Unique public-private partnership ensures a climate-safe future for Sake production

Unique public-private partnership ensures a climate-safe future for Sake production

Businesses and industries are forced to innovate to ensure success in a climate-changing future. A win-win partnership is the epitome of ingenuity in a legendary, very special sake brewery and a city government seeking to leverage local characteristics to revitalize the region.

November 2020 witnessed the birth of a rare public / private business brewery in the Japanese city Higashikawa, Hokkaido. The brewery represents a new era of sake manufacturing, where producers must anticipate environmental changes and future industrial structures. It is also the epitome of the combined ideas and aspirations of a well-established, very special sake brewery and a local government seeking to exploit local characteristics to revitalize the region.

Creating new specialty products: Adds delicious local flavor to sake

Higashikawa enjoys a rich natural environment with melting snow cascading down from the peaks of the nearby Daisetsuzan mountain. Agriculture is the area’s main occupation, thanks to its delicious natural water and fertile soil. The region
Higashikawa ris brand is especially well known.

With both delicious water and delicious rice at your disposal, it is a natural end to create a local sake as the next special product. However, Higashikawa lacked sack-brewing expertise, so it created a new public-private model in which the city prepared the hardware – land and equipment – and then recruited interested private breweries to supply the software: the sake-brewing operation.

Michizakura Shuzou – a historic sake brewery in
Nakatsugawa City, Gifu, dating back to 1877 – responded to the open recruitment offer.

Adapting to climate change to secure the brewery’s future

So why would a well-established sake brewery from Gifu Prefecture move over 1,550 km away to Hokkaido to brew sake? The underlying, inevitable reason behind this huge decision was global warming.

In recent years, climate change has threatened traditional food and beverage production around the world. Bring wine in Europe, for example: The easy ripening of the grapes in Bordeaux the region of France has begun to change the taste and bouquet of local wines. In it Champagne region, the grapes are harvested about two weeks earlier than before.

“With sake, the temperature during cooking and fermentation is a problem,” he explains Koji Yamada, sixth generation owner of Michizakura Shuzou Brewery. “In warm winters, the temperature does not drop sufficiently, so we can not maintain a stable quality without using cooling systems. We considered moving to Hokkaido, which is much colder than Gifu, because the warehouses we have used since our inception deteriorated with age. “

Japanese sake is prepared and fermented in the winter. Extremely cold weather suppresses the growth of bacteria and allows the case to ferment slowly at low temperatures. Some large sake breweries use refrigeration machines and equipment to facilitate the production of sake all year round, but very few companies have the necessary capital. For the majority of small and medium-sized breweries, such large capital investments are difficult, so global warming is becoming a major challenge for the entire Japanese business market.


Michizakura’s new sake brewery in Higashikawa, Hokkaido | Image credit: Michizakura Shuzou / Facebook

But while environmental change poses a threat to traditional industries, it can also hold new opportunities. Returning to the example of European wine, while the Bordeaux and Champagne regions are experiencing a growing sense of impending crisis, areas such as Norway and Finland – which was previously too cold for winemaking – is starting to attract attention as new potential wine-producing areas.

The Higashikawa Agricultural Cooperative began growing two brands of sake rice, Suisei (comet) and Kitashizuku (northern drops), to coincide with the relocation of the Michizakura Brewery. It was the first time for Michizakura to use Suisei rice. The water was also very different – moving from the ultra-soft Nakatsugawa water with a hardness of only 8 to Higashikawa’s hard water, rated at 60-80. Mr. Yamada and the other brewers worked hard to brew sake worthy of the Michizakura name by changing the wording and design of its sake preparation.

Brewing sake in Higashikawa is a major challenge for both the city and the Michizakura Brewery; but the project represents a great opportunity to realize both Higashikawa’s desire to make new specialty products and Michizakura’s determination, handed down through generations, to function as a brewery for another 100 years.

Water, rice, people: Creating a truly local Higashikawa sake

Since the move, the brewing of sake using Higashikawa water and rice has proceeded smoothly in Michizakura. Local sake sold at roadside stations and shops in the city is sold out immediately. One could say that the local Higashikawa sake brewing has got off to a good start, but Mr. Yamada says he needs one more thing to be able to make local Higashikawa sake in the true sense of the word.

“Ultimately, I want people in Higashikawa to learn how to make and run the brewery. We hired some local people when we came here, but we look forward to welcoming others who want to experience sake brewing,” he said. he. “There are many international students in Higashikawa; so we offer educational programs not only for Japanese but also for other nationalities. Some people welcome sake brewing and others do not. Some parts require specific talent. I hope many people will give it a try and that some people will demonstrate genuine enthusiasm and talent to create guilt. “

Combining the water, rice and people of Higashikawa with Michizakura’s skill and expertise in making local Higashikawa sake – that challenge has only just begun.

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