When Sake Reflects Nature

Hanatome Sake is unique in flavour and has been a favourite of Super Sake Boy and I for quite some time. It has a delicious acidic complexity and when the Sake Mistress announced that the ninth session of Taste with the Toji would be with Miyoshino Jozo, makers of Hanatome, we were excited. Not only as it gave us an opportunity to buy a little more than we usually would, but also because these sessions allow you to gain a greater and more intimate understanding of the sake. This is through observing the environment in which the sake is brewed, meeting the people who brew it, hearing the ethos and intention of the brewers, the history of the kura (brewery) and often the history of the Toji (head brewer) and kurabito (brewery staff). As with all of the sessions we have attended, the information and atmosphere of the online presentation/tasting/discussion is set by the personality of the presenters. This session was incredibly different to the previous. They are all unique and every session offers an abundance of interest and knowledge. This session was like watching someone paint a picture of their purpose. It was really very uplifting and inspirational.

Teruaki Hashimoto has been the Toji at Miyoshino Jozo since 2009. The brewery is located in the very beautiful Nara Prefecture. Our night began with Hashimoto-san displaying photos of the brewery and the surrounding area and describing the natural environment. The kura is next to a river, surrounded by mountains, including Mt. Yoshino. The area is densely forested with sugi (cedar) plantations. Hashimoto-san explained these plantations are used to grow wood for making sake barrels and vats. The trees are planted very closely together and one of the aims when growing sugi is to ensure the rings inside the wood, that depict the age and growth rate of the tree, are close together. This ensures that the sake doesn’t leak out of the barrels. The tight planting controls the rate of growth due to the available space and nutrients, or lack thereof. Hashimoto-san’s brewing method is very much reflected in the plantation planting method. The shubo (starter) is crowded with a lot of yeast emulating the trees in the plantation. The dense yeast allows Hashimoto-san to control which other micro-organisms survive. The yeast is ambient, naturally occurring yeast, in keeping with the “localness” of this sake, which I will talk about later. A lot of rice must be dissolved to achieve this kind of sake and this requires a lot of koji. Miyoshino’s kojimuro (koji room) is beautiful and it is made with Yoshino sugi, the local cedar. It is one chamber only, the humidity is kept very high at 80% and it is always a single and constant temperature. The sugi insulates the muro and naturally absorbs any additional moisture.

Miyoshino Sake is brewed in harmony with nature, rather than against it, following the natural path of the seasons and the environment. Most sake is brewed within a temperature controlled environment. Hashimoto-san brews his sake according to the prevailing conditions, rather than trying to make the conditions ideal for his sake brewing. The surrounding farmers also follow this process, adjusting their farming according to nature. This means that different ferments are started at different times during the season. During cooler months they make sake using the yamahai method for the shubo. The cold temperature restricts the lactic development and it leads to a more complex texture. During the warmer months they make sake using the mizumoto (sour water) method. This is a high temperature starter with lots of micro-organisms. To combat the undesirable micro-organisms the acicity is kept very high, and is in fact unrestricted.

Hashimoto-san keeps his sake making very local. As I mentioned before the yeast is ambient, naturally occurring local yeast. He supports the local farming community and purchases rice locally. Rather than seeking out specific rice varieties, he buys what is available and adjusts his brewing to the rice. Wanting to maintain the local agricultural practices, of rotating crops, in limited available land, Hashimoto-san combats his lack of choice of rice with acidity. He described the acidity, affected by the yeast and the koji, as his weapon for maintaining the flavour and for keeping his sake “fun”. We definitely agree that this sake is fun, and I loved hearing the story of how this process unfolds with the changing of the seasons, completely balanced with nature, and with a respect and understanding of the environment. I loved this sake before we attended this event. Now I love it a little more. I love this integrity, this connection with nature and the respect for every aspect of the process.

This session was once again translated by the ever eloquent Yoram Offer, of Sake Bar Yoramu, in Kyoto. Yoram is a wealth of knowledge, and is clearly respected by every Toji that he translates. It is always lovely to listen to him carefully reconstruct sentences from Japanese to English, which, are his second and third languages.

The Sake Mistress is currently in Stage 4 Lockdown, but is clearly a social media conduit for online connectivity and all things sake related. You can find her information in a link here.

Miyoshino Jozo sake is available in Australia through Black Market Sake, which you can order online in a link here.

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