Well, it’s been a while but I’ve just returned from Japan where I was completing the Advanced Certificate of the Sake Education Council’s Sake Professional Course.
A successful trip in that I passed the test, learnt a lot and most importantly drank a lot of good nihonshu. Although, probably my favourite part of the trip was visiting sake breweries of various sizes in varying regions. In Nagano we visited the very well-regarded (and rightfully so) Masumi. Roughly translated to mean “Mirror of Truth”, Masumi is this year seeing in their 350th anniversary-quite a feat. But Masumi is quite deserved of such a rich history. One of the leaders when it comes to solid, well-made sake without being bogged down by tradition, they are probably best known for the development of the No.7 yeast strain. You see, the yeast strains used in sake brewing are all rather unimaginatively numbered rather than named. Some breweries cultivate their own yeast strains but most purchase them directly from the Brewing Society of Japan. In 1946 the brewers at Masumi developed what became known as No.7. Now a very commonly used yeast strain across the country (used by around 60% of Japan’s breweries!). Full of fresh somewhat fruity aromatics it is mostly seen in namazake (unpasteurized), junmai and honjozo. It was also interesting to see Masumi also mill their own rice. These days many breweries outsource the milling process due to brewery space limits and simple time constraints. There are a few companies that are quite adept at milling so it is often easier to get the rice milled before it arrives at the brewery. However, Masumi still does it themselves in a large and rather noisy milling room.
Masumi actually has two breweries. A large main brewery in Fujimi active since 1982, rather beautifully covered in snow and surrounded by Nagano’s gorgeous mountain ranges, and the original brewery in Suwa-much older and smaller but reeking of history.
After being taken through both breweries and treated to an amazing lunch, a comprehensive tasting of Masumi’s products was much appreciated.
A thorough tasting at the end of the tour was much appreciated. All the sake tried was balanced, approachable and brilliant. For a brewery whose mission statement early on was to make the best damn sake in Japan, they’re doing pretty well.
Decorative barrels of sake at the entrance to the brewery
Champagne fans will be familiar. This rack is used for riddling their sparkling sake. The bottles are rotated in the rack to encourage any lees and yeasty bits down to the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen and the floaties removed a’la Methode Champenoise.
Masumi is not available retail in Australia as far as I know but is available in a few Japanese restaurants if you look around. It’s worth the search.