The Tohoku region is home to some of Japan’s most prestigious and long standing Sake breweries, including Yuki no bosha, whose Junmai is a personal favorite and whose brews have been a regular at Lesley Kehoe Galleries tasting events.
I reference the importance of the location, design and heritage in the Tohoku region as it was the central area devastated by the March 11 tsunami. Many significant old breweries were severely effected by the tsunami. Some of them were completely wiped out. It was reported that over 100 breweries in the region were affected.
Yuki No Bosha Brewery – 1907 & Now
The Yuki no bosha brewery was established in 1902 by Yataro Saito and is currently managed by 5th generation resident Katoro Saito. The brewery has won 11 gold medals at the National New Sake Competition in the 15 years between 1990 and 2005, placing them consistently amongst the top 4 breweries in Japan.
The design and heritage value of the brewery, built on a slope and nicknamed “nobori-kura” after the famous climbing kilns of ceramics, was recognized in 1997 with the designation of important cultural property. This type of “nobori-kura” is very rare in Japan.
Nobiri-Kura – Yuki No Bosha
The Suisen Shuzo Co in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture lost all facilities and 7 workers to the tsunami. Established in the 1940’s, its Yukiko Brew is a local favourite in winter. President Yasuhiko Konno, a 5th generation Suisen brewer, approached local rival Iwate Meijo Corp for help and in the spirit of co-operation engendered by the aftermath of this natural disaster, was able to strike a deal to use some of their facilities for a period of three years. In October 2011, Suisen Shuzo began shipping their first batch of post-tsunami Yukiko.
There are similar stories of rivals assisting each other and breweries pulling off incredible rebuilding efforts to get their sake back in to production.
Retailers have also been of great assistance with many banding together to promote Sake from the region holding tasting events and expos in Tokyo. The largest of these was Wa ni Narou Nihonshu (which translates literally as, “Let’s form a circle, sake”) a charity event hosted by over 200 breweries. 70% of funds raised goes to the Ashinaga Foundation which assists orphaned children, and the remaining 30% to support struggling breweries in the Tohoku region.
Chief organizer Satoshi Kimijima, a brewer, states the purpose of the event as ensuring that ‘…one of Japan’s most treasured cultural assets…’ is protected and preserved.
Now it’s Australia’s turn: the Melbourne Japanese Consulate is hosting a tasting event in February for local chefs, restaurateurs and Sake experts to taste the finest sake from the Tohoku region. For more information contact Tsu-Mei Liew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03 9667 7817 by February 10th. Or view more information at The Consulate’s website here.
You can do your part by purchasing some excellent brews from the region. Many are available on-line from www.sakejapan.com.au (outlets on Bridge Rd Richmond and also at Melbourne University) or through www.tokyodeli.com.au (located on Glenhuntly Rd, Elsternwick).
A couple of recommendations, courtesy of the ‘Lets form a Circle’ event:
IWATE PREFECTURE Nanbu Bijin Tokubetsu Junmai – “Southern Beauty” : This sake is made from 100% locally grown Gin Otome rice. It has a lively fresh aroma with a clean flavor. It drinks smooth with flavors of melon and pear.
FUKUSHIMA PREFECTURE Okunomatsu Ginjo The moment you taste this sake you will experience a refreshing ginjo flavor that spreads throughout your mouth and leaves a refreshing aftertaste. Ginjo sake is known for its complexity, depth and its balance of acidity and sweetness.
AKITA PREFECTURE Yuki No Bosha Akita Komachi Daiginjo: Light and airy, this super premium daiginjo begins with flavors of white pepper that fade into dried apricot and citrus. The Akita Komachi rice used for this sake is milled down to an amazing 35% before brewing, producing an ultra smooth silky sake.
YAMAGATA PREFECTURE Oyama Tokubetsu Junmai Nigori – “Big Mountain Nigori”: Like all nigori, this one has some unfermented rice particles still in the bottle but is lighter than most. Fruity and creamy with a clean dry aftertaste.
Dewazakura Dewasansan Nama Genshu – “Green Ridge Primal Strength: This namazake is a favourite. Unpasteurized and undiluted, this sake starts big, followed by a pleasant tartness and then a brisk finish. It’s been “field tested” by many of our customers who all agree that it goes well with spicy food.
Sake Corner By Byron Kehoe