The trend for Japanese cuisine has put sake in the global spotlight, and the demands are only steadily increasing.
Nagano Prefecture's fame for sake does not come from the quantity it produces, rather, it is the quality that the many small breweries churn out that lands it amongst the nation's finest.
There are two such breweries within Iiyama: Tanakaya Sake Brewery, known for ‘Mizuo’ sake; and Kadoguchi Sake Brewery of the ‘HokkoMasamune’ sake fame.
Despite the general tendency to disregard the local brew, these two breweries have remained extremely popular amongst the local population for over a century. It’s all about the taste, and there are three factors that determine it.
Water quality is crucial in determining the caliber of a Sake. Iiyama’s untouched nature produces “delicious” water, as the snow cloaking the mountainous landscape slowly permeates the soil to result in a runoff of pure river water.
The key raw ingredient of sake is rice. Iiyama’s conditions - pure water, clean air, plentiful sun, and temperate climate – come together to produce the best rice in Nagano. pristine, large-grained rice most suitable for making sake.
Sake requires the constant attention of the Toji – the chief sake brewer. Until the Taisho period Tojis in Nagano were external employees; but Iiyama was among the first to produce a local Toji, living right next to the brewery and able to provide the continual attention good sake demands.
Visiting Iiyama's Sake Breweries
- Established in 1873, the current sixth generation President, Ryuta Tanaka, describes his “Mizuo” sake as “More delicious by the glass - the second glass is even more delicious than the first, the third is even better than the second”. The fine, dry sake has a keen aftertaste, and boasts a diverse fanbase. The ingredients are strictly local and selected for their quality – the water is from a natural spring in at the foot of Mount Mizuo in Nozawa Onsen Village, and the rice is specially cultivated within a 5km radius of the brewery.
- ‘The love of the local people is what makes a true local sake,’ is Kadoguchi Brewery’s principle, and it is proved a hundred times over in the popularity of their “HokkoMasamune” – clean and dry, but with the aroma and ‘umami’ of rice. The northern-most brewery in the Prefecture taps into the aquifer under Mount Nabekura, spanning Iiyama City to Niigata Prefecture as its water source. Since its establishment in 1869, Kadoguchi has actively pursued new and innovative techniques and methods to create new and exciting discoveries for the people of Iiyama.
- “Mizuo, Special Junmai sake, brewed with Kinmonnishiki” - showcasing the characteristics of the rare Kinmonnishiki rice of the Kijimadaira Village
- “Sake of Iiyama” – Made from Kinuhikari sake rice cultivated in Iiyama, and dressed in Iiyama specialty Washi paper.
Tanakaya Brewery President,
- The people of Iiyama tend to be big drinkers, so they prefer clean aftertastes to overly fragrant or strong-flavoured sake. Mount Mizuo’s spring water yielded the results closest to this ideal. Here we use the same technology to produce our standard sake and our top class Daiginjo. There are easier ways, sure, but machines just can’t beat hands. We are also very lucky to be surrounded by Iiyama’s advanced rice cultivation and technical expertise – I can convey a general image of the type of grain I want, and they manage to come up with exactly what I was thinking. It’s a wonderful environment.
Kadoguchi Sake Brewery Shop
Executive Director Toji,
- While a good evaluation by an expert at an exposition or show is also important, we place just as much value on creating good quality sake at a price range that can be regularly consumed by the local population. This is the type of sake that through it’s taste, can showcase the local colour and characteristics. Perhaps the biggest defining characteristic of Nagano, and especially Iiyama, is that all 3 crucial factors in brewing a good sake - water, rice and Toji – can be locally sourced. It might be due to this that we have such a high local consumption rate of local sakes.
Tanakaya Sake Brewery Shop
2227 Iiyama, Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture,
Kadoguchi Sake Brewery Shop
1147 Tokisato, Iiyama City,Nagano Prefecture