Fifth generation, Hayato Shoji, is determined to continue what previous generations have worked so hard to build. Acting as both Kuramoto (owner) and master brewer, he is steering the brewery in its own direction, unfazed by industry trends.
Kidoizumi Shuzo is a family-owned and run business, located in Ohara, a small town in Chiba prefecture, close to some top surfing spots that will also host some events in the 2020 Olympics. Brewing since 1897, they have been pioneers in a number of ways over the years including; being one of the first brewers to use quality organic rice when it was outlawed and then controlled by the government, brewing with an alternative approach to the industry norm, and last but not least, boasting one of the best selections of aged sake.
After World War 2, Japan was in ruins and drastic measures were needed to feed the population with the staple rice diet. To improve yields, the government had no alternative but to use agricultural chemicals. Isamu, Hayato’s great-great-grandfather, was however, concerned with this decision and made an effort to not only feed his family with as much chemical-free food as possible but to go one step further and brew sake with it. It was a vision that meant there were very lean times but eventually paid off. Today, 30% of Kidoizumi’s sake production is made with pesticide and herbicide-free rice. They also lease rice fields and produce their own rice, Fusanomai, a local Chiba variety.
To reduce the risk of spoilage and build a healthy yeast population, the industry standard for sake fermentation starters is 3 additions of steamed rice, koji-rice and water over 4 days, known in Japanese as sandan jikomi 三段仕込み. At Kidoizumi they take an alternative approach for a range of their sake and use a one-stage fermentation known as ichidan-jikomi 一段仕込み.
How does it work? Koji rice is laid out on cloth in batches on the floor. Freshly steamed rice is then added on top of this again in batches to ensure even distribution. The ratio is 80-20, rice to koji rice. This is then added into the tank along with hot water. Everything is then mixed with long wooden poles and they wait for the mixture to reach 55 degrees. (Let’s add a bit of context, most sake is fermented between 10 and 18 degrees, depending on the style.) Lactic acid bacteria (cultivated in-house), which reduces the risk of contamination, is added along with yeast number 701.
Known as the Ko-on or hot-yamahai, this method goes by the name of AFS, which stands for Adachi, Furukawa, and Shoji, the three people who helped develop it. The result; it’s a a concentrated version of sake, complex and intense with aromas of lychee, melon, and koji with bold acidity matched with sweetness.
It also comes in a sparkling version made with an in-bottle secondary fermentation (瓶内二次発酵) where some of the active lees are also bottled. The advantage of this method over the champagne method is that the carbon dioxide lasts longer once the bottle is open.
Kidoizumi ferment naturally for most of the season using the brewery yeast. They add the in-house cultured yeast number 701 only at the start of the season around October which is always the riskiest time since the airborne yeast is in a weaker state and then after a few tanks into the season are able to rely on it fermenting naturally.
And finally, the third way that Kidoizumi have been pioneers in the industry, is their collection of aged sake. A huge investment for a small brewery that only produces micro-brewery levels, they have been ageing sake since 1971 up until today with a short hiatus in between. I was lucky enough to get to try all years and it was a real privilege to taste history in a bottle.