Brewer Interview: Tsushima Kitahara

kitahara_tim.jpgI recently had the chance to try Shichiken Junmai Ginjo Sake (SMV +4, ALC 14.5%) once again. It’s really an amazing brew. The one thing I hear again and again about this sake is that it’s versatile and can be easily enjoyed both chilled and gently warmed. Few sakes can make this claim, so I wanted to learn more about this sake and where it came from. Who better to ask then Tsushima Kitahara, the 13th generation of the Kitahara Family making Shichiken Sake in Yamanashi Prefecture at the Yamanashi Meijo Co. Brewery. I asked Kitahara-san if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions to help us understand his views on Sake, Shichiken and life at the Brewery – and he graciously agreed.

Q: After having lived in America for some time, what is your impression of the sake market in the USA? Do you think interest in sake is growing among American Consumers?

Kitahara-san: I feel that American market has a strong potential for SAKE. Currently, we are focusing our attention on the Asian market, but we will shift it from Asia to America in the near future. Sake is ranked 10th of all the alcoholic beverages consumed in the United States, but I am sure that it will be #7 in the next 10 years.

shichiken.jpgQ: Does Shichiken use modern or traditional brewing technology? or both?

Kitahara-san: We use traditional methods. We make KOJI by hand. Also, we mix the tanks by hand. We brew sake only in the winter time because we try to maintain our family and company history and philosophy. If we use technology or use artificial materials, we might brew the same quality every year,but it is not fun… so we try to maintain our quality using traditional methods. I feel that makes us more serious.

Q: Did you grow up at the sake brewery? If yes, do you have any interesting or funny stories from your childhood or family life at the brewery?

Kitahara-san: Yes, I did. When I was child, our brewery had more than 40 employees. They really took care of me, and they usually helped me with my homework. They called me the ‘next president!’ so sometimes, I felt like ‘I am the King’ So, why do I need to do my homework…hahaha. And my father asked me to start tasting Sake since I was five years old. So I had a lot of experience drinking Sake.

Q: Is there anything special about the culture or landscape of Yamanashi Prefecture that contributes to your sake?

Kitahara-san: Our Prefecture has only mountains and no oceans. Yamanashi is surrounded by Mt. Fuji, Mt. Komagatake, Mt. Yatsugatake and Mt. South Alps. Actually these mountains are very famous in Japan. So we use thaw water from these mountains which is so pure and clean. That is why Shichiken is so smooth with such a clean aftertaste. Unfortunately, Yamanashi is not good for growing crops because it is a basin. Therefore, we buy sake rice from other Prefectures. We are very proud of our clean water.

Yamanashi_pre2.gifQ: What is your personal favorite Shichiken sake and why?

Kitahara-san: Actually I like Shichiken Junmai-Ginjo that we have been selling in the U.S for 7 years. It is that rare type of Sake which is good for serving both chilled or warmed. Back when I started to promote it, I didn’t like it so much because it was really difficult to promote this kind of Sake. People mostly liked flavorful and smooth Sake at that time, so it took time to get the word out about our Shichiken kind of Sake. But now, thanks to good sake education, people can understand and appreciate this kind of Sake, too. Shichiken Junmai-Ginjo is very easy to pair with any kind of food, so I can recommend it to every Sake lover.

Q: What do you think would surprise American people the most if they saw Sake brewing up close and in person?

Kitahara-san: I think the process of making KOJI would be the most surprising to Americans, because we don’t sleep during that process. We mix koji by hand every 2 hours and check the temperature every minute. That is also one of the most important and difficult steps in that process.


Thank you so much, Kitahara-san, for taking the time for an UrbanSake.com Interview! Thanks for that info on Yamanashi and Shichiken. I hope you get a chance to visit us in the States again soon.