Built over 420 years

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Last April Sake Salon was receiving Kojima san, current head of the Kojima Sohonten sake brewery. Dressed with a white shirt and impeccable blue business suit, Mr. Kojima was blending well with the businessmen leaving their offices in Toranomon. While he actually worked for a large company producing hygiene products at some point, soon he revealed what makes him a special person: as 14thgeneration heir, he is defending a heritage and pursuing a mission that started in 1597. This makes Kojima Sohonten the 11th oldest sake brewery in Japan still in activity (1% percentile, since there are about 1,200 active breweries left).

Their brand, Toko (or Toukou, 東光) means Eastern Light. The kura is located East of the castle formally occupied by the very powerful Uesugi family of Daimyos, in Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture. Toko was actually a supplier to the castle.

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As illustrated by the picture, Yonezawa is located on a large alluvial fan of the Mogami river, and underground water is abundant. Using the American scale, its hardness/softness is measured at 60, on par with Volvic mineral water, or the water used by most brewers in Fushimi (Kyoto).

Yamagata is producing a lot of rice, and is well known for certain sake rice varietals such as Dewasansan. Toko often contracts with Yamagata farmers directly, and uses some rice produced by kurabito (company employees) as well, when these cultivate rice during the summer period.

My recent post “Snow Goddess” was a short story about the latest addition to the various rice options available to the sake brewer in Yamagata, and we actually started our tasting with a Junmai Daiginjo brewed from that same Yuki Megami sake rice (35% seimaibuai), before discovering another Junmai Daiginjo brewed from Yamada Nishiki polished down to 35% seimaibuai. About that last one, I keep the memory of a very fine, fruity but restrained sake at the same time, especially when considering that such sake was extracted from the Moromi mash using the Shizuku “drip” method, without pressure. It presented a slight bitterness.

It was followed by a Junmai Ginjo Genshu (undiluted after pressing: 16% alcohol).

Mr. Kojima is not only re-visiting the Toko tradition, he is innovating, and produces new styles for new consumers. He had brought one of the very first few bottles of an “experience”: a lower alcohol (13% without dilution), light sake, with hints of caramel, named “Kojimaya, Untitled 01” (Dewasansan rice, Junmai Daiginjo grade). Please refer to the bottle on the right of the picture.

We finished the tasting with Retsu (on the left), last of a line-up showing strong consistency, brewed from Yamagata iconic Dewasansan as well, a relatively dry sake matured for a full year.

Would you like to discover the beautiful kura building? You can watch the promotional video for SK-II, a (famous) skincare product, whose creators claimed they were inspired by the beautiful hands of sake brewers.

 

 

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