Committed to the Land and its Sake.
Organic sake brewing championed by a long-established brewery in Kanazawa, the food capital of Japan
Nakamura Shuzo is one of the few organic breweries in Japan that is committed to brewing sake from a sustainable perspective. Behind this is a deep love of their hometown and a strong will to preserve and nurture Japan's food culture.
Kanazawa, an old city rich in nature and traditional food culture
Sake brewing at this long-established brewery, which was founded in the Bunsei Era, began when Eisuke Nakamura 1st married the daughter of a wealthy Kanazawa merchant from the Takakuwa family who ran a sake brewing business. Kanazawa, nurtured by its rich nature and history, has long formed a diverse food culture. The Nakamura family was grateful for the blessing of rice, the principal staple food of the Japanese people, and they strove to brew sake based on their belief in preserving and nurturing the local food culture through brewing.
Nakamura Sake Brewery goes by the name "Nichiei," which means "sake averts misfortune and brings luck, happiness, and prosperity" Originally, the brewery was located in a castle town lined with samurai residences, but in 2000 it moved to Nonoichi City, Ishikawa Prefecture, where its bottling plant was located. The current brewery is located in the Tedori River alluvial fan area, one of Japan's most famous sake brewing areas, where underground water from the sacred mountain Mt. Hakusan gushes forth. The underground water of the Tedori River is said to be soft on the palate and gives a gentle and delicate taste to sake.
Nakamura Sake Brewery has always been producing sake with a global perspective and high added value. For instance, AKIRA, made with organic rice grown in Kanazawa, is the first sake in the "Alain Ducasse Selection," a collaboration with the French culinary master Alain Ducasse. Other examples include "Marebito," made from Kamikohara rice, which was presented to the Pope, and "Shojo," a sake made from yeast collected from an abandoned sake brewery in Nonoichi City and revived from a half-century ago. On the other hand, the brewery also pays attention to the tastes of local sake lovers. Kanazawa Nakamuraya, made with Kanazawa yeast, is popular as a "Shokuchushu" (sake that goes well with meals) that one never gets bored of drinking.
Organic sake brewing that protects food safety and security
Mr Taro Nakamura, the 8th generation brewer, had a career as a sales representative for a major advertising agency after graduating from university. In 1998, he took over the business from his predecessor and oversaw the sake brewing as the brewery's head brewer. In addition, while serving as chairman of the Ishikawa Sake Brewers Association, he also devoted himself to the promotion of local sake through events such as the "SAKE-MARCHE," a festival of local sake and gastronomy in Ishikawa.
“The current trend is toward the mass production and mass marketing of sake, which prioritize production efficiency and cost. We thought it was time to take a fresh look at the value of "locally brewed" sake. If local sake breweries do not cooperate with each other, the sake culture will one day become obsolete. To prevent this, we must advertise the appeal of Ishikawa's sake and strengthen our sales capabilities," says Mr Nakamura.
It is a Nakamura family tradition to look to improve the future of the community and act on it. Mr Nakamura's predecessor, Mr Eishun Nakamura, contributed to the development of Kanazawa's business community after the war. He loved tea ceremonies and contributed to the promotion of the culture. He also established the Nakamura Memorial Museum, which houses a collection of rare tea ceremony utensils from all over Japan. Surrounded by nature, the museum is appreciated by many art lovers and has become a hidden tourist attraction in the ancient city of Kanazawa. Thus, from the end of the Edo period to the present day, Nakamura Shuzo has been deeply involved in the history of Kanazawa. Not only pursuing profits for the brewery but also contributing to the local culture is a principle taught to them by their predecessors.
Over the past several years, Mr Nakamura has been working on sake brewing that focuses on the local region.
“We believe that a brewery's strength and unique characteristics can only emerge when locally grown ingredients are brewed in the local climate and environment. For this reason, I am very particular when choosing the rice," says Mr Nakamura.
This is shown by the fact that it is a certified organic brewery in Europe and the United States. Only about 10 sake breweries in Japan have obtained such a certification. The organic rice is grown by "Kanazawa Daichi," which practices organic farming, aiming for an industry that will last for 1,000 years. The signature product AKIRA is named in honor of the head of this organic farm, Mr Akira Imura. In addition, to protect the quality of the water used for brewing, Nakamura Shuzo treats wastewater using a trickle filter bed system that does not use any chemicals. As with organic initiatives, sustainable sake brewing that does not burden the environment is likely to further accelerate in the future.
Brewing with Wa no Kokoro (a heart of harmony) produces good sake.
Safe and secure sake brewing is reflected in the facilities of the brewery building. When the brewery was relocated, state-of-the-art equipment was installed to establish a high-quality production system, including new bottling machines, as well as heat sterilization and rapid cooling systems. Further improvements in efficiency and hygiene were ensured.
Due to strict sanitation control, visitors are not allowed to tour the brewery. This time, however, I was given a special opportunity to see the first stage of Seigiku, called "Hikikomi (the transportation of steamed rice to the Koji room).
“Seigiku means Koji making. Steamed rice is brought to a Koji room, where the temperature is maintained at 30-35℃ and spread out. Then, Koji mold is sprinkled on the rice for it to be fermented. Only certain people are allowed to enter the Koji room at this time because if bacteria infiltrate the room, the rice Koji will be spoiled," said Mr Nakamura.
The Koji room is often referred to as the heart of the brewery, and even with the introduction of mechanization, many breweries still do Seigiku by hand. It takes about 2 days from Hikikomi to Dekoji (taking the completed Koji out of the Koji room and cooling it down). Sake brewing work, including Seigiku, requires tight-knit cooperation between Kurabito (brewery workers). In the world of Japanese sake, there is a saying, "Wajo Ryoshu," which means "hearts of harmony brew good sake, and good sake brews hearts of harmony." Nakamura Shuzo is no exception to this rule and has always placed importance on brewing sake that is "harmoniously brewed".
“We are committed to the local area in order to pursue local sake to the utmost. We believe that this is the true appeal that sake should have. Our mission at Nakamura Shuzo is to maintain the local resource’s good qualities and to present them with all their charm," says Mr Nakamura.
Over 200 years have passed since its foundation. Nakamura Shuzo has been brewing sake with an unwavering commitment to the local rice, water, and people. Its love for what's "local" will never change.