I just “came back” from Japan, virtually; visited the Ikeda Town in Nagano Prefecture to be exact. It was a short ‘half day tour’ but it was a very fruitful one. Special thanks to Mr Danny Leong, the Master Sake Sommelier and also the owner of The Sake Place for this big arrangement. I got to view the beautiful scenery with my eyes, chatted with the very friendly Mayor, Mr Kiyoaki Motai, also learned and tasted the amazing sake from both Daisekkei Sake Brewery and Fukugen Shuzo. It was truly an amazing experience.
So now, would you like to learn about Ikeda Town and its beauties with me?
Ikeda Town 池田町
Ikeda Town is located in Azumino city of Nagano Prefecture, about 2 hours shinkansen ride from Tokyo. Ikeda is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan. This place is blessed with the stunning scenery of the mountainous Northern Alps. Though I have not been to Ikeda Town, but I have seen the Northern Japan Alps myself from Toyama . I was in awe, truly amazed by its majestic beauty, so unreal!
Mr Kiyoaki Motai, Ikeda Town Mayor introduced Ikeda Town though its seasonal beauties. During spring, you will get a spectacular view of sakura (cherry blossom); Chamomile and Lavender in Summer; Gingko tree and the very famous Seven Coloured Japanese Maple Tree that is located on Omine Plateau during autumn! I am seriously hooked on the autumn scenic view, and the many colours on the maple tree.
Besides that, you may get the view of rice-paddy field outspread at the foot of the majestic Northern Alps, also the mountain view reflects in the water if you go at the right season.
So, when is the best time to visit Ikeda Town? Spring in April and October for autumn! These 2 seasons are highly recommended by the mayor!
As Ikeda Town is located on the mountainous area, blessed with Northern Japan Alps, the crystal clear spring water made best for sake production. This town gave birth to 2 famous sake breweries – Daisekkei Sake Brewery and Fukugen Shuzo, which are very well-known sake breweries in the Japan!
Next, Senior Managing Director from Daisekkei Sake Brewery, Mr Yuuki Usui and the 18th generation owner of Fukugen Shuzo, Ms Seiko Hirabayashi shared about the sake and their breweries.
Daisekkei Sake Brewery
Daisekkei is founded in 1898. The name Daisekkei actually comes from the magnificent snowy gorge located in the Northern Japan Alps. Daisekkei produces the highest quality of sake with these few key ingredients: the spring water sourced from the Northern Japanese Alps, the highest quality of the sake-rice grown locally around Azumino City, the koji grown within the facilities and carefully controlled for its special characteristic; along with the clear air and the extreme temperature which are also the essentials for sake brewing.
In 1953, it won the highest award at the National New Sake Awards Ceremony and was selected to be presented to the Imperial Household. In 1966, the chief brewer at the time received the Yellow Ribbon Medal (given to those who have devoted themselves to the work of agriculture, commerce, industry, etc., and have other exemplary skills and achievements).
Fukugen Brewery is founded in 1758, a very old and established sake producer who produces sake in an artisanal way, brewing sake with their secret method that has been passed down from generation to generation. They cultivate their own sake-rice organically to be part of their sake production; they understand their sake-rice and the nature of the pure spring water, matching with the yeast, pairing with the surrounding temperature in brewing the sake traditionally.
Fukugen has earned many top honours in the National Sake Appraisal competition, a medal at The International Wine Challenger (IWC) and has been selected SAKE for the Sake for the 21st Century by the Maestro of Sake Tasting.
I am very interested to visit these two breweries in Ikeda Town, adding them into my distillery and brewery collection . Brewery visitation is limited and only possible based on arrangement, hopefully by then I get to visit them myself.
The only way we can kanpai now, virtually through video conference. How I wish things get back to normal ASAP and we may all travel freely to anywhere and everywhere we want.
Time for The Journey of Aroma and Taste, which was also sake tasting and food pairing! We moved on to the counter dining area whereby we were served with the delicious food specially curated by Rei Kappo Dining, another new upcoming restaurant specializing in Kappo style dining. Kappo comes from the traditional Japanese cooking methods, meaning to cut and to cook. Rei Kappo Dining features a special dining experience where you are able to observe the chef showcasing his skill like a performance at the dining counter, enjoy what the chef has prepared, along with some casual conversations with the chef.
Mr Danny presented this sake tasting in a casual way. Instead of guided us through the taste of each sake to each dish, he allowed us to play it around the sake with each dishes. Ohh, I like it this way. From here you will be able to find your best pairing; also stimulating the real senses on your taste receptors and then reconnect them to your gustatory cortex.
Although there are only 2 sake breweries in Ikeda Town but their styles are so much different from one another! I found distinctive and fascinating differences when I paired the daiginjo from both breweries with the sashimi. Read up and you will find out more.
Daisekkei Karakuchi Honjozo大雪渓 辛口本醸造
Brewed with local rice, rice polishing ratio 65%; I quite like this to be enjoyed at warm temperature.
Daisekkei Tokubetsu Junmai 大雪渓 特别純米酒
Brewed with Miyamanishiki rice, rice polishing ratio to 59%; it is a crisp and refreshing; packed with light pleasant floral scent, and very fresh too. We got to try this at both warm and chilled temperature; I must say I like it chilled.
Daisekkei Daiginjo Yamadanishiki 大雪渓 大吟醸 山田錦
Made of Yamadanishiki with rice milled down to remaining 39%, it is on a dryer side, or more savoury. I found this easily pair with any kind of dish, such as sashimi and grilled dish. One being raw and one being cooked, but you get different flavours with different kind of food.
Fukugen Kita Alps Daiginjo 北アルプス 大吟醸酒
49% of rice polishing ratio, it has a floral-fruity note, hinted with light sweet peachy scent (to me). It is very balance and pure with a clean finish.
Fukumimi Junmai Daiginjo Genshu 福耳 純米大吟醸原酒
Made with hitogokochi rice that has been milled down to 39% of grain remains and there is no water added to genshu. It was strong yet delicate. I am impressed with its depth that comes with a velvety floral fragrance, and I couldn’t stop myself from inhaling the aromatic floral scent.
Nihon Tsukemono – Pickled Daikon
Mr. Danny taught us to explore our palate by biting a little bit of pickles and then take a sip of sake of each. I like Daisekkei Tokubetsu Junmai to pair with this pickled daikon as the pickles brought out the sourish citrusy profile of the tokubetsu junmai itself, very refreshing as a start to the meal.
Gindara Misoyaki – Japanese style grilled cod fish
Wagyu to Kinoko Isote – Wagyu A5 with Saute Mushrooms
Nagasaki Nama Kaki – Fresh oyster air flown from Nagasaki
First time had super fresh and huge oyster to pair with sake, and my brain fried up! WOW! And look at that oyster, larger than my palm!
Mukimi Shiro Ebi to Kampachi Sashimi – White shrimp and yellowtail sashimi
When I paired the kampachi with Daisekkei Daiginjo Yamadanishiki, I found the dryness aftertaste which was spicy. While with the Fukugen Kita Alps Daiginjo, it was clean and clear.
When I paired the white shrimp with Daisekkei Daiginjo Yamadanishiki, it was a very smooth pairing whereas when pairing with the Fukugen Kita Alps Daiginjo, it was hinted with floral note with very light dryness aftertaste.
How interesting and distinctive flavours! Both are Daiginjo and both taste differently when pairing with different sashimi. Well, this is based on my tasting ya, yours may be different.
My favourite? I like the both the daiginjo and Fukumimi Junmai Daiginjo Genshu to pair with food, and the Daisekkei Tokubetsu Junmai to have it chilled without pairing with food. So, if you’d like to try out these sake, contact Mr Danny or check out The Sake Place! He is the best person to speak about the sake!