Hakuro is Sake made with a huge respect to the traditional manufacturing method at Sawada Shuzo (Sake brewery) in Chita peninsula, Aichi. To make this Sake, Sawada family keeps the strict policy to make ALL Koji on wooden Koji trays and use a huge wooden vat to steam the rice.
“Haku” from Hakuro means white and “Ro” means aging in Japanese. Together “Hakuro” represents Sawada’s wish to make great Sake from shining white rice, wishing for people’s longevity.
The brewery was established in 1848 and has a very interesting history and a commitment to the traditional manufacturing method. Hidetoshi Sawada, Kurabito and executive vice-president introduced their story to us.
Birth of Sokujo (quick fermentation) and Sawada Shuzo
Before entering their Kura (a brew house), Hidetoshi explained how Sokujo method was born in Japan.
Sake brewing in Chita has been very active since the Edo period.
Sake brewing in Chita has been very active since the Edo period. The area was a hinge for marine transportation and was controlled by the Owari Domain, a feudal domain of Japan in those days. Since then to the Meiji period, there were more than 200 Sake breweries in Chita, which wasn’t to be outdone by Nada’ Sake industry.
It was initially a Sake brewery in Nigata prefecture that invented this Sokujo method, but the technique to stabilize the quality couldn’t be achieved by just one brewery’s knowledge and facilities. Eventually the government stood up to investigate it further on, and kicked off the research on how to avoid “Hiochi” bacteria, the cause of putrefaction.
Why did the government support them? In the Meiji period, the national finance very much relied on alcohol tax. It was essential for them to support the breweries to constantly let them make Sake for the revenue.
In 1884, Sake breweries in Chita gathered and formed an association called “Hojo-gumi”.
In 1884, Sake breweries in Chita gathered and formed an association called “Hojo-gumi” due to a sense of crisis towards the increase of alcohol tax. In those days, the Sake market was dominated by the breweries from Nada, and Sake making in Chita was rapidly declining. On the top of that, there were many breweries going bankrupted due to the lack of technical knowledge about Sake making from scientific point of view.
In 1876 Louis Pasteur already discovered a principle of pasteurization, but it didn’t make it to Japan because of the long national isolation. Japan had a long period without extensive knowledge of Sake making while people considered Sake as a mysterious drink gifted by God or something that makes them feel good and be close to God.
Hojo-gumi was formed to make the highest quality Sake using advanced technologies and gadgets imported from Western countries.
Due to the rapid decline of Sake production in Chita and competitive feelings towards Nada, the initiatives formed Hojo-gumi in order to make highest quality Sake with exploiting advanced technologies and gadgets imported from western countries.
Sokujo method using lactic acid was developed at Sawada Shuzo.
At Sawada Shuzo, Kamajiro Eda from Ministry of Finance brewing test laboratory was invited and Sokujo method, the prototype of quick fermentation method that’s used for Sake industry today was researched and continuous brewing method using lactic acid was developed. Thanks to the effort, they finally came to the idea that the contamination or spoilage of fermentation mash could be avoided by adding lactic acid. In 1911, finally the Sokujo method was finalized.
This endeavor with struggle made Sawada commit to continue improving the method until today.
In many breweries, they use association yeast to control fermentation.
The contamination has always been a biggest fear for Sake breweries, and the solution has been their strong interests since long ago. This is why many breweries use Association Yeast/Kyokai Kobo (Sake yeast distributed by Brewing Society of Japan) so they can control the fermentation.
“Kimoto” suggests the idea that everything is naturally brewed, but with the latest technology it’s still hard to have the stable quality, thus Kyokai Kobo, says Hidetoshi.
Why did Sake making so flourish in Chita?
Hidetoshi explained two main reasons of the flourishment of Sake industry in Chita.
The Sake industry was an efficient source of money.
In old days, homemade Sake was just a part of daily life until a new tax was imposed on alcohol just like rice.
“Sakekabu” system was introduced, which coerced people to buy an official certificate of Sake brewing from the Edo/Tokugawa government. Since the finance of the Owari domain lived on the revenue on this tax, the Sake industry was an efficient source of money.
Chita breweries had a great advantage of delivering their Sake in a perfect timing.
Another reason is the geographical location.
Nearly all buildings in the Edo period were wooden, and the city of Edo was lost by fire every hundreds of years. (Massive fire by Yaoya-Oshichi in 1683 is the famous one.)
The city faced a financial difficulty after every big fire, that resulted Samurai, craftworkers, everyone to gather in Edo (current Tokyo) to earn money again.
By 田代幸春 (戸火事図巻（江戸東京博物館 Edo-Tokyo Museum ：収蔵品）) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This concentrated population led to a high consumption of Sake in the city, which contributed to the industry to re-flourish.
The up-to-date information of the demand on Sake in Edo was shared by Hikyaku (an express messenger) or peddlers of medicine who travelled from Edo to Hyogo prefecture, and Aichi prefecture was just on the way.
The breweries in Chita had a geographical advantage of getting the information sooner than those in Hyogo so they could supply Sake to the city of Edo quickly.
Moreover, the marine route from Handa city in Chita to Edo took half the time of what it took from Nada as they didn’t have to sail around Kii Peninsula along the Pacific Ocean like Nada boats did. The typhoon and rough waves also caused the delay on Nada’s transport. Chita breweries again had a great advantage of delivering their Sake in a perfect timing.
Though it shot up into stratosphere, Sake making in Chita started to go downhill after the collapse of the government. The transportation method was upgraded with steamboats and railways, and the Chita’s geographical advantage was lost because of that.
Fermentation culture in Chita Handa
In 1871, there were 227 Sake breweries (including Mirin breweries) in Chita peninsula.
In 1871, there were 227 Sake breweries (including Mirin breweries) in Chita peninsula, including the current Nagoya city, Minami-ward. Sawada Shuzo was established by a second son as a branch family.
To give another example of Sake brewery, Morita Shuzo known for their Sake “Nenohi” in Tokoname city is a main branch brewery and a family home of Akio Morita, the founder of SONY. There is even an anecdote that Morita was financially supporting the development of SONY from the profit of Sake making!
Vinegar making originally started from making the use of Sake lees.
For vinegar, there is a headquarter of Mizkan in Handa city. As a matter of fact, they used to make Sake here too. Vinegar making originally started from making the use of Sake lees. Handa is a birth place of Sake “Kunizakari” from Nakano Shuzo that was established by Tomijiro Oguri. He took over the business from Nakano Matazaemon who brought the
vinegar made from Sake lees (“Kasuzu” in Japanese) to Edo where Edomae-Sushi, the Edo style quick Sushi was very hot in the city.
The original form of Sushi made before the Edo period was a “Nare-zushi” (fermented Sushi) such as “Funa-zushi”. Nigiri style Sushi was born from the mid to late Edo period.
Matazaemon’s accomplishment has completed Edomae-Sushi.
It’s not too much to say that it is Matazaemon’s accomplishment to complete this popular Edo fast-food with his vinegar. He took this fermentation process of alcohol turning into vinegar from a different angle and came up with the idea to recycle them.
This Sake lees derived vinegar, Kasuzu, is still being made at Mitsui vinegar brewery in Handa city and Agui town. They use the stationary brewing method that let microorganisms take care of the whole fermentation process at ambient temperature.
Chita is also well known for Mame Miso and Tamari Shoyu.
Chita is also well known for Mame Miso and Tamari Shoyu. Interesting fact is that the old wooden vats and barrels from many Sake breweries were efficiently recycled at Miso and Tamari Shoyu breweries. If you track the route of Miso and Shoyu breweries, often you end up with the fact that they were originally Sake breweries, or they had one next to them.
Chita covers almost all of Japanese fermented foods.
With more than 15 years of career in the food industry, Hidetoshi is still impressed with how Chita covers almost all the essential Japanese fermented food in one place.
“We even have salt in Mihama town. This means that we have everything except for sugar.”, says Hidetoshi, expressing his admiration to Chita.
Hatcho Miso and Chita’s Mame Miso
The world famous Hatcho Miso is also from Aichi prefecture. It’s a dark and reddish-brown Miso that is made from soybean Koji rather than rice Koji that’s used for most of Miso consumed in Japan.
The brand name “Hatcho” is reserved for only two Miso companies in Japan.
The brand name “Hatcho” is reserved for only two Miso companies in Japan: Maruya Hatcho Miso and Kakukyu Miso as it refers to the fact that their Miso factories are located approximately 870m west of Okazaki castle. The word “ha” means 8, and “cho” means one city block, so “Hatcho” counted 8 blocks in old days.
The Miso is made in the traditional manufacturing method and has a very deep flavour. It’s achieved by the friendly competition of those two companies that have been trying to improve by learning from each other.
The ingredients are only soybeans and salt. All beans are made to Koji, and salt water is added. The fermentation time requires at least 2 years in large wooden barrels with the weight of 3 tons of river stones stacked on it to press down the mixture.
This soybean Koji based Miso aka Mame Miso, is also made in Chita peninsula.
Ho-zan Miso, grainy type
This soybean Koji based Miso aka Mame Miso, is also made in Chita peninsula. By chance one of fantastic “Chita ambassador” gave me a Ho-zan Miso from Nakasada Sho-ten and I was able to taste the difference with Hatcho Miso. Each had a depth with different Umami, richness, Amami (sweetness), tartness and astringency. One of the difference in the manufacturing method is the size of soybean Koji. Hatcho uses much bigger Koji balls, that needs to be shaped with extra power so the remaining air is expelled.
The navy shared them a lot of wisdom of preserving food, including Miso making.
In old days, Ise bay was controlled by navy, and they wanted to make more associate by getting friendly with local people like fishermen living on the peninsula.
The navy shared them a lot of wisdom of preserving food, including Miso making. One notable example is Senga Miso from Tokuyoshi brewery, which was taught by Senga Navy, as the name suggests.
Hidetoshi said there are also a lot of people that make Miso at home in the pointy end of Chita peninsula today.
Hakuro as Jizake (local Sake) and the changes in times
Hidetoshi’s intensive lecture on fermentation culture in Mikawa continues…
Jizake, locally brewed Sake, needed to match with local flavour.
Tamari Shoyu is also made from soybeans Koji and salt, just like Mame Miso is. This resulted in the local cuisine to have a very strong flavour. Jizake, locally brewed Sake, needed to match with that flavour, and Hakuro was made to fit perfect for it.
Naturally Hakuro was not accepted widely outside Aichi due to its heavy taste.
Until 5 years ago, Hakuro was made to have sweet, heavy flavour with “non-crispy” aftertaste. This was a complete opposite of crispy dry Sake which was boomed around 20 years ago.
Naturally Hakuro was not accepted widely outside Aichi due to its heavy taste, but for the local people it was a best Jizake that fits their food.
In recent years, Hakuro fit better to the cuisine outside Aichi.
In recent years, Sawada’s innovative approach delivered Sake with new flavour that fits the modern Washoku and western style meals to the market. According to Hidetoshi, Washoku has been developing into something with stronger taste and imported western cuisine tend to be cooked lighter in flavour and calorie. This trend caught his eyes and new types of Sake were born. They fit better to the cuisine outside Aichi while still keeping the original concept of Hakuro.
Heavy taste food makes the scent of sake zero.
Hidetoshi says that the classic “Tanrei-Karakuchi” (crispy and dry) type of Sake fits perfectly to things like Shio-kara (salted fish guts) and grilled fish, but it tastes almost like water when coupling with fish cooked in Tamari for example.
In the latter case, the taste of food is so strong that it sets the Sake flavour to zero. That’s why Chita’s Jizake needs to be robust.
Many people seem to prefer flat, straight sake that can be easily explained.
“Jizake is supposed to be rooted together with local cuisine. I think that it would be uninteresting to have the same Sake all over the country, but that seems to be the trend these days because there is a chain supermarket everywhere. People have access to the any kind of food, and the traditional and local cuisine is lost. That led to the trend in Sake too. A lot of people seem to like flat and straightforward Sake that is obviously fruity, sweet or dry, easy to describe. I guess that it’s natural that Sake changes in times. Let’s see what it brings to us in a new era.”
Every region had a different type of Sake to enjoy the local blessings.
To support his explanation for instance, Sake made in Gifu prefecture is made to fit to mountain vegetables and fresh water fishes. Sake from Nigata prefecture fits to fish from the east sea. Sake from Shizuoka prefecture for tuna. Every region had a different type of Sake to enjoy the local blessings.
“That’s why you get disappointed sometimes when you bring Sake home from your trip. What you enjoyed on the trip, may not taste the same at home.”
The manufacturing process has become complicated, but the taste is easy to drink in pop.
Technical innovation has also contributed to the improvements on Sake quality today. The air conditioning and sanitization for example decreased the amount of spoilage and made it possible to ensure clear taste of Sake. The fruity yeast is often used to make mild Sake that is easy to drink these days. Even if weak yeast is used, the air conditioning can store most of the live enzyme by refrigerating the seed mash down to minus three degrees. This way, Sake can be dispatched fresh.
The manufacturing method maybe more complicated than before, but the taste itself became “pop and easy to drink” today, says Hidetoshi.