Japanese Sake (Niigata Prefecture)

Japanese Sake (Niigata Prefecture)_1 Japanese Sake (Niigata Prefecture)_2

Niigata Prefecture is located in the middle of the Honshu island on the Sea of Japan side. It boasts the largest production of Koshihikari in Japan, one of the best rice brands in the country and is also highly famous for its Japanese sake made from rice.

So how did Niigata become famous for its sake production? First, the land itself is endowed with great resources and weather. Although it has the image of being in cold weather, it doesn’t get too cold in the lowland area where it has longer hours of sunshine despite the latitude, making the place rather comfortable to spend time in. However, in winter it snows heavily in the mountain area, where a 3-meter pile of snow is not a rare sight. The snow piles accumulated in winter eventually turn into clean melt water, making for a perfect environment for the production of rice and providing an endless supply of great-tasting drinking water.

The next factor is the weather. The temperature in Niigata is said to be the best for sake production, allowing for the slow fermentation necessary to produce its uniquely clear taste.

Lastly, we can’t forget the people who produce the sake. In Niigata, there are people called Echigo-toji. “Toji” refers to a group of workers who make Japanese sake or the leader of the process. Since the 18th century, it has become mainstream to make Japanese sake in cold season because of some restrictions of the feudal government back in time, so the farmers started to work as seasonal “Toji” workers in each area only during winter when farming was not in practice. As a result, different groups of workers – or “Toji”- with regional characteristics emerged from each area, and Echigo-toji received high acclaim for their diligence, eventually becoming one of the biggest of such groups in the country. Today, 70% of sake breweries in the Kanto area as well as in Niigata are said to have been branched out from Echigo-toji.

The combination of great natural resources, weather and craftsmen has helped Japanese sake from become highly popular in the global market as well. It has the general reputation of having a clear and dry taste, but each sake has its own unique flavor. “Daiginjyo,” a type of sake that is made from rice polished to less than half its original size, is the rice wine that each storehouse brews with the greatest pride, and certainly has a big appeal in itself. Some have a fruity and bright flavor and others are clear and simple – or rich in flavor. The sake in Niigata gives one a different taste for every sip. How about you start by making yourself an expert on “Daiginjyo”? Remember, the differences between the sakes will become clear when tasted chilled.

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