Sake brewery TENRYOU
To Hida Sake Connoisseurs the World Over
Sahee Hinoya, the forefather of the Uenoda family that brews a local sake called Tenryo at a small brewery along the Masuda highway, left the Eishuhino around the first part of the Edo Period to travel around Japan selling his goods. Around 1630, Sahe Hinoya visited the Hida region and felt its allure 窶錀 the beauty of the land and the dignity and diligence of its people, and decided to settle there.
Eight generations have now followed the path started by Sahe Hinoya. It is a proud path of making sake from Hidahomare, the rice that flourishes in the lush natural setting of the Hida region, and the smooth soft water from Japan’s Northern Alps, using the family’s own rice polishing process.
Isamu Watanabe Chief Brewer,
I have followed this path for 50 years and have been the president of this company for 30 years. However, every year I feel like an apprentice once again, knowing the art of sake brewing comes down to the fundamentals of “ichi-kouji, ni-moto, san-tsukuri.” (First the kouji, then the yeast starter and then the main mash.)
The skill for making ginjo forms the foundation for making sake. I feel that an understanding of this fundamental skill enables the creation of high-grade sake and even the brewing of sake in this time of diversification. Moreover, from the standpoint of safe brewing as well, I believe that this fundamental skill is absolutely essential.
The Making of Tenryo Sake
Kurabito (Sake Brewers)
Tenryo kurabito proudly adhere to the traditional five essential elements of good sake: water, rice, yeast along with craftsmanship and weather. In fact, sake is approximately 80% water. The pleasant-tasting soft water flowing from Japan's Northern Alps is used for brewing Tenryo. And, Hidahomare, the rice used for making Tenryo sake, is grown in local fields. All milling is done entirely by us.
Seimai (Rice Milling)
Only the finest rice can create superior sake. The harsh differences between cold and warm weather in the Hida region enhances the character of the Hidahomare rice used in Tenryo sake. Rice milling is the process of polishing the rice in preparation for making sake. Care is taken during this process not to damage the grains of rice or expose them to excess heat. The aim is to use the white part of the grain closest to its center. The smaller this white part is, the better the sake will be. After milling, the grains will range in size from 70% to a maximum of 35% of their original size. Simply stated, the more rice is milled, the higher the grade of sake it will create. Rice used for common grades of sake will be milled approximately 70%. The rice grains for top-grade ginjo sake are milled to about 40%.
Senmai (Rice Washing)
The rice is washed after milling to remove the white powder residue called nuka. This rice washing is an important operation in enhancing the characteristics of the steamed rice made later. The more the rice is milled, the faster it will absorb water, so the washing time has to be carefully matched to the milled size of the rice.
The washing time is a carefully determined preset time. A stop watch is used and the same washing time is repeated for the same type and amount of rice.
Mushi-mai (Steaming the rice)
This process is different than making rice at home where you put both the rice and water in the rice cooker for cooking. In mushi-mai, steam rises from the bottom of a vat called a koshiki. This gives each grain of rice a firm surface and a soft center.
Kouji-tsukuri (Kouji Making)
Kouji making is an extremely complicated process that is perhaps the most critical moment in the brewing of sake. Here the yeast, which looks like a black powder, is evenly sprinkled over the steamed rice that has been allowed to cool. This mixture is then moved to a room where the temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. Here, the yeast in the rice is allowed to propagate for 36 to 45 hours, during which it is carefully monitored. Occasionally the mixture is turned. The result is called kouji. The yeast now forms a soft, frost-like covering on the rice.
Moto tsukuri (Making the starter mash)
The kouji that has just been created, the steamed rice and the yeast starter are place in a small tank. This is called the shubo or moto, the starter mash. It is said that there are a billion yeast cells in a single spoonful.
Moromi (The fermentation mash)
The yeast starter is moved to a larger tank and more rice, koji and water are added three times over four days. The result is called moromi, the mash that will actually create the sake. It is then allowed to ferment for 18 to 32 days. To attain the desired flavor in the sake, critical factors, such as temperature and oxygen level, are carefully checked at regular intervals as the fermentation progresses.
Basically, pressing is the process where the lees and unfermented solids are removed to create the clear sake. There are numerous pressing methods that range from mechanical pressing to tobintori, and each affects the quality of the sake in its own way.
Nearly all sake is allowed to age for about six months to enable it to mellow before being shipped.
The Making of the Final Product
Genshu (Undiluted sake)
The sake now has an alcohol content of about 18 to 20%. After approximately six months of aging, this genshu is diluted with well water to bring the alcohol content down to around 16%.
The sake is warmed to approximately 65 degrees centigrade and then bottled by automatic equipment. Up to 3,000 1.8-liter bottles of sake can be processed each day.
After the ginjo-shu has been bottled, it is kept at a constant temperature in a refrigerated warehouse until it is shipped.