Aomori Prefecture, Tohoku Region
Among the brewers inspired by the example of Koshi no Kanbai in the 1970s was Kotaro Nishida, president of Nishida Brewing Company in Aomori Prefecture. When he took over in 1955 hardly anyone drank the local sake; it all came from the big Nada and Fushimi breweries far to the south. He increased the rice-polishing ratio, which had the immediate effect of reducing the brewery’s output while increasing costs. Undeterred, he focussed on making the best sake possible from the local Gin no Sei rice. Full vindication came years later when readers of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan’s Wall Street Journal, voted Denshu the best junmai sake in Japan.
Every successful brewery has its own philosophy. Nishida’s can be summed up as, “Take it over the top.” Few other sakes combine in such perfect balance rich body and a deep, resonant flavor, underlain by a mellow umami goodness. You take a sip of Denshu, and it’s as though every cell in your body leaps up and yells “Thanks.”
The Nishida brewery is one of the most labor-intensive in Japan, with workers performing by hand tasks long since given over to automation elsewhere. The fermentation tanks are small, holding only 1600 kilograms of rice, requiring much more work than would be the case with larger vats. Until fairly recently the brewery did not even have a conveyor belt; workers packed sachels of steamed rice up a steep stairway to the brewing floor. Bottles are cooled down immediately after pasteurization; koji rice is cultured in small individual trays, even for the junmai labels; and the cooling is done in a separate room rather than out on the brewery floor.
Today the brewery’s dilemma is its inability to meet demand. There is no way to increase production without remaking the production process from top to bottom, a step the brewery is unwilling to take. American sake enthusiasts can be thankful that a small allocation makes its way to our shores and hope that eventually the brewery will send more this way. In the meantime, this website’s restaurant directory lists places where “Denshu” can be enjoyed.