Producers I Love: Kidoizumi Shuzo

Producers I Love: Kidoizumi Shuzo

What makes Kidoizumi stand out for me is their unique, punchy, flavourful sake, and the fact that they have never followed trends. In fact, they have often gone against the grain and been pioneers in their field in several ways. They were one of the first brewers to use organic rice when it was outlawed by the government, they brew with an alternative approach to the industry norm, and last but not least, they boast one of the best selections of aged sake. 

Brewing sake since 1897, Kidoizumi Shuzo is a family-owned and run brewery located in Ohara, a small town in Chiba prefecture about two hours from Tokyo. Hayato Shoji who runs the show now, is both fifth generation Kuramoto (owner) and master brewer. Having just one of the titles is a heavy enough responsibility, however Hayato seems to be steering them in the right direction with demand for their sake increasing every year.

After World War 2, Japan’s rice fields were in ruins so drastic measures were needed to feed the population. To improve yields, the government had little alternative but to use agricultural chemicals. Hayato Shoji's grandfather was concerned with this decision and made an effort not only to feed his family with chemical-free rice but to go one step further and brew sake with it. Today, one third of the rice they use is grown without pesticides and herbicides. 

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Their natural approach isn’t just limited to rice though. Kidoizumi ferment for most of the season using the ambient yeast found floating around in the brewery. They add the in-house cultured yeast number 7 only at the start of the brewing season around October; the riskiest time since the airborne yeast is in a weaker state after the break in brewing between April and September. After a few tanks into the season they are then able to rely on it fermenting naturally.

Aside from their aged sake, which we’ll come to later, what Kidoizumi are also well known for in the industry is their alternative approach with their fermentation starters. Known as the Ko-on or hot-yamahai method, they produce all of their sake using this starter method where they add very hot water to the tank. Keep in mind that the standard temperature range for a fermentation starter is between 10 and 18 degrees. The idea behind the method is that the hot water sterilises the mixture and breaks down the starches quickly. This method also happens to be well suited to warmer regions, which Kidoizumi brewery’s microclimate experiences.

On a cold early morning at the end of February, I watched on as the team of four brewers prepared this starter. First they laid previously prepared koji rice out on cloth in batches on the floor. They then added freshly steamed rice on top and added this 80-20 steamed rice to koji rice ratio mixture to the starter tank along with hot water. Everything was then mixed with long wooden poles and they waited for the mixture to reach 55 degrees. The key is not to exceed this temperature which is the limit where Koji enzymes are most active; anything above this and saccarification won’t take place, anything lower than this and you run the risk of having unwanted microorganisms that may spoil the batch. This batch was then left for around one week, which I didn’t stick around for. The high temperature means that the koji enzymes are much more active causing saccarification to take place much quicker than your standard, modern-day, two-week starter.

Some of these batches will be used for the main mash to produce the Hakugyokuko range, for example. Other starter batches will be bottled just like that; essentially a bottled version of the shubo or starter. They named it AFS after Adachi, Furukawa, and Shoji; the three people who helped develop it. The result is a concentrated version of sake; complex and intense with bold acidity and sweetness, and slightly lower alcohol levels than your average sake. 

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Kidoizumi also know a thing or two about aged sake. Popular in the Edo period, brewers stopped producing aged sake in the late 19th century after a change in the tax system where the government started to collect tax as soon as sake was bottled as opposed to shipped. Shoji’s grandfather revived the old tradition as he simply loved the flavour and believed that it would also be a good investment. Kidoizumi now boast a collection of aged sake that dates back to 1971; a huge investment for a small brewery that produces micro-brewery levels, but one that I hope will pay off. 

My Favourites

Sparkling Shizenmai
Naturally carbonated, notes of pear and steamed rice, off-dry with a creamy mouthfeel, alcohol level of 16%. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, undiluted, made with organic rice. Pair with white fish and soft cheeses such as brie and mozzarella.

Sparkling AFS
Naturally carbonated, cloudy, sweet and sour, notes of lychee and green apple, alcohol level of 13.5%. Unfiltered and unpasteurised. Made with the unique one-stage hot fermentation method known as AFS. Pair with caviar or pickled foods.

Hakugyokuko
Full bodied, off-dry, complex and layered, spicy with generous acidity, alcohol level of 18%. Unfiltered, unpasteurised and undiluted. Pair with skewered meats like yakitori, grilled fish and other intense dishes.

AFS Old Reserve
Full bodied, notes of coffee, caramel, black sugar and spice, alcohol level of 17%.
A blended aged sake with 1970s as the base. Pair with stewed dishes and aged cheeses.

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