Longtime readers of my site will know that it was Hakkaisan’s Junmai Ginjo sake that got me so
addicted devoted to sake. Hakkaisan is a well known brand that is widely distributed in Japan and abroad, but still very much hand crafted with great attention to details and quality.
Hakkaisan Honjozo is another delicious brew. This sake is more hearty and can pair well with many foods and it also delightful when gently warmed. And of course, as I mentioned above, the Hakkaisan’s Junmai Ginjo is the first premium sake I ever had, and it caught my attention with good reason. It’s crisp and clean style is really elegant and a delight to drink anytime.
Needless to say I was totally jazzed about visiting this brewery and seeing how Hakkaisan did their thing. I took an early morning train into Niigata’s Urasa Station and was picked up and whisked off to Hakkaisan headquarters for a full day consisting of a tour of the brewery facilities lead by Hakkaisan’s Toji, a meeting with Hakkaisan Production staff and finally a lunch with Hakkaisan President Mr. Nagumo.My first impression of this area was it’s astounding natural beauty. Everywhere I turned, I saw truly beautiful vistas of stunning Niigata mountains crowned by the sacred eight peaks of Mount Hakkai. I couldn’t help but envision the area covered in layers of snow as it is so often pictured in the winter months. This beautiful landscape is home to some beautiful sake and I was about to see how it was made! The brewery tour of the Hakkaisan facility started in their new production facility which allowed visitors to watch the various stages of sake production through windows set up at strategic points along the process. I was lucky enough to see several stages of the brewing process right up close. Just as I had seen in other breweries, this one was built on a vertical concept with the upper floors being at the start of the process and with the rice and sake working it’s way down. For example, milling and steaming on the top floor, brewing on the next floor down and pressing on the floor below that. That way you are never fighting gravity to transport your rice or sake. Ingenious! After visiting the large milling facility, I was taken to the area where the rice is washed and steamed. Next I saw the wood paneled koji room. Luckily when I was there, I got to see the kurabito in action. They swept into the koji room with the precision of a S.W.A.T. team and with seeming laser-guided acuity, proceeded to turn the rice by hand so that each grain had a chance to get exposure to the koji mold being propagated here. They played it cool, but I think they may have been just as surprised to see a gaijin peering into the koji room window as I was to see them.
After the brewery tour, I had a wonderful sit down meeting with the production staff. We were able to exchange ideas and I explained the current state of the sake market in the US. After some wonderful questions back and forth, it was off to meet Hakkaisan President Mr. Nagumo.Nagumo-san greeted me warmly in his home and I found him to be young and energetic with a lot of charisma. His beautiful mother prepared a lavish luncheon of local dishes that was simply delicious. I was bowled over by the spread and was even more surprised to learn we would be drinking the Hakkaisan competition sake to go along with the food. This is not sold to the public, so this was a rare honor indeed. Needless to stay I enjoyed every minute of it. We spent the afternoon talking sake and culture and about New York and the USA. I really had a wonderful time. But before I knew it, the train was calling and I was needing to head back to the station. I can’t thank Nagumo-san enough for hosting me and to everyone at Hakkaisan for their hospitality. Also, a special word of thanks to Makiko-san for helping all day with translations which made my stay that much more meaningful.
I won’t soon forget my fantastic day at Hakkaisan. Visiting this place kind of brought my whole experience in the sake world full circle. I was able to see for myself where the sake that first sparked my interest in Nihon-shu, was actually made. After seeing the beautiful countryside of this region and the beautiful people who lovingly craft this sake, it’s no mystery to me why I fell head over heels for Hakkaisan all those years ago.