For generations, people here have taken advantage of the abundant resources around them. As their skill grew, so did their reputation. So much so that the Echigo Toji guild — master brewers of the Echigo, or Niigata region — is recognized as one of the great three brewing guilds of Japan. At Asahi-Shuzo, we are blessed with not one, but two Echigo Toji, ensuring our sake is in safe hands.
We harness these brilliant natural resources — rice, water and people — to continuously develop and produce a vast range of outstanding sake.
THE KUBOTA SAKE BREWING PROCESS
STEP 1: RICE POLISHING
Unpolished brown rice is transported to the brewery, where it is polished into white rice. The polished rice is then sent for further processing.
STEP 2: RAW INGREDIENT PROCESSING
The polished rice is washed with water, then left to soak.
STEP 3: STEAMING
The rice is steamed for about 45 minutes, then left to cool.
STEP 4: KOJI MOLD MAKING
A portion of the steamed rice is transported to the heated koji room, where koji-mold — a fungus that grows on rice — is made. Koji-mold is sprinkled on the rice, then mixed thoroughly to ensure even coverage and left to mature. Any hardened koji-rice blend is regularly kneaded and unraveled. The koji-rice blend is spread out flat to slowly cool it down before removal.
STEP 5: STARTER CULTURE & MOROMI (SAKE MASH) MAKING
Water, koji, yeast and rice are poured into giant vats to begin the yeast starter process. Once the starter culture is ready, steamed rice, koji and water are added on the first day to create moromi, or sake mash, which then undergoes a fermentation process. The second day, the moromi is left to rest. More koji, steamed rice and water are added on the third day. The process is repeated on day four, after which the moromi is left to slowly ferment for about a month.
STEP 6: PRESSING & PASTEURIZATION
The fermented moromi is pressed and separated into sake and sake kasu, a sake lees “cake.” The sake is then filtered to remove any undesirable flavoring. It is then pasteurized.
STEP 7: STORAGE
The processed sake is stored in giant tanks.
STEP 8: FURTHER PROCESSING
After inspection, the sake is evaluated and blended to match brand flavor profiles. The blended sake is then filtered once more, this time to remove any potential effects on flavor or taste that may have occurred during storage and make it ready to distribute. The sake is diluted to obtain the correct alcohol percentage.
STEP 9: BOTTLING & SHIPMENT
Empty sake bottles are disinfected, then filled with sake. Bottle labels are applied and the bottles are batched up in boxes, ready to be shipped out.
INTRODUCING OUR TASTEMAKERS
We entrust our sake to brilliant men and women who work hard to brew, research and continuously improve it.
At Asahi-Shuzo, we have two master brewers that are of Echigo Toji ilk. They are determined to not only to create the best sake possible, but also to study and research sake making techniques for future generations. The Echigo Toji distinction is an important one. Though there are over 30 toji guilds in Japan, the Echigo Toji of Niigata Prefecture, together with Nanbu (Iwate Prefecture) and Tanba (Hyogo Prefecture), is one of Japan’s three great master brewer guilds, and considered a particularly special distinction.
Motoyoshi Yamaga started at Asahi-Shuzo as a part-time seasonal worker in 1985 and after becoming a certified Echigo Toji, rose the ranks of master brewer in 2012. Though he now oversees brewing at the Asahi brewery facility, he still farms rice on the side. By providing Asahi-Shuzo with one of its key ingredients, he is involved in the sake brewing from start to finish. Though he conducts his tasks with the utmost precision, he says he retains the attitude that ‘sake making is a natural part of life’ to maintain a healthy relationship with his calling. “I want to make the best possible sake,” he says. “The brewery is a place for my self-expression and the realization of my goals.”
Ryosaku Ohashi has been master brewer of the larger Shorai brewery facility since 2016. During his years at Asahi-Shuzo, he has developed an understanding of measurements that are almost intuitive. “After a while, [the sake] becomes the way you expect it to be. That’s a reflection of experience,” he says. Personally, he considers sake a tool — one that supports the spirit and allows one to reflect on the day in the company of family and friends. His top tip for sake beginners who can’t decide on what to try is to experiment with a variety of brands, and pair them with different dishes. There are so many options and it’s best to find one that suits your taste and preferences.
SAKE RESEARCH CENTER,
Eri Ichikawa is an integral part of the team researching, developing and testing new sake varieties and methods. She takes her work home with her — she sometimes tests sake pairings with new dishes for dinner — and believes that one of the keys to good research is having a variety of interests. Inspiration can spark from the unlikeliest of places and experiences, especially as younger generations are entering the industry. “There’s still a lot [about sake] that we don’t know. We have a lot to learn, especially since we’re working with living ingredients like koji. One tiny adjustment can lead to new discoveries,” she explains.