The taste of sake brewed in Sapporo stems from the water of Hokkaido
December 24, 2013
Nipponseishu Co., Ltd. (hereinafter “Nipponseishu”) is a sake manufacturer whose predecessor was Shibata Shuzoten, which first started brewing sake on the banks of the Sosei River in 1872. We spoke with chief brewer Kazuyuki Sato, who has been dedicated to sake brewing for 30 years, about local sake from Sapporo.
A sake brewery in Sapporo that uses water from the distant past
Today, the east bank of the Sosei River is home to many sake breweries that have existed since the Meiji period. However, the present location of Nipponseishu is along the Toyohira River.
“The water used to make Chitosetsuru is the underground water from the Toyohira River—which flows from Mt. Moiwa and Mt. Eniwa—drawn from 150 meters below the ground. We can determine how long this water was underground according to its hardness—the amount of minerals it contains such as calcium. The water we use today has a hardness of 30 to 50, so it soaked into the ground during the Edo period. During the brewing process, the minerals in the hard water activate the effects of the yeast, which results in alcohol fermentation. People often ask us if we use water from the Toyohira River, but this is not the case; the Toyohira River contains soft water. If we used soft water, the small amount of minerals would result in decreased yeast effects and poor fermentation. Groundwater is essential for sake brewing; it is a gift from the vast natural world.”
The unique qualities of sake from Hokkaido
Sake brewing begins in Hokkaido from the end of November, after the new rice is harvested. Most sake brewing here takes place during the low temperatures of the cold winter season. Sake is made throughout Japan, but sake from Hokkaido and Honshu apparently has different flavors due to climate variation, even when comparing types that are brewed during the winter.
“When it is cold, the water in the air decreases and it becomes dry. The mold-growing process is an important part of sake brewing; in it, Aspergillus spores are sprinkled on steamed rice, where they are cultivated. They don’t reproduce well in cold locations, so we struggle to grow this mold. However, for some reason the mold we grow ends up being better than the mold from Honshu. This good mold is usually used to brew high-grade sake such as the ginjo variety. Sake made in Hokkaido, even low-grade sake, is more appealing than sake from Honshu, and is known for its refreshing, dry flavor. Honshu has a warm, humid climate, but people say that sake from this region is heavy. On a more positive note, one might say it has a deep flavor. Hokkaido’s sake is said to be light and clear. These qualities are unique to local sake brewed in the climate of Hokkaido.”
The feelings of a chief brewer from Sapporo regarding “local flavor”
“Once it gets cold, people say that the sake season has arrived. Sake is brewed until March. The sake is strained and left to sit in a warehouse over the summer. The maturation ends in autumn, and the sake becomes more delicious after approximately one year. For that reason, sake is definitely tasty during the cold season. In addition, recently more people are saying that they like new, freshly strained sake that has not been left to mature and is still undergoing fermentation. We listen to these views, and I hope that Chitosetsuru will gain a flavor that is more pleasing to local residents. However, as I mentioned before, due to Hokkaido’s hard water and the climate during the brewing period, it is impossible to create sake that does not have a refreshing, dry flavor. I hope that people will start out with a glass of sake from their own town to savor its local flavor.”
The Chitosetsuru Sake Museum was opened from the desire to convey the fact that Chitosetsuru is a type of local Sapporo sake made by Nipponseishu, a brewer that was established more than 140 years ago in Sapporo. It exhibits precious materials, including information about the history of sake and sake brewing in Hokkaido. Sato says he incorporates as many of his feelings possible into his sake brewing, while picturing the faces of the people he is close to who drink his products. Local sake is appealing because of the close ties between brewers and drinkers. In addition to creating local flavors, we as sake drinkers hope that such brewers will continue protecting the water and nature, and also passing it down.
President and fifth-generation chief brewer of Nipponseishu Co., Ltd.
Sato was born in 1952 in Haboro-cho, Rumo. After graduating from the Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine’s Agrochemical Department, he entered Nipponseishu Co., Ltd. and has been dedicated to brewing sake for 30 years. He has served in his current position since 2000.