Niigata prefecture is Japan’s top sake-producing region. The snowmelt from the mountains supply pure and soft (low mineral) water and the nutrient-rich soil in this area produces the highest quality rice available. Out of the 90+ breweries in the region, Obata Shuzo on Sado Island is the one we will highlight today.The brewery was founded in 1892 by Yososaku Obata and continues to be run by his family. Their motto is “Making sake by harmonizing 4 treasures: rice, water, people (brewers) and Sado Island.” The meaning behind this is, if you take proper care of the land and the environment, it will take care of you. These four treasures, or eyes, are part of the family crest. If you look closely, you will see it on their labels.
The island is also a home to the endangered crane called the Japanese Crested Ibis or Toki. This is a rare and beautiful bird and many parts of Japan and Asia consider it to be a symbol of good luck and longevity. Extensive efforts by the local government and international conservationists to preserve the species have been successful. Businesses, breweries and farmers on the island have also committed to using sustainable and protective farming methods. These farming processes are often challenging, time-consuming and can be costly, but the rewards are greater.
In addition to its main brewery, the Obata family has opened a second one called Gakkogura, which means “brewery school.” They took a former elementary school that had long been vacant and converted it into a complete sake educational center. They are passionate about using eco-friendly methods and practices, while making delicious, award-winning sakes, including the three that we offer at Sake Social.
Manotsuru “Maho” Daiginjo — Seimabuai 35% [the rice is polished to 35% of its original size]. Gold Medal winner of multiple local and international wine and sake championships. The brewery’s current Toji [brew master], Kenya Kudo, pays homage to his former mentor and the brewery’s former master brewer, internationally acclaimed Maho Matsui, with this exceptional brew. This sake is super elegant and refined, and has the perfect balance of spice [white pepper and anise] and fragrant fruity melon, with good acidity, mild sweetness and a long, pleasant finish. Food pairings include oysters on the half-shell, appetizers, and goat’s cheese soufflé. Daiginjo sakes lose their delicate aromas when heated, so always serve them chilled.
Manotsuru “Bulzai” Ginjo — Seimaibuai 55% [the rice is polished to 55% of its original size] 2015 Gold medal winner at the World Wine Tasting Championships. A balanced, crisp, dry [not sweet], and aromatic single-pasteurized sake called Nama-chozo [sakes usually go through two pasteurization steps during the brewing process to kill bacteria and neutralize yeasts]. Aromas are floral and delicate with notes of exotic fruits like pineapple and green banana, yellow apple skin and steamed rice. Bulzai is Romaji [Japanese writing using the Roman alphabet] for “bull’s eye.” The brew master thinks this sake is a perfect hit with a wide variety of dishes and we agree. Try pairing with Baja style fish tacos. Ginjo sakes are best served chilled.
Manotsuru Crane Junmai — Seimaibuai 65% [the rice is polished to 65% of its original size]. Junmai means “pure rice,” which means no additional alcohol was added to the sake. [This is sometimes done by a brewery to round out the style of the sake. It temporarily raises the alcoholic level of the sake, but then it is diluted with water and brought back to a more palatable level of 15-17% alc.] This sake is the brew master’s description of the Sado Island spirit and terroir, from the red origami crane, to the rare rice variety grown only in Niigata called Koshiibuki. This is a lovely sake with aromas of toasted bread, stone fruits like fresh almonds and peach, honey and milk chocolate [like the Swiss candy bar, Toblerone]. A fantastic sake that will go with just about any dish and one that I can definitely see at my November/December holiday meals. Served chilled or at room temperature.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Kanpai!