo made from exactly the same source.
Mizunoshirabe Ginjo "Sound Of Water"
- Try this fine Ginjo to taste the soft Kyoto water.
Kenbishi Kuromatsu Honjozo "Black Pine"
- Then compare that to the taste of sake made with hard Kobe water...
Taisetsu Junmai Ginjo "Garden of the Divine"
- This sake comes with a nice minerality in the brewing water.
Tsukinokatsura Yanagi Junmai Ginjo "Willow Tree"
- ...and finally, a sake to taste the ancient water of Kyoto!
And remember there may be a drought here in CA, but there is no drought in each bottle of sake, because when you look at a bottle keep in mind that 80% of the final product of sake is water! Yes Siree!