Kinmon Akita Brewery
The Innovative Aromatic Barrel-Aged Brew
Kinmon Akita Brewery is located in Omagari, Akita Prefecture, and is famous for Japan's three major fireworks festivals.
Kinmon Akita Brewery was established in 1973 by seven local companies that pooled their capital together, starting with its predecessor, Akita Fuji Brewery, in 1936. At that time, the company was engaged in producing and selling regular sake, mainly for the local market.
In 1989, President Takashi Sasaki took over the brewery. When President Sasaki took over the brewery, selling locally wasn't easy; the only way to survive was to sell outside the prefecture.
In 1992, the old grading system for sake quality was abolished, and the current "Tokutei Meishu" system was introduced. Amidst the sake evaluation system changes, the brewery was searching for a new direction.
President Sasaki, who did not have a background in brewing, asked himself, "Can we capture the market with junmai ginjo? Can we take the top position?" At the same time, he also had doubts about the high reputation of junmai ginjo.
In pursuing the essence of sake, he concluded that the essence of sake is the flavor of the rice and that the sake that should be the pinnacle should be aged sake.
In fact, there is no clear standard for evaluating aged sake. The Sake Tax Law was revised in the Meiji era (1868–1912). As soon as brewing was completed, a sake tax was imposed, and payment was required, so breweries could no longer afford to age sake. Thus, from that time on, aged sake disappeared from the world. Because of this historical background, there is no industry-wide standard for how long sake must be aged before it can be called "aged sake."
At Kinmon Akita Brewery, the aging period varies from a few years to more than 10 years. However, it is the company's decision whether or not to release a product as an aged sake, and some products have been aged for nearly four years but have yet to be released as aged sake.
Aged Sake Designed for Harmonious Food Pairing
President Sasaki has decided that the brewery's policy is to pursue sake brewing with aged sake at the top of the list. He recalls wanting to go beyond the "boundaries of sake" to sell his best sake.
The results of his efforts are evident in the fact that his sake is now being accepted by Western cuisines, such as French cuisine.
Kinmon Akita Brewery's aged sake's distinctive feature is its taste notes, similar to those of aged white wine. The company is exceptionally particular about its sake being "an aged sake that goes well with food." In fact, it has been handled by Michelin restaurants overseas.
To make sake that goes well with food, the rice is not overly polished (not too polished) and is brewed with some basic alcohol.
They have also tried aging junmai sake, but the junmai sake tasted too strong and was difficult to drink. There were also issues with quality stability, so they have settled on the current sake quality. To make the "matured sake that goes well with food," he says, the sake should be either honjozo or junmai, which leaves a little more space in the flavor and allows the food to enter, making it a better match with food.
In fact, because the aging process brings out the flavor, it is especially great with butter and sauces, which complement each other and give the food and sake an unprecedented sense of unity.
Most people who taste Kinmon Akita Brewery's aged sake for the first time are usually surprised that this is sake! President Sasaki says with high expectations that there is still room for growth in aged sake. Many say they did not notice the aroma and color of the sake until they were told it was sake.
Barrel-Aged "Aromatic" Sake
Currently, the company is working on a new approach to "aroma" as well. The aroma of aged sake is often perceived, especially by Asian people, as being like Shaoxing sake, so we are working on barrel-aged aged sake to bring out more of the aroma and broaden the range.
The sake we use is already aged for several years and then further aged in barrels. The sake itself has a strong flavor, so even after nearly a year of aging in the barrels, the sake does not lose its flavor, and the sweetness of the rice is well-preserved and well-balanced. Not only that, but it also brings out complex taste notes.
In addition to the oak, cherry, and chestnut barrels we crowdfunded, we are currently using French and American oak. The taste notes can change even when aged in the same barrels. Still, they want people to enjoy it by turning it into their own personality, and they are also turning the characteristics of barrel aging into a plus.
In fact, only a little can be added to aged sake by the brewer, so it is essential to trust the potential of the sake to what extent. He is confident that he is now the leader in the aged sake category. Still, he looks back and wonders if he would not be where he is today if he had not chosen aged sake when he decided on the brewery's policy. "If anything, I feel like I am being used to mature sake," laughs President Sasaki, who will continue his quest for mature sake.