Sake over zoom with Hachinohe brewery (Mutsu Hassen)!

On Friday (2nd April 2021) we were lucky to have Takata-san organise a zoom session with Hachinohe brewery, the brewery that developed the Mutsu Hassen brand (and many other brands). You might have heard of Mutsu Hassen from a recent tasting that we have done at Healthy Soba Iki! The zoom session was with Hideyuki-san and Nobuyuki-san (Toji 杜氏), who are the ninth generation owners of Hachinohe brewery.

Hachinohe brewery is located in Hachinohe city, Aomori prefecture. Hachinohe city is famous for its seafood – hotate (scallop), squid, saba fish etc. It is also famous for its fruits such as cherry, blueberry, peaches and apples (apple picking is a popular activity) and vegetables like garlic and yam. Hachinohe Shuzo’s hometown is blessed with good food and nature! The brewery was established in 1775 and has two main brands, Mutsu Otokoyama and Mutsu Hassen. Mutsu Otokayama is a more traditional, drier style of sake while Mutsu Hassen (established in 1998) is smooth, fresh, fruity with floral characteristics, quite the opposite to Mutsu Otokoyama.

Hachinohe Shuzo building is registered as a national heritage site and cannot be renovated easily. Before COVID19 the brewery had lots of visitors annually. Picture courtesy of sake international association.

I chose the Mutsu Hassen Tokubetsu Junmai for the zoom session, which happened to be the best seller in the brewery’s hometown. It had a subtle aroma of melon and apples, and a balanced umami and dryness that went well with cheese (I had a semi-hard Monterey Jack cheese to pair with it).

Hachinohe brewery’s experimental and modern approach

Hachinohe brewery uses 100% local Aomori rice for sake brewing. The philosophy is that sake brewing is closely coupled to agriculture, and the brewery made the decision largely to support the local farmers and to ensure that the agriculture industry in the hometown can survive. They use clean and clear water from the Kanisawa area of Hachinohe for brewing sake. While keeping to these traditional philosophies, Hachinohe brewery is modern and experimental in their techniques and products.

Traditional sake breweries use yellow koji to break down the starch in the rice to smaller sugars (saccharification) in preparation for the fermentation process, so that these sugars can be fermented into alcohol by the action of yeast eventually. To add acidity to sake, lactic acid is usually introduced during the brewing process. However, Hachinohe Shuzo decided to use white koji instead because of the higher acidity it imparts to the sake (in the form of citric acid produced), allowing them to omit the addition of lactic acid and have everything be produced naturally. This is where Mutsu Hassen sakes get their fresh fruity flavours. With their modern fermentation techniques, they have also managed to bring down the shubo (yeast starter) production time from the standard 14 days to just two days.

Hachinohe Shuzo has a range of special sakes. For example, they have a special dry sparkling sake that is reminiscent of champagne. They also have a sake that mimics the attributes of wine, named V1116 after the strain of the Danish white wine yeast used in brewing. They have also produced a sweet sake (Mutsu Hassen Kijoshu) which is their take on dessert wine. Another very interesting sake in their premium range is the Hassenblage – four types of rice from Aomori prefecture was blended to produce an emergent flavour that cannot be achieved by the individual rice on its own. This is analogous to wine making or coffee, where different grapes or coffee seeds are blended to produce a result that is well balanced.

Hachinohe’s experimental and modern approach is also reflected in their style of running the brewery. Young brewers are encouraged to develop new sakes. This is evident in their ‘Mixseed Series‘, where the young brewers came up with sakes matching the theme of ‘Aperitif’, ‘Accords de Sake’ and ‘Digestif’, to match a pre-meal sake, during a meal and a dessert sake.

Mixseed series by the young brewers of Hachinohe Shuzo. Picture taken from the Mutsu Hassen Facebook page here.

What’s next?

Hachinohe brewery has a line up of seasonal and new sakes that will be imported into Singapore in the coming months. The challenge next is education, and making sure that the philosophies and concepts in sake brewing are communicated to the end consumers. This zoom session was a great way for breweries to communicate directly to consumers of sake. It is exciting to see how the brewery encourages innovation, removing boundaries for experimentation, much like how a modern day technology company allows small teams to pursue new ideas. I am excited for what is to come next from Hachinohe brewery!

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