Asamai Shuzo

Asamai Shuzo Co., Ltd. is located in the Asamai District of Hiraka Town, which lies at the center of the Yokote Basin in the southern part of Akita Prefecture. The Yokote Basin becomes fertile due to the Minase River and the Naruse River, whose sources are in the Ou Mountains. Some of the water from these rivers goes underground and re-emerges to form a cluster of natural springs, called Biwanuma Springs, in the Asamai District. The area has good-quality rice and abundant spring water, thus making it a perfect location for saké brewing.

The brewery was established in 1917. The founder, Sôkô Kakizaki, named his saké Amanoto (“Heaven’s Door”) after the following ancient poem:

Amanotowa shizukani akete Kamijiyama, sugino aobani hikage sasu miyu.

“As the heaven’s door slowly opens on Mt. Kamiji, I see the sunbeam shine on the green leaves of the cedar trees.”

This poem implicitly refers to the mythology of the Sun Goddess. The brewery uses an icon of a magatama (a comma-shaped divine bead) on the bottles to illustrate the divine origin of the name Amanoto.

The brewery has experienced various twists and turns during its history. In 1943, it was forced to close down due to a national policy of mergers and the abolishment of selected companies. However, the local people’s petition made the government reconsider its decision, and the brewing license was reissued in the following year.

In the 1980s, the brewery experienced financial difficulties, and its ginjô brewing was suspended for five years. However, Hidemori Kakizaki, the then-senior managing director (who became the president of the company in 1996), resumed ginjô brewing in 1988. This gave the brewery a new thrust for development, even if, despite its renewed efforts, the brewery continued to struggle. In 1990, when the Akita Research Institute of Brewing announced the discovery of highly fragrant yeast called “AK-1 Akitaryu-hanakobo,” Asamai Brewery decided to brew saké with this new find.

In the same year, Kôichi Moriya, who had been working at Asamai Brewery, was appointed Tôji (head brewer). Subsequently, the brewery received gold prizes at the annual national new-brewed saké fair five consecutive times from 1991 to 1996 (the annual national new-brewed saké fair was not held in 1995). Moreover, the brewery’s award-winning saké was brewed with only local rice from Akita (“Miyamanishiki” rice and “Gin-no-sei” rice), which was an achievement never before seen in the breweries of Akita. Tôji Moriya became nationally recognized for his brewing achievements and for his 1995 book titled Natsuta-Fuyuzô (Summer in Rice Field and Winter in Brewery), which described his struggles during saké brewing.

The brewery’s motto is: “Saké is born of rice fields.” Asamai Brewery has kept this reminder ever since it experienced a rice shortage in 1993 when a cold summer and the saké rice-distribution system used at that time made it impossible for the brewery to use high-quality saké rice produced in the local area. In order to prevent another disaster in the future, Asamai Brewery initiated its policy of purchasing all the saké rice grown by participants of the Hiraka Town Saké Rice Study Group. As a result, the brewery established its practice of “producing junmaishu (pure rice saké) only with saké rice produced within five kilometers of the brewery.”

In 1996, Asamai Brewery began brewing tokubetsu-junmaishu Amanoto Umashine. Since 2005, only saké rice grown with reduced amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers has been used thanks to the cooperation of the Hiraka Town Saké Rice Study Group. In 2010, the brewery received a gold prize for saké brewed with “Akita Sakékomachi” rice in a national new-brewed saké fair for the 10th time, after which the brewery decided to produce only junmaishu.

This turn to junmai brewing did not tarnish the quality of its products, and Asamai Brewery received another gold prize at the national fair in 2012. In 2013, Hidemori Kakizaki passed away at the age of 55; his younger brother, Tsuneki Kakizaki, took over as president.

Asamai Brewery should be noted for more than junmai brewing, particularly due to its use of two brewing techniques. First, it practices a process known as zenryô-gentei-kyûsui (“controlled water absorption for entire amount of rice”), which consists of the following steps: neatly polishing the rice; weighing the rice and water in small increments; allowing the rice to evenly absorb the water; and steaming the rice in a large Japanese pot. Second, it utilizes a method known as kanzukuri (“brewing during a cold season, which is the most favorable condition for saké”), which is practiced with handmade kôji during the coldest part of the winter season. In addition, the moromi is squeezed in a large, old-style tub, and the saké is then bottled without filtering so it maintains a rich rice taste.