We know that water quality plays a huge role in sake quality - in an (over)simplification, softer water (lower pH / more acidic) yields softer, fruitier and more delicate sakes; while harder water (higher pH / contains more minerals) yields a drier, bolder tasting sake. Most sake breweries utilise the best natural source within the region - two if they are lucky.
What if you have access to not one, not two, but eight different water sources, allowing you to blend, mix, and get the perfect ratio of minerality in your water for your sake? That’s the circumstance that Ichinoya Brewery is blessed with - which they termed Hassai 八彩.
Ichinoya Brewery 市野屋 was founded in 1865, and hails from Omachi Shimano 信濃大町 that is nestled within Nagano Prefecture. The snow-capped mountains that surround the area are known to be the “Northern Alps” of Japan, - and naturally, the brewery draws its water resources from the melted snow water that is naturally filtered as it flows down the mountain.
Back to our soft and hard water - as the water flows through different pathways, it catches up different mineral compositions. Not only does this create different environments for the koji and yeast to act on, Ichinoya Brewery states that even the mouthfeel changes - and given that sake is 85% composition, being nitpicky and selective about what water you use is not overkill. From their website, Ichinoya claims that they tap on eight different water sources - these include the Iyasato Water Source 居谷里水源 , the Yazawa Water Source 矢沢水源 , and the Kamishirasawa Water Source 上白沢水源.
A map detailing the water sources that Ichinoya uses - the map pin is an approximation of where the brewery is. Source: shinshu
Being modern in their approach to sake making, Ichinoya has outfitted the brewery with technology that allows for sake brewing all-year round, including cooling tanks and climate control within the brewing facilities. To Ichinoya, using only the year’s harvest of rice for each bottle is part of their sake brewing philosophy, hence - adjusting the water is paramount to suit the variation of the sake’s rice.
Stacks of Nagano rice in the warehouse. Source: ichinoya.com
I tasted this sake at the World Sake Day event held by the Sake Matsuri folks, where we did the largest worldwide kanpai. Click here to read about it!
Ryusuisen New Normal Omi 龍水泉 ニューノーマル 麻績 , 13% ABV – Review
Ryusuisen 龍水泉 is a new line of sakes that debuted this year, in 2023. No, the “New Normal” isn’t referring to the pandemic catchphrase (or at least I think so), but instead refers to how there’s been a shift in sake palates.
The Ryusuisen sake brand is split into two branches, the “Basic” and the “New Normal”. For the New Normal, the sakes are meant to be easy drinking sakes that are meant to be drunk with food, deliberately brewed at a lower alcohol percentage of 10-13%.
Under the Ryusuisen sake brands, the Basic is split into three tiers: the standard, the Premier Cru, and the Grand Cru; while the New Normal series is split between the standard and the Premier Cru. This tiering system takes a leaf out of the Burgundy cru appellation system, with Grand Cru being the best in quality.
Nose: Quite acidic and sharp on the nose. Despite the sour aromas, there is quite a bready and mochi fragrance as well. In terms of fruitiness, there’s some nectarines and pears.
Taste: The acidity of the nose is mirrored in the taste, with predominantly pear and peach flavours. There is a splash of sourness that, while nowhere near intense, is enough to bring a refreshing feel.
Thoughts: This sake was quite refreshing. The sourness adds a nice clean finish to the sake, that nevertheless still has its bready, rice aromas and mouthfeel as well. A great sake that’s easy going.