Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

January 9, 2016

Sake from Toyama Prefecture (Sake Regions)

Toyama Prefecture boasts magnificent nature in the heart of Japan. It is in the first place well-known for the Tateyama mountain range and the Kurobe Gorge and Dam. Takaoka, a town of iron smiths, also boasts Zenryuji, a great Zen temple of National Treasure class. In Gokayama one finds a World Heritage site with impressive folk houses. Tonami is famous for its tulips. Toyama's foods are masu-sushi (trout sushi), buri (yellowtail), kamaboko (fish paste) and hotaruika (small firefly squid) - all caught in the Bay of Toyama.

Toyama Prefecture abounds in excellent water as snow from the Tateyama mountain range of the northern Alps melts and flows into the region.

Toyama is also well-known as a rice harvesting area. Of old the sakamai (special rice for sake) of Toyama is "Gohyakumangoku," of which production is the highest after Niigata and Fukui; much of it is sold to breweries outside Toyama. A new variant of sakamai is “Oyama Nishiki,” a cross between "Omachi" and "Miyama Nishiki." Breweries in Toyama use a high percentage of special sake rice, including also “Yamada Nishiki” from Hyogo.

Sake from Toyama is dry, elegant and smooth, close in style to Niigata. Not surprisingly, master brewers are often from the Echigo guild.

There 19 active sake breweries in Toyama (2015), the smallest number in Hokuriku, but two of those breweries are among the country's 50 largest.

Some of the major breweries are:
  • Masuizumi (Masuda Shuzoten, Toyama). Est. 1893. "Well Full of Long Life." This sake brewery stands in Iwase, a historic port town that flourished in the Kitamae sea trade. It was one of the first - already in the mid-1960s - to focus on ginjo sake in which it is still a leading player. Makes ginjos with fine fragrance and full flavor. Toji from Noto brewers guild, who make rich and soft sake. Innovative brewery undertakes various experiments, such as aging sake in wine casks from Burgundy.
  • Sanshoraku (Sanshoraku Shuzo, Nanto). Est. 1880. Small brewery in World Heritage Site Gokayama, lying under deep snow in winter. Production is limited, making Sanshoraku a rare apparition. Uses the Yamahai-method for making the yeast-starter. Individualistic, large-boned and umami-rich character, as befits sake from a mountain region. The name of the company goes back to a Chinese story, "The Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine" (Kokei sansho), about a hermit who vowed never to leave his ravine, but who when talking pleasantly with two poet-friends, unconsciously did step outside, after which all three gave a big laugh.
  • Tateyama (Tateyama Shuzo, Tonami). Est. 1830. Named after Toyama's dominant mountain range. Large brewery (operating in two locations) that produces soft and dry sakes with a good balance.
Toyama Sake Brewers Association
    When planning a brewery visit, check in advance whether the brewery accepts visitors and whether it is open on the day and time you plan to go, especially if a long trip is necessary to get there (see the brewery's website for tel. no or mail address). Note that brewery tours, if available, always have to be booked in advance. Many breweries, however, do not allow visitors in their production area, or only in certain seasons / for certain sizes of groups. In contrast, if a sake museum or brewery shop is present, this is usually open without reservation.
    Sake by Region:
    Hokkaido/Tohoku: Hokkaido - Aomori - Akita - Iwate - Miyagi - Yamagata - Fukushima
    Kanto area: Ibaraki - Tochigi - Gunma - Saitama - Chiba - Tokyo - Kanagawa
    Hokushinetsu: Yamanashi - Nagano - Niigata - Toyama - Ichikawa - Fukui
    Tokai area: Shizuoka - Aichi - Gifu - Mie
    Kansai area: Shiga - Kyoto - Osaka - Hyogo - Nara - Wakayama
    Chugoku area: Tottori - Shimane - Okayama - Hiroshima - Yamaguchi
    Shikoku: Tokushima - Kagawa - Ehime - Kochi
    Kyushu/Okinawa: Fukuoka - Saga - Nagasaki - Kumamoto - Oita - Miyazaki / Kagoshima / Okinawa
    Reference materials: Kikisakeshi Koshukai Tekisuto by Sake Service Institute (Tokyo, 2009); Nihonshu no kyokasho by Kimura Katsumi (Shinsei Shuppansha: Tokyo, 2010); Nihonshu no Tekisuto (2): Sanchi no Tokucho to Tsukuritetachi by Matsuzaki Haruo (Doyukan, 2005); The Book of Sake by Philip Harper (Kodansha International: Tokyo, New York, London, 2006); The Sake Companion by John Gauntner (Running Press: Philadelphia & London, 2000); The Sake Selection by Akiko Tomoda (Gap Japan: Tokyo, 2009).
    The blog author Ad Blankestijn works for the Daishichi Sake Brewery and is an accredited sake sommelier and sake instructor. He also hosts independent sake seminars to propagate knowledge about his favorite drink. The above text reflects his personal opinion.