Tokyo Jizake Strolling (Business Trip back to Niigata Prefecture)

By Ryuji Takahashi

I write a monthly column for a publication specializing in Japanese sake. One day, I received a phone call from the owner of Shiokawa Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. in Niigata prefecture, who read my column and invited me to their brewery to sample their sake products.
Simply put, my column is best described by a statement made by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “Better know nothing than half-know many things. Rather be a fool on one’s own account than a wise man in the opinion of others.” As the Japanese sake industry appears to sway in today’s information age, his statement perhaps best describes the sentiment of pure sake fans and shops alike.
The owner of Shiokawa Brewery said, “Our brewery is truly self-reliant in shamelessly treading our own path to brew sake our way.” The sake I sampled were each one of a kind with surprising fragrance, color, and flavor, peaking my interest in Shiokawa Brewery. I had to pay a visit. I took a day trip and drove to Niigata prefecture. Just like last time, I stopped over to savor local Niigata ramen at “Anpukutei-Kandaten” in Kandamachi (Kanda town), Nagaoka city on the way.
I ordered soy sauce flavored ramen prepared from boiled/dried Tsubame-sanjo sardine broth with back fat floating on the soup surface. The usual bottomless green onions were not available during this trip. The boiled/dried sardine broth in ramen served in Tokyo tends to taste too strong. However, the back fat neutralizes the exquisite sardine-flavored broth combined with concentrated soy sauce flavor into a delicious, flavorful finish.
Afterwards, I headed to the Shiokawa Brewery in Nishi ward, Niigata city to meet the brewery owner Kazuhiro Shiokawa and Professor Ito of Niigata University’s Faculty of Agriculture. Shiokawa Brewery’s most recognized sake products are the “NOPA” developed in Bali, and the “Kimotokei KODAI” brewed from ancient rice with a red, wine-like hue; winner of the Gold Prize at the Milano Sake Challenge 2019.
Both are low in alcohol content with acidic flavor and aroma, no doubt interesting to chefs serving Italian cuisine. Other sake products include “COWBOY YAMAHAI,” notable for its acidic flavor from the Yamahai brewing method, highly suitable for export overseas due to its high compatibility with meat dishes; and “FISHERMAN SOKUJO,” notable for its rich flavor in no way inferior to white wine when served with fish dishes, also compatible with seafood dishes strong in umami flavors like crab and shrimp dishes, etc.
What further captivated my interest and impressed me about Shiokawa Brewery is their determination NOT to create Japanese sake compatible with western cuisine like wine, but their steadfast resolve to brew sake in every way competitive against wine. To say Shiokawa Brewery broke the mold of Japanese sake production with their original concept that could conquer the world would not be an exaggeration.
However, Shiokawa Brewery also holds steadfast to guarding traditional sake brands, a brewery not in anyway eccentric, but a unique brewery like no other that stands out in their vision and approach to developing new brands and overcoming challenges. When it comes to sake, I’m often called a freak. However, Shiokawa Brewery is one brewery I would like to express my utmost admiration by respectfully referring to them as a sake freak.

お会いし話す事が出来た。塩川酒造の酒の中で特徴的な物は、新潟大学の協力の中、バリ島で造った「のぱ」やイタリアのミラノ酒チャレンジ2019で金賞を受賞した古代米を使い赤ワインの様な色の「生酛系古代」である。両方とも低アルコールで酸味と香りが特徴。イタリアンの料理人なら絶対興味を持ってしまう酒である。その他にも海外輸出を意識し肉に合わせる為にしっかりとした山廃仕込みの酸を感じさせている酒「COWBOY YAMAHAI」や魚料理で白ワインにも引けをとらないコクと風味で蟹や海老の様な旨味の強い魚介系にも合わせられる「FISHERMAN SOKUJO」などが有る。私が塩川蔵元に興味をより一層持ち、凄さを感じたのは、洋食に合わせられるワインの様な日本酒では無く、ワインに負けない日本酒を造ろうとしていることである。塩川酒造は、日本酒造りの概念の殻を打ち破り世界征服が出来るくらいの発想で酒造りを行っていると言っても良いだろう。しかし、伝統的な銘柄もしっかり守り通しており、決して奇抜な酒蔵というわけでは無く、新たなブランド作りやチャレンジの部分が見据える先が他の酒蔵と違うのだろう。私は日本酒の事になると、よく変態と言われる。しかし私など足元にも及ばぬ日本酒の最上級の尊敬をもって変態と呼ばせていただきたい酒蔵である。