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Release | Kentaro Kimura

Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery connects people, rice, and Hokkaido with sake - Hokkaido sake brewery series (3)

Have you heard about a local sake brewery which was established two years ago in Kamikawa-Cho, Kamikawa District, Hokkaido? Some people may recognize Kamikawa-Cho if I tell you that it’s about 180 kilometers from Sapporo towards north-east, where Sounkyo Onsen which is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Hokkaido is located, and the place where the ski jumper Sara Takanashi was born. 

The sake brewed by “Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery,” a new sake brewery appeared in a small town with a population of approximately 3700 people, is gaining popularity rapidly. 
 
 
▲The Ryokkyu-Gura looks like a cottage at first glance. It does not look like a sake brewery. 

 

The brewery was established with license transfer, the revolutionary method in the Japanese sake industry

Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery was established with the license transfer from a sake brewery in Mie Prefecture which closed the business. There was never an example like that in the Japanese sake brewery industry. 

Sponsors gathered by connections from Toshio Tsukahara, the owner of the brewery, with his relationship regarding Otaru and Hokkaido. They invited Shinji Kawabata, the famous brewer from Otaru, and they started the construction of Ryokkyu-Gura in April 2017. 
 
The brewery’s concept was “regional revitalization brewery” to vitalize the community of Kamikawa and Hokkaido. On May 18 of the same year, they officially received the license from Asahikawa Tax Office, and the 12th sake brewery in Hokkaido was established. 
 
They did experimental brewing from late May and started the first brewing from October of the same year. 
 
They decided to make only Junmai-Shu, using rice for sake made in Hokkaido. It was the first sake brewery to brew only Junmai-Shu at that time. 
 
Many citizens of Kamikawa-Cho and people working for the town hall helped to brew as volunteers on the first year. “Kamikawa Taisetsu,” their first sake was made like that and became famous rapidly as it gained popularity in restaurants, etc. 
 
 
▲The logo was inspired by the letter “大” from Mt. Taisetsu, snowflakes, and Ainu patterns. 
 
 
As they are going to work on the second year, Shinji Kawabata said: “Last year, we experimented a lot with different patterns, and we are searching for the taste of our brewery. This year, I would like to organize that and decide our signature flavor.” He looked really excited. 
 
It seems like we can expect more sophisticated flavor than the last ones, with their basic concept of “sake which makes us unable to resist drinking with meals.” 
 
 
▲The brewer Mr. Kawabata sprinkling koji-mold on steamed rice. It is an important process to decide the flavor of the sake. (The picture is from the first year’s experimental brewing) 
 
 
Mr. Kawabata has studied sake brewing at different breweries throughout Japan; Ishikawa Prefecture, Fukuoka Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture, Yamagata Prefecture, Iwate Prefecture, etc. Then he became the chief brewer of Kinteki Sake Brewery of Totsukawa-Cho, Kabato District in 2010. He received the gold prize at the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyokai (The National New Sake Awards) in 2011 with the Daiginjo he brewed with “Ginpu,” the rice for sake made in Hokkaido. 
 
He had a year and a half resting period and came back to brew at Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery. Japanese sake fans in Hokkaido and restaurants got excited because they were waiting for his come back. 
 
 
▲The sake brewing process from the last year. They brew gently and carefully in a small batch almost like Daiginjo. (The picture is provided by Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery) 

 

The brewer Kawabata is particular about rice as he says “we can’t make sake better than ingredients” 

The brewer Kawabata’s motto is that “Japanese sake can’t become better than ingredients.” The ingredients of Japanese sake are rice and water. They use underground spring water flowing from Mr. Taisetsuzan. It is no doubt that the water is one of the best water in Hokkaido. 
 
 
▲The beautiful mountains of Daisetsu Mountain Range. Meltwater requires thousands of hours to get polished by the ground and become cold and clear underground water. 
 
 
Domestic wastewater does not mix with water in Kamikawa-Cho from the spring, so even water from taps tastes great in Kamikawa-Cho. The brewer Kawabata also recognizes that the water is soft but has an adequate firmness.
 
And the brewer is most particular about rice. He traveled around Hokkaido to search for the best rice for the sake, and he carefully selected farmers. 
 
 
▲The brewer Kawabata is investigating the farm of “Kitashizuku” in Sunakawa City. 
 
 
They now use “Suisei,” Ginpu,” and “Kitashizuku,” which are all rice for sake made in Hokkaido, mostly by farmers in Sunakawa City, Aibetsu Town, and Nanporo Town. He is this much particular about rice because he knows the flavor and quality changes not only by the land where farmers grow rice but also “people.”
 
 
▲The man on the right in this picture is Hirokichi Takahashi, the farmer in Sunakawa. Brewer Kawabata trusts him very much from the time he was in Kinteki Brewery. 
 
 
One of the conditions required for great rice for sake is the low amount of protein in unpolished rice. It creates off-flavor when it has a high amount of protein, and especially rice made in Hokkaido does not melt when brewing. 
 
 
▲Mr. Takahashi grows “Kitashizuku.” The characteristics of Kitashizuku are big ears, tall height, and slightly white color of ears. 
 
 
Mr. Takahashi is involved in growing rice for sake since 2012. He said, “this year is very severe.” In Hokkaido, June and July were cold and had poor sunshine and August was hot but did not rain for approximately three weeks. 
 
 
▲Because of the weather and disaster, the growth of rice is not well. Brewer Kawabata is checking out the growth, his face looks worried.  
 

The growth got late because of the coldness, and the number of stems is small. When that happens, the amount of one stem gaining fertilizer rises and the amount of protein gets high. It seems like most rice grows in Hokkaido tend to have a higher amount of protein than usual. 
 
“I have been involved in rice farming for more than thirty years, but it seems like this year is the worst.” Mr. Takahashi said. He delayed harvesting and start of brewing in Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery has also delayed from October 5 to October 13. 
 
 
▲“Suisei” rice farm in Aibetsu Town. I saw a lot of green ears as they were telling me the slow growth. 
 
 
The agricultural production cooperative “Fushiko Seisan Kumiai” in Aibetsu Town, the town next to Kamikawa Town, also grows rice for sake used in Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery. They started growing rice for sake from 1996 when they began experimenting to grow Hatsushizuku, the first rice for sake born in Hokkaido. 
 
Now they grow three kinds of rice for sake in the 27ha farm. There was “Taisetusan Brewery” in Aibetsu Town before, and Japanese sake was very familiar to them. They have provided lots of rice for the sake to Kobayashi Sake Brewery in Kuriyama Town many years before Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery. 
 
 
▲Takashi Shibata from Fushiko Seisan Kumiai is talking with the brewer Kawabata. He said, “no matter if it’s rice for sake or rice for meals, we put the same effort.” 
 
 
“It is fun to see our rice becoming into sake. Rice turns out differently each year, and I can feel the flavor of sake also changes according to rice.” The head of the cooperative Takashi Shibata told me. 
 
The brewer Kawabata also told, “I would like to provide an answer to people who work hard on growing rice. And also wish to improve each other.” Working on growing great rice and brewing great sake from that. By having a deep relationship with brewery and farmers extends the farmers’ network to all over Hokkaido through Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery. This is a part of the brewery’s concept, regional revitalization. 

 

The regional revitalization brewery which grows with community

As it has entered the second year, the brewery has extended. They only had the brewing building at first, but now they have storage so they can mature sake. 
 
 
▲Different kinds of “Kamikawa Taisetsu” is waiting to be shipped in the storage. Japanese sake will taste better when it’s matured. 


▲They added two tanks, and now they have eight tanks. They produce more amount than the last year to fulfill the needs of consumers. 
 
 
n addition, they are constructing the directly owned shop. They are planning to not only sell sake but also local specialties.  
 
 
▲They are planning to open the directly owned shop in January. It is in the middle of the construction. 
 
 
▲You can watch the brewing in the room from the balcony on the second floor of the brewery. 
 
 
They are trying to build a facility to attract tourists like Michi No Eki, not only the brewery. They value Kamikawa Town and Hokkaido so much. The label “Kamikawa” is limitedly sold in Kamikawa-Cho and Aibetsu-Cho and is popular from locals and tourists at local supermarkets.
 
 
▲“Kamikawa” is limitedly sold in the local community. 
 
 
You can find “Kamikawa Taisetsu” at partner shops in Hokkaido and also at the brewery’s online shop

They are planning to sell Junmai-Daiginjo which became milder after the summer and fresh sake (Shinshu) towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to tasting their second year’s sake and would like to support them to extend the regional revitalization business with Hokkaido through Japanese sake! 
  • Kamikawa Taisetsu Sake Brewery connects people, rice, and Hokkaido with sake - Hokkaido sake brewery series (3)
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