Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hokusetsu Shuzo, Sado Island, Niigata

I visited a sake brewery for the first time in my life today: Hokusetsu Shuzo on Sado Island, in the Sea of Japan just off of the coast of Niigata, Hokusetsu is particularly famous for being the exclusive sake of the Nobu restaurants. This is Hokusetsu’s toji, Mr. Kanji Watanabe, who has been making sake here for the past ten years. Here Mr. Watanabe is showing us the koji-making process. Koji is rice that has been cultivated with aspergillus oryzae, a mold that converts the starches in the rice into sugar so that the yeasts can convert the sugar into alcohol. Up close and personal, it looks like this:



To get to that stage, the rice has to be steamed first, which is what these guys on the left are doing. Afterwards, the rice gets injected with the mold and goes into the trays below, which are organized in an automatic system that shifts the trays around, stirring the koji in each one. Making the koji is an important part of the sake-making process, and contributes a lot of character to the final product.

Nobu The Sake is a daiginjo, with high-toned, delicately fruity notes of green melon and sweet apple. The house’s regular daiginjo is thicker in texture, with darker fruit notes of cherry and plum, while the top-end daiginjo is fragrant, floral and full of elegance—it’s labeled YK35, which indicates that it’s made from Yamada Nishiki rice and Kumamoto yeast, and polished to 35 percent of the original grain.

Sado Island is full of fantastic food, sake and culture. Besides being home to all those things I said yesterday, it also features the toki (Japanese crested ibis), which is being brought back from the verge of extinction; the world-famous Kodo drummers; and the amazing Hana no Ki, a traditional inn that serves phenomenal food and that specializes in the camelia flower — it’s pretty, you can make healthy and delicious oil from it, and you can even eat it.

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