From the sea comes fish, from the air comes foul, from the mountains come natural mineral water and wild vegetables, and from the earth comes live stock and fresh produce. I have grown to love this balance when looking at Japanese food and sake. The Japanese place a lot of emphasis on natural balance and order, which can be reflected in not only its cuisines, but also its national drink called nihonshu.
(N.B. As we go along I may use the words sake /nihonshu interchangeably).
In this four part series I will be introducing some great sake along with the mineral water that made each of them. We'll start from Akita and work our way down to West Japan. I'm going to show you the sake and the water that was used to make each sake and how that translates into to the actual sake brewing process itself. There's a plethora of information on the web highlighting the three basic ingredients of a sake, that being rice / rice mash, water, and koji mold, and then there's the brewer and his art that bring these three elements together. It could be said that the brew master too is another important ingredient...?
The sake of choice tonight is called Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo. Junmai meaning no added alcohol, only rice, water and koji. Daiginjo meaning super premium sake made with rice milled down to 50% or less its original size, in other words, the Seimai Buai, which is the number that indicates the percentage of rice remaining after milling, NOT the amount that has been milled away will be a good indicator of the quality of the sake. The rice type used on tonight's featured sake is called Miyama Nishiki 100% and it hails from the northern part of Japan, namely six different prefectures: Nagano, Yamagata, Fukushima, Akita, Iwate, and Miyagi. The alcohol content is 15.5% and the sake meter value is plus +1, the higher this number goes up the drier the nihonshu. The acidity is 1.4.
Chokaisan is a mountainous region in Akita Prefecture, which is known for its delicious natural spring water, and home to a very old sake brewery called Tenju Shuzo. This is also one of the oldest and most venerated sake breweries in the world.
So without further ado let me introduce the water first that was used to make tonight's nihonshu.
It's called Chokaisan Natural Water and it's a soft water that's bottled at the source. Potassium is 0.82mg, sodium is 1.9mg, calcium is 0.44mg, and magnesium is 0.22mg...pH is 6.2. Basically, soft water is more compatible for making good sake whereas hard water has too much mineral content, namely calcium and magnesium. Less of these ions and minerals the better it is for sake brewing. But this is not the generally standard for all breweries, like in the case of Juyondai of Yamagata Prefecture which uses a harder natural mineral water. What this does to the sake is give it more of a deeper amber(ish) color, and adds a little to the graininess and overall texture of the sake - it's really sexy. Drinking this water straight from the bottle after a long walk was refreshing. I could taste the subtle balance of minerals in every mouthful. One of my favorites.
And here's the sake that won the 2008 gold medal at the International Sake Challenge and silver at the 2009 Sake Challenge. Chokaisan!
( Natural energy as mentioned in the Celestine Prophesy)
Many people have commented on this sake saying things like: "A unique yeast created from flowers infuses this sake with fragrances of perfumed pear and fresh flowers. Matchless in its balance, it pairs perfectly with oysters, oil rich foods, nutty grains, cheeses and milky sauces. It can also be enjoyed alone or as an aperitif. Founded in 1874, Tenju Shuzo is a tightly knit, family-owned brewery enjoying its sixth generation of sake production. To ensure the quality of their product, the brew masters at Tenju use only naturally-filtered soft water from nearby Mt. Chokai and rice grown by exclusively commissioned local farmers." -Importer.
I can confirm that it tastes exactly like that. Flowers, flowers, and more flowers. Clean and refreshing, dynamic and bold and with a beautiful pear nose. So, there you have it, the perfect marriage between water and sake.
Now let's head down to West Japan.