Nihonshu heart and soul

Do you know where to worship the deity of Apergillus? For those who know Japan well, it should not be a surprise that there is such a Kami in the Shinto pantheon. Indeed the fungus produces miracles, namely enzymes called “amylase” and “protease”, responsible for breaking down starch and protein molecules of cereals into sugars and amino acids. Koji-kin, as it is known in Japan, made good miso, good soy sauce and good sake possible. Potential worshipers are now legions all over the world.

The conditions of the arrival of Koji-kin into Japan are not very well known: imported by Chinese merchants or craftsmen, brought back by traveling Japanese monks? However, these travelers were necessarily going at some point through the Setonaikai (the Seto Inland Sea), between Honshu and Shikoku Islands, on their way to Nara. Kotaishi Jinja (皇太子神社) is a place dedicated to the deity of Koji-kin, and its shrine located near costal waters in Kagawa Prefecture seems to be the main one.

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About 7 kilometers inland from Kotaishi Shrine, industrious former indigo dyer Seizou Kawahito founded a sake brewery 127 years ago (1891), attracted by beautiful underground water near the River Saita. The patriarch had a dream about Japanese cranes landing on the river … a new sake brand was born: Kawatsuru (川鶴, river crane).

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Truly friendly Yuichiro Kawahito, Kuramoto Toji (6thgeneration owner and master brewer), was our host for the July edition of Sake Salon. Looking at old photographs, we could guess that the brewery was a quite large producer from inception to the peak years of sake production in Japan, but now operates on a much smaller scale, with 7 people, allowing Mr. Kawahito and his crew to truly put their “Heart and Soul” (the name of one of their sake) in their products.

They source their rice from the prefectures facing the Seto Inland sea, and are part of this movement of Kuramoto getting “back” into rice cultivation. They take good care of 3 paddies near the brewery, producing Yamada Nishiki. They buy the rest of their Kagawa rice from 12 farmers under contract, located closer to the mountain.

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Mr. Kawahito came with a selection of 6 sake. I loved the consistency of them all, across rice varietals and grades, the medium acidity and the low bitterness. As intended, they surely are a great match for local gastronomy, tasty white fish swimming the heavy currents of Setonaikai in particular, such as Hamachi (Yellowtail) or Tai (Seabream).

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As a local delicacy, Yuichiro Kawahito had brought some Otaru (firefly squids) dried in the sun.

From right to left, rich “Heart and Soul” was brewed from their own Yamada Nishiki, polished down to 80% Seimaibuai only, to reveal all the flavors of their terroir. Fruity Yellow label is an almost scientific approach to bottling a Genshu (undiluted sake, so as to not dilute aromas) but keep alcohol level below 15%. Junmai Ginjo grade, the sake was born from the same sake rice. Their sake favored by locals bears a blue label. Smooth, it must be highly enjoyable warm as well. This Tokubetsu Junmai sake was produced from a blend of Yamada Nishiki and local Oseto sakamai.

Then came their special products: an Omachi sake (rice from Okayama) with a high seimaibuai of 80% (little aromas, but what a rich taste), and a summer sake (light and refreshing, with a great Kire (ending like water through the throat), bearing the “Taste the Power” name. It was born from Hattan Nishiki, a Hiroshima Sakamai.

Last but not least, we ended the tasting with a Junmai Daiginjo from Omachi rice polished down to 45% Seimaibuai, aromatic and fruity, with a complex flavor profile. This fuller body sake attracted attention at the Kura Master competition in 2017 in Paris.

 

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