Shizuoka prefecture, approximately 150km west of Tokyo, is famous for being the home of Japan’s highest mountain, Mt Fuji. Despite the relatively warmer climate not being ideal for sake production, Shizuoka is also home to 28 sake breweries. These include some well-known sake breweries and Shizuoka enjoys the nickname “Ginjo kingdom”.
Sugii Sake Brewery was founded at Fujieda, Shizuoka, in 1842, where Josenji (“always [water] spring”) temple once stood, and the brewery’s founder used the springwater for sake production. Now Sugii uses water from the Ainodake source in the Japanese South Alps. This water, which runs around 20 – 30m underground, is technically soft, but is still harder than the water used by neighboring famous sake breweries Aoshima and Shidaizumi, requiring a smoother fermentation process.
Mr. Sugii believes that the outcome of sake production is partly due to the human technique, and partly by the power of nature (the bacterial component). He therefore carefully considers how much Sugii intervenes with the natural aspect of sake production: he thinks that it is important not to interfere with the natural processes of traditional sake production, because they bring a rich, deep complexity of taste. He has critically examined the general taste of sake and identified four characteristics which have declined with the increased human aspects of modern sake production.
#1. Acidity & Sweetness
Generally speaking, the acidity of current sake is 1.3-1.6cc/10cc and the sugar content is around 2-3%. Mr Sugii believes that this is too sweet to serve with food, especially compared with wine. In the late 19th century, the average acidity level was 3-4cc, up to three times what it is now. He believes that more acidic sake goes well with meat and oily cuisine, so he tries to produce sake with higher acidity and a lower sugar content.
#2.Loss of complexity
Originally all sake required a procedure to grow natural lactic acid bacteria. Sake using this procedure now are known as “Yamahai-moto”, “Ki-moto” or “Bodai-moto”. Nowadays, though, it is common to add artificial lactic acid in the starter (eg “Sokujo-moto”), losing the traditional complexity and depth.(This modern method is, however, suitable for Ginjo class sake, which does not always need complexity.) In fact, sometimes Yamahai-moto and Ki-moto products are not refined, but have more of a rustic complexity with higher acidity. Thus 85% of Sugii sake is made with “Ki-moto”, “Yamahai-moto” or “Bodai-moto”.
Mr. Sugii believes that higher polish ratio is not always needed for higher quality sake. Rice with a lower polish ratio (ie a larger part of the rice grain rice remains) is not suitable for Ginjo style, but it can bring unique flavors, which provide an additional valuable aspect of that sake. Sugii uses rice with an unusually high polish ratio to produce a Junmai sake, “Yasohachi” (which means 88, the polish ratio used). It has strong complexity, wildness and deepness in flavors.
Like Ginjo, most of sake now aims to be fresh, so there is less care for aging. However some sake bring more umami and increases in value after aging. Traditionally aged sake have been more evaluated than fresh sake. Aging sake, especially using “Yamahai-moto” or “Ki-moto”, can acquire more roundness and depth: some of these produced by Sugii are even kept at room temperature to accelerate natural aging.