Kurabito (worker) at the Akita Seishu Brewery
This month, Kayoko and I are collaborating on the theme for Sake and Shochu Gumi, highlighting shuzo (alcohol makers) who make both sake and shochu, and examining why they make both. While sake is brewed and shochu is distilled, they share some common characteristics such as the use of koji and rice.
Kayoko writes for Shochu Gumi* members this month, "This theme came about when a member asked during a recent event, ‘Is it common for a sake brewery to also make shochu?’ That’s a good question – given that there are far more sake breweries than shochu distilleries (1410 vs. 273 respectively, reported in 2020 by the Japan Sake + Shochu Makers Association), it is not that common. But given the popularity of shochu in Japan over the last 50 years, more breweries are making both."
While many of the brewers have been making sake for 200+ years, their foray into shochu-making did not happen until after the 1960s. We wanted to know why.
So Okasora of Chiyomusubi Brewery, refers to the demands of the market as a reason for making both. "We started making shochu in 1986. Sake consumption in Japan has been declining for more 40 years. In the mid-70s, and we thought it would be diffcult to continue the company with only sake."
Tsutomu Shimomushiki of Kitaya Shuzo shared with us why they started making shochu in 1973. "At that time," he says, "there were a lot of low quality shochu on the market, so we decided to create high quality shochu using vacuum distillation, a method that we invented for shochu-making. "For Akita Seishu, who started making sake in 1865, then shochu in 1983, their reasoning had more to do with agriculture and raw materials. Shohei Kuromasa of the brewery says, "We started making sake to promote local agriculture. The reason we started making shochu was to make a kasutori shochu (shochu made with sake lees, a byproduct of sake-making)."
Director of Chiyonosono Brewery, Yuri Honda cites both the market and availability of materials as their reasons for making both. She says that their customers began requesting shochu in the 1960s, which prompted them to start making the spirit. Honda also adds, "The advantage of making both is that we can make shochu unique to sake breweries, such as kasutori shochu."
These responses made me think of that famous James Carville quote, "It's the economy, stupid!" The reasons are very telling of the climate of sake (declining) and shochu (inclining) in Japan over the last decade. Although the popularity of sake has been waning in Japan, it is booming overseas! We are confident there is space for both sake and shochu to thrive side by side in the future.
Yoko, Co-Founder of Umami Mart and Kikizakeshi
Goriki Junmai Ginjo
Chiyomusubi Sake Brewery (Tottori, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 50% Goriki, SMV: +5, Acidity 1.4
We poured this staff favorite when we co-hosted an event with Chiyomusubi Brewery at our bar in January 2020. Enjoy the aroma of pear and melons, and long finish full of rice and umami in this junmai ginjo. Made with Goriki rice, native to Tottori, this sake has a silky, full-bodied texture best enjoyed at room temperature in a wine glass. Chiyomusubi is located in a port town, so their sakes go particularly well with seafood such as crab and tuna and savory vegetables like cabbage and broccoli. Check out their sweet potato shochu Hama no Imota on our shelves with an unmistakable aroma of banana bread and pistachio.
Chiyonosono “Shared Promise” Junmai
Chiyonosono Brewery (Kumamoto, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 65% Yamada Nishiki + Hana Nishiki, SMV +2.5, Acidity 1.75
An aroma of vanilla and orange blossom engulfs you upon first sip of this rich junmai. This is another great sake to have at room temperature in a wine glass or slightly warmed in a ceramic cup, to fully enjoy its complexity. Flavors of walnuts, roasted corn, and sweet rice comingle under an umbrella of umami, accented with just the right amount of acidity. A great sake to have with hearty dishes like wagyu beef, hamburgers, and Comté cheese. Check out their rice shochu, 8000 Generations, on our shelves with refreshing flavors of melon and apples.
The aroma of fruit salad persists in both Level 2 bottles this month. This refreshing junmai ginjo is full of honeydew, kiwi, and a hint of cucumber. Pair this light-bodied sake with first-course fare like fresh tofu or tomatoes and sashimi. Try this sake chilled in a glass or stainless steel cup to highlight its crisp finish. Join Shochu Gumi to try Kitaya’s Nihon No Kokoro Daiginjo Shochu, using sake lees from the production of their daiginjo sakes.
Seiden Yamadanishiki 50 Junmai Daiginjo
Akita Seishu Brewery (Akita, Japan)
Seimaibuai: 50% Yamada Nishiki, SMV: +2, Acidity 1.6
A beautiful expression of a junmai daiginjo made with Yamada Nishiki rice, this sake boasts a bouquet of peach, nectarines, and cream. The brewery uses an innovative grain scanner that checks for cracks and stunted rice, automatically removing them for maximum quality. I loved this sake cold in a pre-chilled glass paired with tomato and cucumber sunomono (vinegared salad). Kuromasa-san of the brewery also recommends having this with seafood carpaccio. Join Shochu Gumi to try Akita Seishu’s Namahage “Devil’s Mask” Rice Shochu, using sake lees from the production of their sakes.
*This month's theme is in conjunction with Shochu Gumi, focusing on sake and shochu shuzo that make both sake and shochu. Read more about Shochu Gumi's kasutori shochu selections here.