Monthly Archives: June 2017

Los Angeles International Wine Competition 2017

The Los Angeles International Wine Competition has been awarding the finest wines from all over the world since 1939, and the finest Japanese Sake since 2009. We are proud to announce our sake awards from 2017, the 78th year of the Los Angeles International Wine competition.

GOLD Medal : Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo 3 years
SILVER Medal : Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo
BRONZE Medal : Junmai Daiginjo (45) Kouwagura


Los Angeles International Wine Competition is the platform for an extensive wine education program available to the nearly 1.3 million visitors at the annual Los Angeles County Fair. The Fair’s wine education center features consumer-driven classes, tastings and displays of the award-winning wines. With the Los Angeles International Wine Competition committed to educating the public about wine, the Fair’s wine education program features industry experts with extensive knowledge about wine growing and selection, wine tasting as well as wine and food pairings.

Climb Every Mountain… for Sansai!

Freshly picked Zenmai fern leaf buds.

Freshly picked Zenmai fern leaf buds.

Since I arrived in Niigata last year, I have been eating a lot of sansai (山菜) which means simply “mountain vegetables”. They are a staple food here and the product of foraging by hand in the mountain-side forests. In this snow bound and mountainous area, these vegetables are eaten soon after they are collected, but also preserved and enjoyed all year round. Sansai are famous for having a bitter taste. Their natural bitterness is actually a defense mechanism against animals nibbling on them.

The locals here have developed a taste for the bitter greens and they are served in many ways, the most popular being flash fried as tempura, blanched and serve with a soy sauce and also preserved as pickles. The taste is indeed bitter, but I’ve come to love sansai. Believe it or not, the bitterness is actually a perfect compliment to sake, too!

The Mountain is getting steep!

The Mountain is getting steep!

I was surprised when I received an invitation to go Sansai picking myself. A local guide heard about my love of Niigata mountain vegetables and offered to take me to his favorite spot for picking mountain vegetables. My only instruction was to wear boots and gloves. As we were driving to the mountain, my guide told me we would be picking only one kind of plant that day, zenmai (薇) known in english as cinnamon fern or by it’s scientific name Osmunda Japonica. I had never heard of this plant before, so I was wondering how I would recognize it in the wild.

When we arrived on the mountain, we began climbing up and within three minutes we saw our first zenmai. I quickly learned that they were the first growth of a moisture and shade loving wild fern and they look very much like an extra large fiddlehead fern covered in a kind of mossy spiderweb. It doesn’t sound appetizing, but I’m assured they are delicious. I was outfitted with an apron with a deep pocket and a backpack and away we went.

After about 20 minutes or so we  stopped and wrapped up our Zenmai haul to put in our backpacks.

After about 20 minutes or so we stopped and wrapped up our Zenmai haul to put in our backpacks.

As we started to climb up my guide would expertly spot the Zenmai from far away. We would snap the stems about 2/3rds of the way down and I would collect the stems in my pouch. There were also some guidelines on what not to pick. If the zenmai were too small, we left them alone to grow for next year. I also learned that the Zenmai are only edible when they are in the fiddlehead fern shape. If they had begun to open and spread their fern leaves, I was to leave them alone.

Getting Tired!  Is the air thinner up here? ;-)

Getting Tired! Is the air thinner up here? 😉

As we marched up the mountain side, the slope got gradually steeper and steeper. When my apron’s pouch was full of Zenmai, I would wrap them in a cloth and load them into my backpack. This foraging became a fun game and spotting the ferns on the mountainside became easier and easier.

After climbing up for 90 minutes, we decided to make our way back down. My backpack was loaded full of zenmai. I learned that my guide usually hikes to the top of the mountain when foraging… that would have been 3 hours up and 3 hours back down! Even though I was wiped out, I was just given the beginner’s course! I’ll need to do some training if I’m going to mountain climbing again.

When the day was over I was impressed with our haul. If you know what to look for the mountain can really provide bounty. The zenmai that I collected will be cooked and preserved for eating next year – can’t wait to try them! Think sansai foraging might be a brand new hobby!

If you don't pick the tender buds, Zenmai turns into an inedible fern like this one.

If you don’t pick the buds, Zenmai turns into a fern like this one.

TEXSOM International Wine Awards

TEXSOM is a leader in bevarege education, and hold an International Wine Competition annually in TEXAS, USA.
Judge sommeliers travels from over 60 countries and judge fairly. TEXSOM is one of important and widely known competition in the world.

This year, Hakkaisan products awarded Silver and Bronze medals.
Silver – Hakkaisan Sparkling Nigori
Bronze – Hakkaisan Snow Aged 3 year Junmai Ginjo
Bronze – Hakkaisan Kouwa Gura (45) Junmai Daiginjo


The End is in Sight! Koshiki Taoshi

In Japan, most breweries make sake on a seasonal schedule. That means production for a given Brewing Year (B.Y.) usually starts in October and runs through the time of rice planting in the late spring or early summer. When the Brewing Year is winding down, there are some ceremonies and gatherings to mark the end of the season and recognize all effort and hard work of the brewers.

President Nagumo's Speech to the Kurabito  (brewery workers) at the Koshiki Taoshi event

President Nagumo’s Speech to the Kurabito (brewery workers) at the Koshiki Taoshi event

As the brewing season is drawing to a close, there is that day when you steam your last batch of rice. This is the day that you finish the additions of rice and koji to your last batch of sake. Of course fermentation will continue for another month on all the tanks you’ve started, but from this point on, no new tanks will be created and no more rice will be steamed. “Koshiki Taoshi” means to knock over the rice steaming vat. The idea behind Koshiki Taoshi is to tip over the rice steaming vat for cleaning as it won’t be used any more this season.

Hakkaisan's Toji or Master Brewer greets all the brewery workers.

Hakkaisan’s Toji or Master Brewer greets all the brewery workers.

When I arrived at the event, I was surprised to see everyone dressed in a serious dark suit. I was used to seeing all the brewers in their white brewery uniform, but now I was seeing everyone dress up in civilian clothes. The mood was serious at first with everyone sitting quietly waiting for the official start. Once the event began we first had greetings and speeches. Hakkaisan President Jiro Nagumo started by thanking everyone for their hard work this year and talking about the Hakkaisan company spirit. Then Mr. Shigemitsu Nagamo, the Toji or master brewer, also thanked everyone for their hard work and dedication this year. Next was our Kanpai or toast. This was the signal that the party could begin. For this occasion, all the brewers were able to enjoy Hakkaisan’s Special Daiginjo sake. This is an ultra-premium sake not sold to the public, and it was a chance for all the brewers to taste the gold standard sake produced by Hakkaisan. This sake embodies what we try to achieve as a brewery.

Hakkaisan Special Daiginjo.  An ultra premium sake not sold to the general public.

Hakkaisan Special Daiginjo. An ultra premium sake not sold to the general public.

Everyone was able to enjoy a great meal and the Special Daiginjo served chilled and warm as well. Hakkaisan beer was also flowing! It is a custom in Japan for the new employees to go around and pour sake for their superiors. This is a great way to foster communication and it really get people talking to one another and in the mood to celebrate. It is also a time to go around and say “thank you” to any co-workers that especially helped you during the year.

Nice Dinner for everyone to enjoy together.  A thank you for all the hard work of this brewing season.

Nice Dinner for everyone to enjoy together. A thank you for all the hard work of this brewing season.

Next came a really exciting moment. All of the sake brewers and this year’s new employees gathered at the front of the room to sing a “sakauta” (酒歌) or sake brewing song. Traditionally, these songs were sung in the brewery to keep time while mixing the tank or some other such task. The songs have a driving rhythm to keep brewers mixing the vat at the same pace. At Hakkaisan, this song is not used in the brewery everyday, but is still performed at special events to keep a connection to this piece of sake culture alive. It was fantastic to see!

All Brewers joined in singing the Sakauta, or sake brewing song.

All Brewers joined in singing the Sakauta, or sake brewing song.

The Koshiki Taoshi event is not the end of brewing, but more a sign of things winding down for the year. Everyone enjoyed the party, but for most, it was back to work and back to brewing the very next day!

Ultimate Wine Challenge 2017 Result!!

UWC_yukimuroWe are very please to announce the result of the 2017 Ultimate Wine Challenge!

Hakkaisan Yukimuro Snow Aged 3 Years Junmai Ginjo Sake received the highest award, the Chairman’s Trophy!

It is available in New York City, California, Las Vegas, Austin, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, D.C., Boston, North Carolina, Paris, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Seoul, Singapore, etc. For those you are in Canada, its on the way!!! Toronto, here we come!

This is an umami concentrated sake that pairs wonderfully with aged meat, aged cheese and similar umami rich foods.
Snow has the power to age sake in the best way possible!

KAMPAI Toronto!

IMG_2476Hakkaisan again attended Toronto Canada’s biggest sake event “KAMPAI Toronto” on June 1st of this year. The Sake Institute of Ontario organized the event which is in its 6th year.. There were over 150 kinds of sake for tasting, and many brewers from Japan were in attendance as well as local restaurants booths to offer delicious food for sake pairing. The event started off with a Sake Seminar by Sake Samurais then tasting sake time for restaurants professionals and the media. A lot of people were sake educated and some traveled from far away cities such as Vancouver or Montreal. At the Hakkaisan booth, we introduced our latest sake “Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo 3 years” for the first time in Canada and gave our guests a pleasant surprise with the story and the taste of this new sake.

The event was opened to the general public in the evening with music and a Japanese drum performance which created a “Matsuri” festival feeling that helped the guests to enjoy sake, food, and a nice ambience. Every year the awareness of sake grows through this event and the event gets bigger and more fun!!


The Muddy Start to Sake: Taue Rice Planting

If you think about making sake, where does the process really start? If you want to go to the very beginning, you need to look at growing sake rice. I recently had an opportunity to visit a Niigata rice farm and try my own hand at planting sake rice. I was invited to an event known as Taue (田植え) aka “rice planting”. This is mostly done by mechanized tractor these days, but I was going to try planting rice by hand the old fashioned way at a local Niigata Taue community event. Kids, parents, office workers, veteran farmers and one displaced New Yorker would plant the whole field. If I was going to fall on my behind in the mud, there would be lots of people to see.

Baby Steps
Sake rice does not start as a seed in the rice paddy. Rice is first grown from seed to seedling in trays filled with growth medium inside of a hothouse. This allow farmers to water and feed the seedlings and protects the tiny rice plants until they are big enough to be planted in the paddy.

Rice seedlings ready for planting!

Rice seedlings ready for planting!

Inside the rice seedling Hothouse.  Row upon row of rice plants growing in trays.  These seedlings will be planted in the next  day or two.

Inside the rice seedling Hothouse. row upon row of rice plants growing in trays. These seedlings will be planted in the next day or two.

The Gear

Hip waders and rice paddy hat complete the look.

Hip waders and rice paddy hat complete the look.

Now that we had the seedlings ready to go, it was time to get suited up. I forgot to bring my rice planting rubber boots from New York, so I borrowed a pair. The boots closest to my size were thigh-high hip waders that tied onto my belt with some string. I was also issued a pointed rice paddy hat, towel for my neck and a plastic bucket to wear like a satchel to hold my rice seedlings.

The local professionals who came to help came dressed and were completely covered from head to toe. I thought this was a little extreme but then I learned the hard way that the water in the paddy acts like a mirror and will reflect the sun to give you a light sunburn from two directions!

Paddy Prep

Before we started planting, the paddy needed to be prepared. To give us a guideline for planting, the farmers roll a wooden template across the mud to create a grid pattern. this is rolled back and forth down the entire length of the paddy. This grid allows us to plant our seedlings in the corner of each grid square and keep everything aligned and spaced perfectly. Ingenious!

Rolling the wooden template across the paddy to create a grid that will guide us in planting the rice seedlings.

Rolling the wooden template across the paddy to create a grid that will guide us in planting the rice seedlings.

Let’s Get Planting

Into the mud! Ready to plant.

Into the mud! Ready to plant.

I was given some instructions on how to plant. First, grab a chunk of rice seedlings in your left hand. Then using your right hand, break off a little bundle of 3 seedlings. Stick the seedlings into the mud at the corner of the grid. Repeat and repeat! I quickly learned that only using your right hand to plant is a good idea is it quickly becomes covered in mud. After a few rows I was feeling confident and I ventured further into the paddy. Then I began to sink.

Soon the mud was up by my knees and it was hard to walk or move forward. Trying to pull one leg out of the mud to step forward threw me off balance and made me wobble, but luckily, I didn’t fall in front of 50 people. I planted all the rice I had in my basket, 3 stalks at a time until it was empty. Then I found myself stranded in the middle of the paddy with a long walk back to the edge. Walking slow and stilted like Frankenstein, I slowly made it back to safety! The first thing I did was squat down to rinse my hands in some running water. The mud on the back of my thigh high boots managed to get on my behind that way, so even though I didn’t fall, I still wound up looking like I did.

Everyone working together to plant the whole field!

Everyone working together to plant the whole field!

With everyone helping, the field was planted in about an hour. I thought it would take three times as long. After the planting was done, the rice field is flooded with water. This keeps the seedlings protected and inhibits the growth of weeds. Looking out at the finished paddy, I couldn’t help feel a sense of accomplishment, even though I only planted a small part. The lines of rice were not as laser straight as a machine could do it, but I think doing things by hand can be its own reward. The next step in my farming career? I’m heading back into the mud this September to harvest!

The finished rice paddy after planting!!

The finished rice paddy after planting!!