“Honjozo should be more respected”, said Hidekazu Takeda, the director of Shuho Sake Brewery. “I wanted to change its perception.”
Sake is classified into certain levels depending basically on rice polishing rate (seimai buai). From the lowest polished and the highest, the classification is futsu-shu, honjozo, ginjo, and daiginjo (if the sake is brewed only out of rice, it is junmai, junmai ginjo and junmai daiginjo). These days, clear fruity sake, which is towards daiginjo, attracts much attention. On the contrary, honjozo has become less popular as compared with “good old days” for the sake industry. Honjozo has been regarded as cheap sake which does not necessarily come with taste. In those days, old men preferred it as sake to “get drunk”.
“It should not be the case,” Hidekazu said. “I am not saying fruity sake is bad, but it is not the king of sake. The good thing about sake is variety”.
Hidekazu has very rare career for a sake brewer. He is a doctor of engineering, and he started his career in one of the most well-known global Japanese companies as an engineer. There, he continued to challenge things and existing perception, and invented a number of new products and brought them out to the market. Looking at where he is from, it is natural for him to continue challenging in the sake world as well.
So, Hidekazu’s challenge kicked off to change the image of honjozo. But how? He chose to make it sweet. In the world of sake, there is not much sweet sake that is well appreciated. Shuho Sake Brewery as well did not have sweet sake in its product line-up. If he manages to brew sweet sake with low-polished rice, he thought he can change the image of honjozo.
The product is named 「概念」 (gainen), meaning “concept”, or rather in this context, “image”. Hidekazu envisage that once people have this gainen, they will have different image towards honjozo. As said, gainen moves towards the different direction from the current trend, and so has not been sold so well at this point. However, he is not at all impatient. He knows that it takes time for a new product to be recognised in the market and for a long-standing image to be changed.
Once you taste this gainen, you will be surprised how sweet but smooth it is. Until the day to come when people appreciate it, he will continue to brew this gainen in Yamagata. Come to Yamagata to be impacted by Hidekazu’s story of sake.