Hi there -
Gil, the Hippy Dippy SF Sakeman here. At Nombe, in addition to being the general manager, I am your humble guide through the beautiful world of sake. In February, after taking and passing the second level sake professional's course in Tokyo, I had the privilege of traveling around Japan to visit many of the breweries whose products I offer at Nombe. From today forward, I will be providing brief snapshots of these visits and exploits every Friday and Tuesday. To those hearty souls who make it all the way through my stream of conscious remembrances, there will be clue words for secret specials at Nombe!
Today I want to highlight Akita-ken and my visit to Saiyo Brewery, the makers of the Yuki no Bosha and Saiyo brands.
My day started with a four hour ride from Tokyo to Akita city, followed by an hour-long ride on a small two
car train to the site of the brewery. Saiyo is comparatively younger than most Japanese sake breweries, having begun in 1904. Saitoh-san, the president of the company and my host for the day, is the third president of the brewery, following his father and grandfather.
As was the case at every brewery I visited in February, new batches of rice were being added to moromi at various stages of the three-stage-brewing process, so I got to observe each kura's different rice washing and steaming methods. Just as at a much smaller brewery, the time rice was absorbing water was measured to the second by a stopwatch, with several kurabito counting off the remaining seconds before rice was to be removed from the water, washed thoroughly, then set aside to dry before being added to a msah for moto-creation or for adding into an existing moromi.
Next stop was the koji-mura, which I was most privileged to view during brewing season. Here Saito-san, who studied at Tokyo Agricultural University (think Davis meets Harvard for people in the science of food), began to articulate the subtle items that make his brewery unique in melding tradition with state-of-the-art sake making techniques. His koji is maintained on trays in these boxes that measure out the precise amount of koji to be added, in ratio, to the other moto or tsubo ingredients. Additional machinery measures temperature and absorption rates for each individual tray upon transfer to a different container, from which the koji can be dumped and siphoned out to the next station to begin fermentation into a moto (starter). Yet these high-tech innovations are house in a room made with a local wood that, in essence, breathes without releasing moisture, allowing the room to remain naturallly cooler than most koji-mura.
As would later be explained to me more in detail by Takahashi-san, the brewery's Toji for nearly forty years, the artistry of Yuki no Bosha is enabled by the kobo, or yeast, that they have cultivated within their brewery. This is their own proprietary yeast, not delineated from any existing kyokai (brewer's association) yeast strain. It helps to give all of their sakes, from the local Saiyo brand to the Yuki no Bosha label, that distinct, crisp finish and anise-like lilting flavor.
Mount Chyono is the grand mountain of Akita's range, and it can be viewed in all its glory from the ridge that sits atop Saiyo Brewery, not only the site of Saito-san's brewery, but where he and his parents once lived as well. This is the essence of life in the cold North of Honshu: snow lined rodes under white-capped mountains, minutes from the cold Korean Sea, with six to eight months of hearty eating and sake-making. You might understand why they call their award-winning sake Yuki no Bosha, "The Cabin in the Snow."
Gil, your Hippy Dippy SF Sakeman
(P.S. - If you visit Nombe and say, "Iwanabi Udon" to your server on May 26th or 27th, you'll get 20% off Yuki no Bosha Junmai Ginjo by the glass or Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori by the bottle!)