Making sake with a gentle taste that makes people want to drink it again
A time-honored brewery that continues to change in line with the times.
Responding to contemporary demands. “Being obsessive in not being obsessive”. These are the ingredients that create our "sake people want to drink again". It has a gentle taste, goes well with food, and blends in with everyday life.
Midori Ward in Nagoya City, a place of historic sites that trace back to olden times and a heart-stirring old townscape
Formed by flatlands and gently sloping hills, Midori Ward in Nagoya City has a blessed natural environment with many parks and greenery including the Odaka Ryokuchi Greens. There are many historical sites reminiscent of the old days, such as the Okehazama battlefield, the ruins of Odaka Castle, and the historical sites related to the poet Matsuo Basho.
The Tokaido Highway in Arimatsu has an old townscape selected by the government as an "Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings”. You can’t help but feel the weight of history engraved into the appearance of the houses.
In Odaka Town, sake brewing began to flourish in the Edo era. Sake brewed in the area was also sent to Edo by barrel ship. Today, this is a very valuable area, where three sake breweries are clustered together within a five-minute walking distance from each other. In the Tokai region, there are only two such locations, here and in Hida Takayama.
As you walk along the path from the ruins of Odaka Castle, a stately doorway comes into view. Its appearance reflects its history. Kaminoi Brewery became independent from the original brewery and was established in 1856. It has been brewing sake for 167 years.
Its main building, which is still in use today, was built in 1856, and the storehouse in 1912. In 2012, it was designated as a registered regional building asset by Nagoya City, and its cultural value has been recognized.
Kaminoi Brewery has a long history, but the journey to this point has never been easy.
During World War II, sake brewing was strictly controlled by the Japanese government. Sake breweries all over Japan were facing tough times, and the Kaminoi Brewery was no exception, but it managed to keep its business going by running a store in Nayabashi, in the heart of Nagoya City.
Eventually, the war became more intense, and spurred on by domestic policies, the shop had to be closed down.
Although they managed to survive the war, they continued to suffer due to the authorities-imposed restrictions on where they could sell sake and how much they could sell. Nevertheless, sake brewing continued, and the long history of Kaminoi Brewery was preserved.
As Japan's economy regained its vitality, the country entered an era of mass production and mass consumption of sake. There was also a time when machines were used in almost all processes at the Kaminoi Brewery. Large quantities of packaged sake were made and delivered to liquor stores. That amount was 100 times the current brewing volume.
"Until around the beginning of the Heisei era, we used machines to mass-produce sake. But gradually, sales of packaged sake started to decline, and I thought that the time had come for 'quality over quantity'. We had to stop relying on machines to make sake," says the current president, Mr. Masahiko Hisano.
Mr. Hisano decided to take a major change in direction from mass production and has set a policy of "adopting handmade processes and focusing on quality", which has led to today's Kaminoi Brewery.
Kaminoi Brewery has been able to continue to weave its long history because of its flexible approach to sake brewing, accurately adapting to the changes in the times.
The motto of Kaminoi Brewery is "not to be obsessive".
"If we put too much emphasis on uniqueness, we end up with sake that people get tired of very quickly. Strong flavors and aromas are more flashy and impactful, but people quickly get tired of them. Instead, I would like to make sake with a "gentle taste" that customers will say, "I want to taste it again" and will continue to enjoy it for a long time. Gentle tastes complement food. That's why we don't produce sake that pierces people with uniqueness." Mr. Hisano said with confidence.
A taste unique to Odaka Town – A toji’s handiwork cultivated over many years
Kaminoi Brewery uses underground water from the well for sake brewing. The well is located at the foot of the ruins of Odaka Castle, which is famous for the "Tokugawa Ieyasu Hyoro-ire (A supply strategy for bringing army provisions into Odaka Castle)."
The rice used is Yamada Nishiki, Gohyakumangoku, and Miyama Nishiki, all of which have characteristics suited for sake brewing. Local sake is also brewed using "Yume Ginga," a rice produced in Aichi that is suitable for sake brewing.
The brewery also uses "Aichi no Kaori", a rice produced by a farmer in Odaka Town (Mr. Hisano's classmate), to create a locally brewed junmai-shu (sake made using only rice).
It's great to be able to enjoy sake that is only available in Odaka!
Mr. Kokichi Sugiura, the toji (master brewer), is the key person at Kaminoi Sake Brewery. He has a 31-year career devoted to sake brewing. Sugiura places great importance on handwork.
“Koji, which determines the flavor of sake, is a very delicate ingredient. Koji mold requires an appropriate environment. We always check the condition of the koji visually, touch it with our hands, and determine the appropriate operation (temperature, humidity control, etc.) at that point, which is done by hand. That produces higher quality sake than using machines," says Mr. Sugiura.
As he says, nothing beats the handiwork of a toji, who can sense the subtle changes in koji and make precise adjustments based on his years of experience, instead of a machine that automatically raises the temperature and dries the koji.
Having experienced an era of mass production using machines, the brewery realizes the importance and preciousness of handwork.
Sake that makes both brewers and customers smile
Kaminoi Brewery has grown by taking the changes of the times seriously, and is applying that flexibility to make better tasting sake. Recently, the brewery brought its moromi (liquid that turns into sake) to the Industrial Technology Center for component analysis. The brewery pursues "taste" by examining "what would happen if the brewing conditions were slightly changed" and "what factors would increase what components to make sake tastier".
"The best thing is to brew sake that we ourselves can enjoy before our customers and say, 'it's delicious’ with a big smile. We would also want our customers to smile like we do", said Mr. Hisano.
Sake that can make both Mr. Hisano and Mr. Sugiura, who have been working with sake for many years and have discerning palates, "smile" is surely the most delicious sake of all.