Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hamakawa Shoten “Sake that the locals will drink”

The new Bijofu labels, released in October,
use photographs taken locally.
Bijofu: Out of the Depths
   “Bijofu,” which has won Gold Prize for each of the last 5 years at the Annual Japan Sake Awards, is the most popular brand of sake produced by Hamakawa Shoten, located in Shikoku’s smallest town, Tano, in eastern Kochi. “Bijofu” was first developed by Naoaki Hamakawa, the fifth-generation CEO of the company.

   Hamakawa became CEO at a time when the future of Hamakawa Shoten was in doubt. The company had to sell 70% of its product to larger sake companies in order to make ends meet, but it finally pulled through the rough patch. Around that time, Hamakawa first encountered ginjo (special brew) sake in Tokyo. At the time, ginjo sake was only being made for contests, but more and more voices were calling for this delicious variety of sake to be released for regular sale. Enchanted by ginjo, Hamakawa thought, “I want to make this sake with my own hands!” Following this powerful urge, with no tanks, no technology, and no rice appropriate for ginjo sake production, he began to fumble his way through a field of “no” toward an entirely different kind of sake that his company had ever made before.
Unique Sake and a Passion for Quality
   “I want to get rid of people’s discomfort with sake,” says Hamakawa, who aims to make sake that is drinkable for people who don’t normally like it. For example, out of the idea, “Why couldn’t we make champagne out of sake?” came the bubbly, cloudy unpasteurized sake Mai Usunigori, which is especially popular with women. Using a process Hamakawa thought up 30 years ago, they double-ferment the alcohol in the bottle, resulting in natural carbonation. Hamakawa Shoten was also the first sake company in Kochi to make fruit and yogurt liqueurs using sake or shochu as the base. Drinking these liqueurs, you would think you were drinking fruit juice—and Hamakawa Shoten is very particular in selecting the best Kochi-produced fruit and raw milk (only the lemons are sourced from outside the prefecture). In fact, thanks to President Hamakawa, these reporters got to taste-test 5 varieties of Bijofu sake. Each and every one of them was delicious enough to entirely change our mental image of sake. We couldn't belive such drinkable sake existed.
The flavors of the yeast changes depending on
the chief brewer. This koji (malted rice), used
 to make junmai sake, tastes and smells a little
like a chestnut.

   Bijofu is handmade by craftsmen who seek the highest quality, using carefully selected sake rice and extra-soft water taken from the subterranean Nahari River. Its fragrance blooms and it travels easily down the throat, making you want to drink glass after glass. In order to make even more delicious sake, Bijofu is constantly making small changes to the process, such as changing the type of yeast used in fermentation based on the appenence of the fermenting rice.

   Usually sake is stored in the tank, but all varieties of Bijofu are stored in the bottle. This is because the sake can be preserved at its peak quality by bottling it immediately and then refrigerating it at 2 to 3 degrees Celsius. Hamakawa Shoten’s commitment to delivering the highest-quality product to its consumers is visible in this innovation.
We compared the appearance of a tank after 3 days and
a tank after 5 days. The contents looked completely different!
Keeping the Hometown in Mind
   President Hamakawa goes on business trips abroad almost every month. “It’s funny to think that sake we couldn’t sell around here has made it to the export stage,” he chuckles. We especially remember his response when asked about expanding his operation overseas: “If we were to expand abroad, I would begin by settling on a specific location for an overseas headquarters. But to me, the most important thing is being able to sell our sake here at home. Our base will always be our hometown.”
Hamakawa Shoten
   Location: Aki-gun, Tano-cho 2150
   TEL: 0887-38-2004 FAX: 0887-38-8284


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