October 3, 2012
by Yuria Shinya
Gekkeikan (月桂冠) is one of the most famous brands of sake, or rice wine, in Japan. The Gekkeikan brand is the result of a very long history; the Gekkeikan company has been brewing sake for more than 370 years in the southern part of Kyoto in area known as Fushimi.
Fushimi is an ideal place for sake brewing because of its natural environment. Appropriate temperatures and good-quality water are required to brew sake. In Fushimi, both of these important factors exist.
The city of Kyoto is set in a basin, surrounded by mountains on the north, east and west. These mountains keep Kyoto very chilly in wintertime. A cool temperature of around 5℃ is important to mature sake in a brewery. So cold winter temperatures created by Kyoto’s natural basin is why sake brewing became so deeply rooted here.
Also, especially in Fushimi, there is a lot of high-quality groundwater that has been there since ancient times. One day in the Heian period (794-1185), rare and fragrant spring water started flowing out at a shrine in Fushimi. It was christened “Gokougu” (御香宮, see Photo 1.),by the Imperial Court. This water was soft and full of rich minerals. Sake made from this groundwater felt really smooth on the tongue.
Sake used to be matured in huge wooden barrels (see Photo 2). Unfortunately, these are no longer used and sake fermentation is controlled by computers now.
However, today it is still possible to see the casks and a traditional brewery, which was built in 1906, at the Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館),which is where the Gekkeikan Memorial Hall is located. This brewery is named Gekkeikan Sake Kobo(月桂冠酒香房, see Photo 3). Here, we are able to see the process of sake– making throughout the year. At this brewery, 40 kiloliters of sake are brewed per year even now.
The Process of Making Sake
The traditional way of making sake is so complicated, however I will explain in a simple and concise way now.
STEP 1. Wash the rice
→ The grade of sake often depends upon the percentage of polished rice that is used. The rice grain husks are removed to make polished rice.
STEP 2. Steam the rice
→The rice is steamed for around one hour.
STEP 3. Making moromi (醪), the sake mash
→ Steamed rice, koji (rice mixed with the micro-organism aspergillus oryze), yeast, and water are put into barrels (see photo 2) and the mixture is allowed to ferment for 20~30 days. Koji helps turn the rice starch into sugar content; yeast helps to turn the sugar content into alcohol.
STEP4. Squeezing the sake mash
→ Moromi is put in a bag and squeezed by a big press. From this process sake gains a smooth texture.
STEP5. Fermenting the sake
→ The sake is then is fermented for one year or more.
Kinds of Sake
More than 50 kinds of sake are sold by Gekkeikan. Each of them tastes a little different. It is fun of to try many different kinds in order to find your favorite one. Below are two kinds of sake and one plum wine made by Gekkeikan. It is possible to sample these at the Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館).
Tamanoizumi Daiginjo NamaChozosyu(玉の泉 大吟醸生貯蔵酒)
Daiginjo means top-quality sake brewed at low temperatures from rice grains milled to 50 percent of weight or less. It is a really fresh and fruity taste. It is better to drink it well chilled.
Ginjosyu (吟醸酒, 甘口/slightly sweet taste)
Ginjo means high-quality sake brewed at low temperatures from rice grains milled to 60 percent of weight or less. This is a good, full-bodied sake. The label and shape of the light blue bottle in this picture is a retro design.
This wine, or umeshu in Japanese, has a delicate taste and flavor of plum. Many plum wines are served as an apertif.
The Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館) is in Fushimi ward in southern Kyoto. It is a 5 to 7-minute walk from Chushojima Station on the Keihan Line. Or it is a 10 to 15-minute walk from Momoyama Goryo-mae Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line. >> Access Map
It is open from 9:30-4:30PM. And it is closed over New Year holidays and the O-Bon Festival in mid-August.
Admission: Adults (¥300); Children ,aged 12-17 (¥100); Children, aged 0-11 (free).
Please make reservations in advance for group visits.
There are more detail information on this website. >>The Gekkeikan Okura Kinenkan(月桂冠大倉記念館)