Shibata City, in Niigata Prefecture is the home of Kikusui’s brewery, and the city is located in the North of the Echigo Plane, which is known as one of the leading food production areas in Japan. This area is surrounded in rich natural landscapes, from the beautiful coast to the Northwest, to the mountainous region to the Southeast. The abundant snowmelt that flows into the Kaji River brings moisture to the fertile earth, and the area is also known for producing several different strains of high-quality rice.
Making good sake requires the three elements of good weather, rice, and water, in addition to good craftsman (the chief brewer and those who work with them). The hometown of Kikusui is blessed with all of these, but this time we will be concentrating on the water.
Water is classified as either hard or soft. Water with a large amount of mineral content (like calcium and magnesium) is hard, and water with less is soft. The minerals in hard water act as food for the yeast in the brewing process, leading to lively fermentation, and fewer failures, which is why it was regarded as superior at a time when brewing techniques weren’t as developed as they are today. On the other hand, soft water, which contains less of these elements, encourages gentler fermentation, leading to a slower fermentation process.
With the advancement of brewing techniques, ginjo sake, which is regarded as the measure of a brewer’s technique, is now quite popular. Within the tax agency’s definition of ginjo sake brewing, you can find the words “fermented slowly at a low temperature.” This means that soft water is ideal for brewing ginjo sake. It’s also said that sake brewed from soft water has a soft and smooth flavor with a round finish.
Almost all of the sake brewed in Niigata is brewed with soft water. Sake from Niigata is praised for going down smoothly, and for having a light and clean finish, and Niigata exports more ginjo sake than any other prefecture in the country (According to a study by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association), which is likely due to this soft water.
Of course, Kikusui is brewed with soft water as well. Shibata, the hometown of Kikusui, is a treasure house of natural water resources for the production of sake, from the water of the Kaji River which flows right near the brewery and its abundant groundwater arteries below, to cool and clear underground water which comes from the plentiful snowmelt of the Iide Mountains.