Gifu's Yamada Honten Sake Brewery

Now Featuring "Everlasting Roots" Tokubetsu Junmai at ki 

One of the recent additions to our ever-changing sake list is the “Everlasting Roots” Tokubetsu Junmai from Gifu’s Yamada Honten.  We are currently listing it on our Sake Sommelier page served up at a variety of temperatures so that you can fully enjoy all it has to offer.  In mid-February, I had the opportunity to make a brief stop at this tiny brewery located in the foothills of the Japanese Alps.   

 Three Generations of the Yamada family

Three generations of the Yamada Family

 

The tea room at the Yamada family's ancestral home overlooks the Kiso river, one of Gifu's primary river systems, flowing down from the Japanese Alps with pure snow melt.  

Gifu and its Sake

Gifu is a beautiful and peaceful corner of Japan.  Well, maybe not a ‘corner’ per se since it is land-locked and shares its borders with seven prefectures.  But with beautiful mountain vistas, undulating foothills and pristine rivers that seem to meander forever, Gifu is a great place to get away from the frenetic energy of Tokyo (it has some of the best onsen experiences in Japan after all!).  When it comes to sake, this pure alpine geography provides no shortage of clean water to supply brewers, and the prefecture is proud to cultivate its very own local sakamai (sake-specific rice), called Hida Homare.  In the broadest sense, Gifu has two main sake styles: dry, non-ginjo sake produced in the northern Hida region (influenced by its proximity to Niigata’s Echo Toji); and a sturdy, food-friendly yet sweeter style produced in the southern Mino region.  Regardless of these generalizations, brewers seem to be embracing a spirit of individuality here.  There are approximately 46 sake breweries in Gifu.  Most are considered jizake (craft breweries).  The largest makes about 5000 koku (900,000L) and the smallest only one tank per season.  Yamada Honten falls towards the smaller side compared to other Gifu brewers, producing only 280 koku (50,400L) annually.   This is a very small number and I am grateful it isn’t fully consumed in Japan!

 

The brewery still uses this old wooden kohiki (rice steamer) to steam their rice in the mornings.  The wood aides in controlling the moisture levels absorbed by the rice.

Yamada Honten

Yamada Honten was established in 1868, a time when Japan was transitioning from the feudal Edo era to its modern epoch, the Meiji Period.   The period signalled the end of illegal home brewing, and the government encouraged new business.  The Yamada family used to sell tea before transitioning to sake brewing.  Presently,  it is helmed by fifth generation Naokazu Yamada, while his son, Kazuhiko Yamada, the sixth generation learns the ropes as Vice President and gets ready to take over.   

 

An old moromi tank at Yamada Honten

Naokazu-san describes the sake style the brewery strives to make as “balanced umami and with harmony” and aren’t trying to create anything flashy.  He alludes to a flashy jazz soloist versus the band playing together in harmony.  They prefer the latter when crafting sake, with no showy aromatics to distract the consumer.   And, if I can conjecture, it makes the sake all the more food friendly and versatile.

The doors to the old rice storage area at Yamada Honten.

 

The brewery utilizes a variety of ingredients to make their portfolio of sake.  Here is a snapshot of yeast and rice strains utilized:

 

KOBO (YEAST)

Kyokai 7

Kyokai 1801

Meiri 310

Alps yeast (from Nagano) 

G Yeast (a local Gifu yeast)

 

RICE

For sakamai

Hida Homare (from Gifu) 

Yamada Nishiki 

Gohyakumangoku

 

Table rice: 

Akebono 

Tenko Mai

 

To age or not to age: During our brief stay, we were lucky enough to try side-by-side versions of the Everlasting Roots with a 10-year gap in the brewing year.  Both were exceptional!

Everlasting Roots

Everything about the Everlasting Roots Tokubetsu Junmai is unique.  The bottle is in a classic, old-school 900ml bottle.  The label uses the rings of a tree to symbolize the past and reference’s Gifu’s trees and alpine spirit.  The sake is refreshingly down-to-Earth in its profile, which makes it incredibly versatile and food friendly. 

 

The Everlasting Roots is made with local Hida Homare rice that’s been polished down to 55% of its original size, a Gifu yeast (based on M310) and the brewery’s pure soft water.  It’s nose possesses a complex, savoury, spice and citrus rind profile that is intriguingly matched by an umami-packed palate of vanilla, cocoa powder, and Chinese white pear, finishing dry and refreshingly clean.   Come and give this a try, and be sure to pair it with an assortment of kushiyaki plates (sake-braised pork belly anyone?).

 

Yamada Honten “Everlasting Roots” Tokubetsu Junmai

RICE: Hida Homare (Gifu)

YEAST: Gifu Kobo (based on Meiri 310)

SEIMAI BUAI: 55%

NIHONSHU-DO: 55% 

ACIDITY: 1.7

 TOJI:  Masaki Uno

 

40-year old Shochu barrels quietly sleeping in the old rice storage building at Yamada Honten.

 

Future President Kazuhiko Yamada.

 

Kanpai!