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Release | Kentaro Kimura

Takasago Sake Brewery continues new challenges and traditional sake brewing - Hokkaido sake brewery series (4)

Asahikawa City is the second biggest city in Hokkaido and sometimes called as “The Northern Nada” (Nada is currently Nada-Ku Kobe City in Hyogo Prefecture where is a traditional sake brewery area). There are three sake breweries in Asahikawa City now. 

Takasago Shuzo was established in 1899 and as it’s well-known for its signature brand “Kokushimuso,” they are one of the most famous sake breweries in Asahikawa and Hokkaido. They have been brewing sake rooted in the local community but also have developed various new products including things other than Japanese sake. I visited the brewery who protects the traditional way of brewing sake and keeps challenging. 

▲Takasago Meiji Storage with an atmosphere was built in 1909. It was a preparation room before Takasago Manufacturing Factory was established; now turned into a direct shop, gallery, and museum. 


Table of Contents

- The long-established brewery since 1899
- Why did Asahikawa become to be called “The Northern Nada”?
- The sake brewing in Takasago Sake Brewery
- Their product development capabilities do not remain in sake


The long-established brewery since 1899; the fourth brewery in Asahikawa

 “Kokushimuso” brand is well-known not only among Japanese sake fans in Hokkaido but also in all Japan. You will find Kokushimuso at any souvenir shops in airports, etc. It came out in 1975, and with their mannish dry flavor of Kokushimuso, Takasago Sake Brewery became famous. 
▲Kokushimuso is popular everywhere in Japan and is a signature brand of Takasago Sake Brewery.
Takasago Sake Brewery was established in 1899. Tetsusaburo Kohiyama, the founder of the brewery, immigrated to Hokkaido from Aizu. He founded dry food business in Sapporo first, then moved to Asahikawa and founded grain business, then established “Kohiyama Sake Brewery” which later became Takasago Sake Brewery. Yamazaki Sake Brewery which later becomes “Otokoyama Ltd.” was founded in the same year. In 1909, he built Takasago Meiji Storage, the building in the first picture, and started brewing in the building. 
Before the war in Showa ear, it was slowly turning into wartime control periods. During that time, he involved in Asahikawa Alcohol Factory Ltd and continued brewing sake as the second factory of the company. He became independent from the company in 1949 and restarted sake brewing as Kohiyama Sake Brewery. He merged the brewery with Ishizaki Brewery in 1965 and became the current Takasago Sake Brewery. 
▲The solid manufacturing factory with offices and preparation storage was built in the early Showa era. There are wooden-built storage warehouses in the back. 
The office and brewing factory they use now is reinforced concrete construction Takasago Manufacturing Factory, which was built in 1929 and located across Meiji Storage. It is the fourth oldest reinforced concrete construction building in  Japan. 
They manufacture approximately 2,000-Goku (approximately 200,000 1,800ml bottles). The amount of production has increased as the popularity of Japanese sake increased. They plan to brew 81 tanks (8000 liters per tank) this year. 


Why did Asahikawa become to be called “The Northern Nada”?

There are 12 sake breweries in Hokkaido now, and three of them are located in Asahikawa. Which means, we have to admit that Asahikawa is the most significant sake brewing area. This article will be the first one to introduce a sake brewery in Asahikawa so let me briefly explain the reason why Asahikawa has so many breweries. 
The development of the sake brewing industry in Hokkaido is strongly related to the cultivation of Hokkaido since the Meiji era such as railways, coals, and herring fishing. In Asahikawa’s case, it was railways. The railway opened from Asahikawa to Takigawa in 1898, and after that, people who had to be self-sufficient during winter became able to buy things at low prices as the distribution developed. It led to an increase in the population of the area. 
In addition to that, the former Imperial Japanese Army 7th Division was transferred from Sapporo in 1904 and commerce also developed. Because of that, Asahikawa became the second “city in the north” following Sapporo. 
The natural environment of Asahikawa was perfect for sake brewing, too. Asahikawa is blessed with four rivers and underground water originating from Mt. Daisetsu. People could use plenty of fuels, woods from deforestation for cultivation. Asahikawa becomes hot in summer, and the weather was suitable for rice farming. Rice farming was stable more than in other regions from 1897 to 1907. Those are just a few examples. 

▲The mountain range of Mr. Daisetsu brings great grace of nature to Asahikawa and Kamikawa area. 

Of course, if the population increases, the number of sake breweries increases, too. It is said that 15 sake breweries existed in Asahikawa since the establishment of Kasahara Sake Brewery in 1891 to the Taisho era. 


The sake brewing in Takasago Sake Brewery

The sake brewing of this year started from 14 October 2018. The current chief brewer is Yoshihisa Morimoto. He began his carrier in Nihon Shusei (Sapporo) which is the brewer of Chitosezuru when he was 22 years ago and learned every step of sake brewing there. He came to Takasago Sake Brewery as the chief brewer in October 2008. It is his 11th year in Takasago Sake Brewery. 

▲The director of the production division and the chief brewer Mr. Morimoto.  
“I hear that we don’t have much amount of sake rice this year and the quality is not good as usual. We have to do with that because we can’t control the weather. However, it is our role to brew great sake as we have always done.” He told.
I asked what kind of sake he aims for. “We have many brands and polishing ratio of rice and breeds differ, so we distinguish the way to brew sake, of course. However, one thing in common is that we aim for dry flavor.” The soft water of Asahikawa boasts one of the best water sources and quality in Hokkaido. Mr. Morimoto has an absolute trust over Asahikawa water. He said that soft water makes fermentation slow and creates the smoother and softer flavor of sake. 

By the way, the preparation water of Chitosezuru, which he used to work for, was rather hard water and it had a very different character from Asahikawa water. It made fermentation faster, and the way of brewing sake was different. As Hokkaido is big, sake quality differs from different water! 
▲There were huge rice steaming machine and a cooling machine to cool cooked rice on the second floor. Steamed rice will be carried to the room for producing koji and preparation tanks with hoses.
▲Bags of rice for preparation. The bag contains 40% polished rice of “Suisei,” the Hokkaido produced rice for sake. That is the Daiginjo class rice. 
As Japanese sake become popular, the way of drinking is changing from the past. 
“In the past, people wanted quantity. Nowadays, people tend to seek for a little amount of sake that suits their preferences even if it’s somewhat expensive. It changed totally compared to the time when I started my carrier.” Takasago Sake Brewery, too, produces premium sake (Honjozo, Junmai, and Junmaiginjo) mostly (over 70% of their total production) now. 

▲He also showed me the bottling process. Washing bottles, bottling, and pasteurization are done automatically with careful consideration of hygiene. 

Also, over 70% of their production uses rice produced in Hokkaido. Not only that, they use rice produced in the neighborhood such as Asahikawa City. They are now truly producing “local sake” connected strongly with the local community of Kamikawa Region and Asahikawa. They started projects with each city in Kamikawa Region to produce different sake using rice produced in different towns. They put lots of their efforts into these projects.  
▲“Nouka No Sake” is brewed with “Suisei” farmed by people in Higashi-Asahikawa Town in Asahikawa City. They offer sake brewery tour for participants. 
They use rice produced in other regions such as “Yamada Nishiki,” which is said to be the champion of rice for sake, only for premium sake such as Daiginjo. The ratio of rice produced in Hokkaido was about 50% 10 years ago, but it increased gradually, and the company’s policy now is to use rice produced in Hokkaido as much as they can. 
Rice for sake produced in Hokkaido now is “Ginpu,” Suisei,” and “Kitashizuku.” The sake brewing industry in Hokkaido has entered the big transformation period in the 21st Century because of these rice. “The quality of Hokkaido rice for sake becomes better every year. Farmers study, and we tell farmers our requests. The opportunities to have discussion increased. I feel that the mood to create great sake and great rice is getting better.” The chief brewer Morimoto told. 

▲This rice-malt is 60% polished “Suisei.” It has an aroma like sweet chestnut and makes me hungry. 
Now must be the developing period from sake relying on rice from Honshu Region to use local rice and water to brew “Hokkaido’s local sake.” “I feel that rice produced in Hokkaido tastes light and delicate. Among the breeds, ‘Ginpu’ has the strongest flavor. It is difficult, too but it turns out to a really great sake when I succeed.” The chief brewer Morimoto said. 
▲The big preparation room had many tanks. A sake brewery worker was mixing fermentation mash of 60% polished “Ginpu.” It looked like quite hard work. 
“Suisei” is light and delicate but we can expect the stable sake quality and “Kitashizuku” has developed to have good points from both breeds. However, Mr. Morimoto analyzes that “Kitashizuku could make a unique sake different from Ginpu and Suisei.” This year, Hokkaido rice for sake is affected by cold weather damage, but “Kitashizuku” is most resistant to coldness, and it turned out pretty well. We should check out the new sake brewed with Kitashizuku.
▲The brewery limited sake and the freshest nama-zake (unpasteurized sake ) and nigorizake (cloudy sake) using Ginpu. The freshest nama-zake has impressive refreshing sourness. 
You should check out the kind of rice written on labels when you have sake from Hokkaido!


Their product development capabilities do not remain in sake

Meiji Storage is now turned into a direct shop, and you can purchase sake and brewery limited sake. You can sample almost all kinds of sake brewed in Takasago Brewery. 
▲The direct shop was renewed, and interior design adopted Meiji era tastes. 
The Junmai-Daiginjo “Hyoon Chozou Asahikamui” is perfect for tourists and souvenirs. It is the new brand came out in last year, and it will be a flagship product of Takasago Brewery. 
▲“Asahikamui” polishes the highest grade of Yamadanishiki up to 35%. This high-quality sake is sophisticated with the texture like velvet. 
“Ichiyashizuku,” the label came out in 1990 and the flagship product until two years ago, was the most popular product. They hang a bag with fermentation mash in the huge snow and ice chamber and takes time to bottle drips falling with the weight naturally. It is a luxurious limited product that can only be produced in the severely cold Asahikawa. 
▲The preparation tank of “Asahikamui” this year. Fermentation mash bubbles out with carbon dioxide gas and makes sounds. I can feel that lives make sake. 
However, global warming made building and maintaining chambers which they had to give up. “Asahikamui” was developed to brew a better sake than Ichiyashizuku. It is a brand new brand designed by gathering all the techniques of the brewery. 
I also recommend “Junmaishu Wakazou” to young Japanese sake fans. It is the sake which young sake brewery workers developed. 
▲This bottle was developed as the part of the second year KURA Challenge to make future regular products. In this project, young generation brewery workers plan, brew, and sales the bottles. The concept is to spread the fun and joy of Japanese sake to the young generations.  
Takasago Sake Brewery has various products more than sake. Their product development capabilities are noteworthy. There are many popular products using sake-kasu (sake cake) and Koji, which are derivatives of sake brewing, sold at the direct shop. 
▲Sake-kasu (sake cake) is the leftover from fermentation mash after pressing and filtering with the machine. This turns into products. 
Sake-kasu (sake cake) and Koji have become popular as nutritious food recently. It contains plenty of essential amino acids and vitamins. Amazake is sometimes called IV drip for drinking. “Ginjo Amazake” is made only with brewery limited Koji and popular from tourists and locals. 
▲Amazake made only with Koji is possible because Takasago Sake Brewery is a local sake brewer. It is light and dry because they don’t use sugar. 
I found a local who bought 10 bottles at once during my visit. 
▲“Daiginjo Sake-kasu Amazake Kokushimuso” which came out in June last year is popular, too. It blends Daiginjo sake-kasu, and Hokkaido produced rice “Yumepirika” from Taniguchi Farm. 
They have produced various desserts and products under collaborations with local food industries: such as “Sake-kasu blue cheese Asahikawa” which mixed blue cheese from “Ise Farm” in Etanbetsu and sake-kasu and matured and sake-kasu Karinto. 
▲The plum wine which won the gold award in the contest held in Mito City Ibaraki Prefecture is also delicious. The right one is a unique product which pickled Rishiri Konbu in plum wine. The melty texture was impressive. 
Takasago Sake Brewery protects the national brand “Kokushimusou,” and at the same time adopt Hokkaido sake rice actively and develops their sake as “local sake” and creates various products not only Japanese sake. Challenges of the long-established sake brewery are definitely noteworthy!
  • Takasago Sake Brewery continues new challenges and traditional sake brewing - Hokkaido sake brewery series (4)