An hour by bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka, Shizuoka is a prefecture rich in history and famous for its arts and crafts, often depicting world famous sacred Mt Fuji, and other local scenery. (For more information about the traditional painting style Ukiyo-e, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukiyo-e.)
Due to the picturesque nature of the area, Shizuoka has been a traditional arts hub and retirement destination since the 17th century, as generals and Edo-era founders were accompanied by traditional artisans when they retired from the capital, Edo. Moreover Shizuoka has developed their own food culture based on the excellent fishing and is famous for its green tea and orange production. Thus Shizuoka attracts both domestic and international visitors.
Eikun means a good/admired general, a reference to the frequent visits to Yui by the last shogun (Yoshinobu Tokugawa) on his retirement to Shizuoka. Tokugawa often visited Yui where Eikun sake brewery was founded in 1881. He was recognized as good, admired political leader and Eikun sake brewery was named after him.Eikun sake brewery is focusing on production of high quality sake such as Junmai and Ginjo (Junmai Ginjo and Junmai Dai Ginjo) category which accounts for 90% of their production.
Sake Experience Japan recently interviewed Eikun Sake Brewery President Mr Mochizuki and all of the Eikun brewers about their philsosophy and production method.
The Eikun Brewery’s water source is underground Sakuranozawa River, 3km west of the brewery. The spring water is collected and piped to the purification facility. Through gravel filtering, iron oxide and other potential impurities are removed.
Eikun uses a trusted suppliers and purchases the varieties of rice (Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku, Bizen-Omachi, Aiyama and a local sake specific rice called Homarefuji) purchased from trusted suppliers according to their need of rice polish ratio, rank and quality. Nevertheless, moisture content is always checked before accepting a consignment(see video)..
Eikun has three major characteristics of their production process: washing, steaming and temperature control.
#1 Meticulous washing
First of all, the brewers divide 30kg of sake specific rice into 6 bags of 5kg because washing several small volumes is more effective than washing one large amount. Each 5kg of rice flows through a pipe of aerated water and the rice is washed by the bubbles. It is collected in a container and the process is repeated before being moved to a specific washing machine developed in Shizuoka prefecture. The rice is washed for one minute with 200L of water.
Even though the means of polishing is now sophisticated, a grain of rice might may be scratched during the polishing process. Rice bran can cling to this scratch and create unpleasant flavors in the finished product. That is why this unusually exceptional washing process is undertaken by Eikun: for the purity of the final sake. See video: washing
The steaming process is a deciding factor in the quality of the koji ,which itself is considered the most important aspect of sake production. Of all the koji varieties,the Eikun Toji (brewmaster) prefers to use Tsukihaze koji because of its value in producing premium, such as Ginjo style, sake with subtle flavors. Tuskihaze koji requires a soft-centered rice grain to insert hyphae, so Eikun steams rice in such a way that the outside remains hard but the center is soft. This is extremely difficult to achieve, and requires “steaming” the rice for 50 minutes with 102℃ air. Rice can absorb water if the steam is below 100℃but at a higher-than-boiling temperature, the rice ceases absorption. Instead, the water already inside the rice boils, softening the grains. Then, for an additional 10 minutes, the rice is “dry-steamed” at 106℃ under high pressure, prompting the outside of the rice grains to dry out and harden.Throughout this delicate process, the brewers check that each layer of rice is aired properly(See video)
Eikun uses a round, rather than square, box for cultivating koji (see video), to maintain a uniformity of temperature during propagation.
Additionally, Eikun uses a closely-guarded secret method to boost the propagation of the Tsukihaze koji on the rice. Since Eikun pursue the taste of purity and also with a hint of umami flavor, a little bit more spot of koji fungus is ideal. Koji fungus is made from protein, it gives more umami finally. Additionally, koji with koji fungus on the surface (Sohaze koji type) creates more α-amylase which brings maltose at the end which gives more round and elegance to sake.(see Types of Koji)
Unfortunately for the brewers, like many Shizuoka breweries, Eikun uses the very difficult Shizuoka-yeast due to its release of very sophisticated flavors, brining clear differentiation from breweries outside Shizuoka.Thanks to all hard work and the usage of this yeast, Eikun’s sake is surprisingly pure with elegant aromas. It is not too overpowering, and the mix of the smoothly spreading delicate aroma and subtle umami creates an artisanal sake.Eikun’s sake won the Governor’s Award of Shizuoka and the National New Sake Appraising and Deliberating Fair gold medal in 2016 showing that their meticulous work has been supported by their results.It is easy to predict that they will continue their excellent performance in 2017.