Shizuoka Prefecture, home to famous Mt Fuji, is less than 90 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train and is rich in beautiful landscapes. Thanks to abundant pure water, Shizuoka has 28 sake breweries. Most of these use “Shiizuoka yeast” for their Ginjo style sake, which is burdensome for brewers to produce, yet is worth it for its clear, elegant aroma and surprising purity of taste. This attracts a lot of consumers and as a result, some of the breweries are famous nationwide. For this reason, Shizuoka is known as the “Ginjo Kingdom”.Sake Experience Japan interviewed Shidaizumi sake brewery president, Mr Mochiduki.
Shidaizumi sake brewery was founded in 1882. The name alludes to the local Shida region, but is also a meaningful pun: Shi (motive) Da (strong) Izumi (spring [of water]) implies the meaning “As a sake brewery in the Shida area, we have strong motive to make sake as pure as water gushing from a spring”.
Shidaizumi Sake Brewery uses the underground water running from Seto river in the Japanese South Alps mountain range. When pulled up from underground, this plentiful mid-soft water is used without need for any filtration.
Shidaizumi Sake Brewery uses a wide variety of rice, such as Yamadanishiki, Gohyakumangoku and local varieties of Homarefuji and Aikoku (one of the three “legendary” rice varieties).Shidaizumi sake production is differentiated by the focus on koji, Shizuoka yeast and appealing to the five senses.
Normally koji production takes 48 hours, but Shidaizumi Sake Brewery takes approximately 54 hours, including an unheard-of “untouched period”.When they finish steaming rice at 5:30am,the brewers release the heat and bring the rice to the koji room at 6am and leave it untouched after tanekiri,sprinkling koji fungus on the steamed rice.Normally after tanekiri, all steamed rice is wrapped by blankets to maintain a stable temperature for prompting koji propagation. However Shidaizumi Sake Brewery does not wrap the steamed rice immediately, and instead leaves it for 3-3.5 hours without any blankets: they believe that releasing water (inevitably added when the rice is steamed) doesn’t spoil the flavor. They understand that this procedure enables the koji to bring a clear and clean taste without dulling the aftertaste.
Toji at Shidaizumi Sake Brewery explained that “this stagnant humidity created by the blankets could be the source of the unique off-flavor.”To remove this humidity thoroughly for the first stage of koji making process is the reason to bring this purity in the aroma.At 11am, they wrap koji rice as usual and leave it overnight. Normally in this period, brewers need to mix the rice to promote dry koji (“kirikaeshi”), but for quality management, Shidaizumi skips “kirikaeshi” because it has dehumidified the rice earlier in the process by leaving it unwrapped for several hours.At 4am the next day, the brewers conduct “mori”, moving the koji-covered rice into boxes and retaining the moisture as much as possible to ensure the koji can continue to propagate. When the koji is completed, there is more propagated koji than is standard in Shizuoka, as well as the commoner one-spotted tsukihaze koji. This brings mellowness in the taste.
Mr. Mochiduki told us that they pursue a taste of clarity and purity on the palate with mellowness in the mouth even among those who are not familiar with sake.
To gain the ideal sharpness and clearness in the aftertaste, some breweries increase the acidity but Shidaizumi actively uses Shizuoka yeast which creates the desired effect without the acidity.Even though they use a thermal tank, controlling the temperature of moromi is a nerve-wracking process because it is affected by the temperature outside. It is an extremely sensitive process : yeast death during fermentation (at cooler temperatures) releases amino acid which gives richer flavors but reduces purity. On the other hand, a higher temperature reduces the desirable Ginjo aroma. By avoiding rapid temperature change and meticulously controlling lower temperatures (an inactive environment for yeast), the brewers gain the ideal characteristics.
The serious face of the toji when he checks the quality of rice after soaking is very impressive. After he confirms the quality of rice several times, he orders the brewers to adjust the soaking period down to the second in order to gain the ideal quality. Even though this is a routine task, the toji sincere attitude is remarkable.They refer to this approach as “kaiire” (using the senses).As part of this process, they check how soft the rice becomes. Instead of being data-driven, such as by timing the process with a stopwatch they can understand how much rice is dissolving in moromi by how hard or soft it is. If the rice is melted or dissolved more than expected, the sake acquires a richer than ideal taste. The president Mr. Mochiduki told us that they take good care in every single tank by looking at the condition of the rice in moromi.It tells how much they take advantage of their senses to pursue the ideal taste.
Mr Mochiduki said that Shidaizumi has been making sake with the current toji for 8 years, but he would like to work together for next two or three decades. This shows the close working relationship between president and toji. They must make more and more pure and clear sake “as if water gushes from a spring”.