Sado Doburoku Sake
Doburoku sake is unfiltered sake traditionally made right after the rice harvest in autumn; Kaifu Hakko produces fine sake on Sado Island, Niigata.
Japan Festivals: Sado Island, Niigata, Sado Doburoku Sake
Doburoku sake is unfiltered sake traditionally made right after the rice harvest in autumn. It tends to be rather strong and can have the consistency and color of either okayu (rice gruel) if not filtered at all or of thick creamy milk if the floating grains have been taken out. Its history dates back to earliest days of Japanese culture; it has been produced by Shinto shrines as a drink for both the gods and the local population as well as by rice farmers for their own consumption. Unpasteurized, it was drinkable only for a very short period. Perfect for celebrating the harvest.
Iwayaguchi Bay with rice fields in summer
The old tradition of doburoku making has survived to this day. Shinto shrines still arrange doburoku matsuri (festivals) and farmers still continue to make it on their own. The latter is of course strictly illegal under the current alcohol laws and you would need to know a farmer really well for him to sell you a bottle of his stuff.
Now, where to turn if you want to try a good doburoku if you can't go to one of the few doburoku matsuri and if you don't have an old-fashioned rice farmer in your immediate family?
The good news is that you can by now buy professionally and perfectly legally made doburoku all year long in specialized liquor stores across Japan - as well as on the internet.
Iwayaguchi Bay in winter
Iwayaguchi Village, Sado Island
Kaifu Hakko in the tiny village of Seki on Sado Island is one of those small manufacturers. Seki village sits on the rugged, rocky Japan Sea coast of Sado, a two-hour ride with the Soto Kaifu ("Outer Coast") bus, shortly before its final stop at Iwayaguchi.
The landscape here on the Southern end of Iwayaguchi Bay is breathtakingly rough. The sea crashes over brown rocks scattered in the water, pounding the cliffs below the village. Seki with its vintage wooden fisherman houses looks like it hasn't changed at all in the last 50 years. Only that quite a few of the buildings are abandoned. In fact, the only new structure to be found here is the Kaifu Hakko, operated by Mr. Maruyama and one employee.
I recently was invited to a tour through the facility by Maruyama. I had met him the night before at a party at the Soto Kaifu Inn in Iwayaguchi to which he had brought a few bottles of his drink.
When I arrived at the factory the next morning, refreshed from the long walk along the Iwayaguchi Bay coast, Maruyama explained at first a bit of his background. He had worked for 19 years in a sake factory in one of Sado's bigger towns but he eventually quit there, he said, feeling that that factory had abandoned the original ways of Sado sake. He opted instead for a training season at the Shinkame sake brewery in Saitama, a high-end sake manufacturer with a particular focus on traditional brewing methods.
Upon returning from Saitama, Maruyama set up his own shop in Seki village. Remote as the area is, it has a strong tradition of locally produced doburoku. Here, the local farmers used to use the leftover koji, the fermentation agent used to make miso (soybean paste), to produce their homebrew doburoku.
January 7th was the old doburoku-day. On that date, the farmers collected water from the clear mountain springs and set about brewing their winter drink.
Mr. Maruyama explains the sake making processKaifu Hakko, Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture
The homemade drink wasn't brewed simply for pleasure, however. It was in fact supposed to serve as a warm-up during the hard work of the wakame (sea-weed) harvest season, starting in early February.
In 2011, Maruyama started Kaifu Hakko. For his doburoku, he uses only local Sado rice and all water he uses comes from a local well. Unlike traditional doburoku which is left to ripe for 30 days, however, Maruyama gives his brew an additional 30 days for fermentation. This puts his product more in line with high-quality sake rather than with farmer homebrew.
Maruyama did a tour for me through his small factory and explained all the steps of the production. From the fermentation room to the final pasteurizing. Yes, the pasteurizing. The killing of the fermentation agents as the final step in production.
Coastal rice paddies rice paddies, Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture.
Traditional doburoku made at Shinto shrines or by old farmers is not pasteurized at all - which makes it a highly volatile product. Bottles might explode if shaken in transport - and in any case, the drink will be spoiled in a week or two at the most.
The doburoku made by Maruyama, you can keep for up to a year before drinking - but not for much longer. As in any doburoku, fermentation is still going on. With the rather low pasteurizing temperature of 60° Celsius, it has been slowed down considerably but it hasn't been completely stopped.
Maruyama's main product is the 15% alcohol Kanmoto doburoku. He also offers the 19% Genmoromi doburoku and the 7% Natane-iro.
On the non-alcohol-side, he makes an amazake ("sweet" non-alc sake drink) as well as a sort of amazake cream, vaguely similar to yoghurt in taste and texture and meant to be eaten with fruits.
Mr. Maruyama's sake, Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture
Kaifu Hakko location: Niigata Prefecture, Sado Island, Seki 650-1 (to visit take the Soto Kaifu bus from either Sawata or Aikawa to Seki Village, the Kaifu Hakko is the last building of the village in the direction of Iwayaguchi)
Phone / fax: 0259-78-2288
Website (in Japanese): kaifuhakko.com
Words + images Johannes Schonherr
Coastline, Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture