EnvironmentWhere we are is who we are
Masumi sake is at heart a product of our place and the people who live here. That place is known as Suwa, a highland basin surrounded by the Yatsugatake “Eight Peaks” Range, Mount Tateshina, and the Kirigamine Highlands. Our sake benefits directly from the region’s clean air, pure water, and long cold winters. Beyond what’s good for the sake, we take great pride in all else Suwa has to offer: cool, dry summers, natural hot springs, the basin’s crown jewel Lake Suwa, and the unique festivals, shrines, and ruins that date from the dawn of Japan’s history.
Our beautiful yet fierce environment seems to have etched concern for detail and insistence on quality into our very DNA. In the past the people of Suwa built a thriving silk industry, and the region has since developed into a major center for high tech and precision manufacturing. Suwa is also famous for its agricultural produce and traditional food industries such as miso, kanten, and above all sake!
RiceSake is the joint creation of sake makers and rice farmers
“There’s no magic that’ll turn inferior rice into superior sake.” This simple truth is behind one of our long-standing iron-clad rules: Buy only newly harvested rice of highest quality from trusted growers.
We buy most of our rice from local Nagano farmers, and nearly all of it is sake rice that is specially bred for sake making. The sake rice we use the most is “Miyama Nishiki” from Nagano. We also use smaller amounts of “Hitogokochi” from Nagano, and the “King” of daiginjo sake rice, “Yamada Nishiki,” from Hyogo Prefecture in western Japan. In addition, we use standard rice for a few of our standard-grade sakes.
Because we believe that sake is the joint creation of sake makers and rice farmers, we make a point of joining our rice farmers in the fields to help plant and harvest the rice that will become our sake. Likewise, the farmers come to see us making the sake, and naturally when it is ready they help us drink it!
We polish our rice by ourselves at our Fujimi brewery. It is expensive to operate and maintain our eight polishing machines, but doing it ourselves gives us total control over quality. Polishing removes the unwanted outer layers of proteins and fats, so the more the rice is polished, the better the sake’s flavor and fragrance. On average we polish the rice until only 57% of it remains.
WaterWater quality is the wellspring of sake quality
Masumi is very lucky to source its water directly from the mountains surrounding each of our breweries. The water at our Fujimi brewery is from Nyukasa mountain in the Southern Alps, and the water at our Suwa brewery is from the Kirigamine Highland, an extension of the Yatsugatake “Eight Peaks” Range.
The water is naturally filtered through the mountains and drawn directly from our own wells. Our water is low in minerals and imparts a soft, light, and flavorful character to all our sakes.
YeastMasumi’s “yeast number seven” has been very lucky indeed
Basically, sake is created when yeast, tiny microbes only 5 microns from tip to tail, convert sugar to alcohol. But yeast that can create delicious sake are very rare; until the Meiji period (1868-1911) yeast selection was left up to nature, and often ended up in failure. Then, in 1904 the Ministry of Finance’s National Research Institute of Brewing started a program to identify superior yeast varieties and make them available to the nation’s sake makers. Thanks to this “Brewing Association Yeast” program, the quality of sake has increased by leaps and bounds.
In 1946, Masumi swept the top awards at the regional and national sake appraisals, which got the attention of the brewing institute’s yeast scientist, Dr. Shoichi Yamada. Dr. Yamada visited us and confirmed the presence of a very fine yeast in the fermentation tanks. “Brewing Association Yeast Number Seven” soon became the favorite of brewers across the nation and remains even today the most widely used sake yeast in the world.
The number seven in use today has a different character than the original yeast discovered back in the forties. The original number seven had a brilliant, fruity fragrance known as “ginjo fragrance.” Today’s number seven is milder, and strikes a better balance between aroma and flavor. You could say it produces a more mature, grown-up sake than in its youth.
People often mistakenly think that Masumi must be making a lot of money by selling yeast number seven to other brewers. In fact, we have no patent for it and do not sell it. Even so, it is still a great honor to be among the few sake makers that gave birth to a numbered yeast. Of course, this also gives us greater incentive to live up to that honor by continuing to produce exceptionally fine sake.
BrewersScientists and farmers
Our brewing team is made up of people trained in biology and fermentation science working alongside farmers who really know how to grow things.
In 2005, Masumi appointed Kenji Nasu and Kazuyuki Hirabayashi as master brewers for its two breweries. Both in their forties, and both with advanced degrees in fermentation science, Nasu and Hirabayashi became the first of a new generation of full-time, professional brewers at Masumi.
In 2013, master brewer Nasu was named a “Nagano master craftsman,” and Masumi promoted him to executive master brewer. Master brewer Hirabayashi took over at the Suwa brewery, and a young fermentation scientist named Atsushi Nakano was made master brewer at the Fujimi brewery.
Suwa Master Brewer
Applying skill and experience to turn famously pure highland water and great rice into premium sake.
Executive Master Brewer
The mastermind behind our many gold medals, recognized as one Nagano’s finest brewers.
Fujimi Master Brewer
Talented young brewer developing new styles using techniques from both the sake and the wine worlds.
Suwa BreweryIt all started here in 1662
Masumi’s original kura, or brewery, still operates at Suwa Moto-machi, where the ancient Koshu Kaido road meets the road leading up to the Kirigamine highlands. This area is also called Shimizu-machi, or Clear Water Village, and for good reason. From before the Edo Period (1600-1868), sake breweries, drinking places, and tea shops lined the roads in this area, and the famed Gozensui, the water used to make the local lord’s tea, still flows from the nearby Akiba Jinja Shrine.
Fujimi BreweryMountain-high brewing
Masumi’s string of gold medals and the widening popularity of its yeast number seven caused sales to sky-rocket, and so in the 1970’s a plan was hatched to build a new brewing facility in the nearby mountain district called Fujimi. Nearly ten years in the making, Fujimi brewery started production in 1982. The brewery is situated on the flanks of the Southern Japan Alps at an elevation of nearly 1000 meters, and has a commanding view of the Yatsugatake “Eight Peaks” Range.
The brewery was located there because of the clean mountain environment, the abundant pure water, the long-cold winters that are perfect for superior sake production, and the fact that the master brewer was born and raised there.
Fujimi brewery has the look of a modern production facility, but the way sake is made there is the same as at the old wooden Suwa brewery—by hand. Fujimi also houses our rice polishing plant, which gives us even greater control over quality.
ProcessMaking sake is like raising a child
In early October, as the Suwa Basin fills with cold autumn air and the newly-harvested rice comes in, activity quickens at Masumi’s two breweries. Let us give you a tour of the seven months from October until April, when the master brewers and their staff watch over the brewing process with all the love, care, and strict discipline of parents for a beloved child.
Illustrated by Masumi Yoshida