June 29, 2014
Sasakishuzo’s Handmade Sake
By Akari Yamamoto Kaho Nishimura
Kyoto’s food culture, and the traditions and skills of saké making are the most important considerations for Sasakishuzou, a Japanese brewing company established in 1893. The company’s location, near Nijo Castle in Kyoto, is known for its very pure and rich water. It is is called Rakuchu. In 2014, Sasakishuzo’s brand of saké named Jurakudai Junmaidaiginnjo (聚楽第 純米大吟醸) was awarded the gold prize for Best Japanese Wine-Glass Saké in one section of the Daiginjoshu Contest. Sasakishuzo has earned respect from several chefs of authentic Kyoto cuisine because its sakés suit these foods very well. This match is very essential for Kyoto cuisine. Sasakishuzo is not only preserving, but passing down traditional Kyoto tastes.
In spite of the fact it was early morning Sasaki Akira took time from his busy schedule at Sasaki Shuzou to have an interview with us. He spoke in Kansai dialect, so we could feel a close relationship with him and he gave us a very warm welcome. Sasaki always thinks of Kyoto cuisine culture so we could feel his passion of Japanese saké. He was born in April 1st, 1970 in Kyoto. After working in a sales position for an industrial-machine distribution company, he started the job of saké making at age 25. Now, through events promoting Japanese saké, he is out to increase the number of Japanese saké fans. At the end of our interview, we could take this wonderful picture of him with a bottle of Sasakishuzo saké.
KAHO NISHIMURA: What is the characteristic of Sasakishuzou?
SASAKI AKIRA: I believe the sake our company makes is the most suitable beverage for kyo-ryori (traditional Kyoto cuisine). When Kyoto chefs go to other prefectures to prepare Kyoto dishes they always take our saké with them.
Actually, it is completely different from regular Japanese saké. You know that non-alcohol beer tastes like beer, but our non-alcohol saké does not quite taste like Japanese saké. The reason why we decided to produce is related to our production schedule. We make sake during the fall and winter, so we are not so busy during the spring and summer months. We wanted to make a new beverage that used similar techniques to those of saké making. Therefore we decided to try and make a non-alcohol “saké” during spring and summer and sell it as a seasonal product.
KAHO: Do you have any rivals? Which one makes the best saké?
There are many sake companies in Japan. Big companies make half of all saké in Japan and many small local companies make the other half. The smaller companies —like ours— compete on high quality. We always make an effort to brew the best saké we can, but it is a challenge to get customers to choose our product when there are so many other high-quality sakés. However, actually we do not have a bad relationship with other makers. We are actually good friends and give each other help, so our relationship is not like real rivals. We all consider ourselves part of a fraternity that preserves Japanese culture. We believe that we should not be satisfied with just making saké, but that we have a responsibility to educate others about the unique food culture of Kyoto through saké making.
AKARI: Who are the people who come to your shop?
In a single day, we have almost one hundred customers. They might be someone who is visiting from another prefecture for sightseeing, or students on a school trip, or local people. On average, the age of most of most of our customers is from thirty to forty.
KAHO: We will write this article in English so various foreign people will see it. Do you ever think about selling your products overseas? What points about sake do you want to bring to attention to the people in the world?
I think in the future, we should introduce Japanese food culture with Japanese saké to the world. However, I hope to tell them that Japanese food is mostly very good because it has been refined by high techniques.
Recently, Sasakishuzo is trying to make other special products with Kyoto food companies, a bakery and a traditional Japanese sweet shop. This new project uses thetechniques used to make saké. One technique is called 麹糖化技術 (converting rice with malt to make sugar). The two companies we are working with are Mangetsu and Shizuya. Both are very famous in Kyoto and some of their products are popular as souvenirs. Making sweets and bread that use saké ingredients with these companies is one very good way to expand the Kyoto’s food culture to other places. This candy is similar to a whisky bonbon, however it has Japanese saké inside. We can experience a new taste and texture.