Sake Brewery Spotlight - Gassan Shuzou (Ginrei Gassan)
Ginrei Gassan, a brand that we all know and love, but how much do we know about the brewery that made it all possible? Let us tell you about Gassan Shuzou and its humble beginnings at Mount Gassan.
Mount Gassan and Gassan Shuzou
Located in the Yamagata Prefecture, Mount Gassan prides itself with its beautiful and ever changing nature landscape with each passing season. At the foot of this magnificent sight, Gassan Shuzou was founded in 1897 and its corporate organization officially created in 1953.
As the snow melts and seeps into the ground of the mountain, it undergoes a natural filtering process for over 400 years as it slowly flows down to the foot of the mountain. This refreshing meltwater then emerges at the foot of Mount Gassan in a natural spring to provide high quality water for farmers to produce abundant rice harvests. In turn, Gassan Shuzou uses the well-polished rice by these farmers, along with the natural meltwater from Mount Gassan, to produce the sakes under the brand “Ginrei Gassan”.
Often, Gassan Shuzou can be buried deep in snow, with snow that reaches the roof and envelopes the insides with bitter cold. Despite this extreme weather, the burning passion of the sake brewers warm their hearts, as they continue to work hard to produce sake. The sake produced during this snowy season is refreshing, crisp, and full of flavor, an experience that is unique to the Yamagata Prefecture and Gassan Shuzou.
A Taste of Nature in Sake
The brewing process in Gassan Shuzou is constantly being updated. New brewing techniques are incorporated on top of traditional handmade techniques, ensuring that the passion and love of the brewers can still be felt in the sake, yet efficiency of production is not being compromised.
The flavors of Ginrei Gassan sakes come from the following natural elements:
Mount Gassan, the main peak of the Dewa Sanzan, has the most snowfall of any mountain in Japan. This cold climate is what makes the Ginrei Gassan’s aroma stand out from other sake, giving it a clear and deep flavor.
Visitors of Mount Gassan would revel at its magnificent landscape and part of that includes the beautiful alpine plants that they can see up close. Beyond Mount Gassan itself, at the foot of the mountain there are also rich rice fields which marks the beginning of the sake processing journey for Ginrei Gassan.
As snow atop Mount Gassan melts and seeps into the ground, it takes about 400 years before it flows out at the foot of the mountain in a spring. It is known as the “water of romance” and is one of the top 100 best water qualities in Japan. This high quality water is used not only to harvest premium rice for the production of Ginrei Gassan sake, but is also used directly to produce the sake.
Ginrei Gassan Production Process
As most sake fans would know, sake is made by fermenting rice. Koji mold enzymes convert rice into sugar, after which yeast is added to ferment the sugar.
- Rice is polished from the original brown rice stage to white rice. It is then washed, soaked, steamed, and cooled. While all Gassan Shuzou uses high-temperature saccharification as the base material, only 2 make high-temperature saccharification sake.
- Rice is steamed and sprinkled with a fungus known as “yellow koji mold”. Gassan Shuzou has an automatic koji machine, which is a room on its own with high temperatures and not much humidity to breed koji mold.
- Yeast is cultivated in the rice to produce ethyl alcohol which can be found in sake. This creates the “Mother Sake”
- The first 3 stages are carried out over a period of 4 days. Unrefined sake is made by adding koji, steamed rice, and water to the Mother Sake and fermenting it The steamed rice will gradually turn white as mycelium grows.
- Solid matter and turbidity are removed from the fermented unrefined sake, and the sake is then transformed into the clear, pure sake as we normally see.
- This sake is matured under strict temperature control until it is bottled and ready for shipping. This ensures that the rough aroma becomes round and mild for drinkers to enjoy.
- The sake is blended to its target quality and brewing water is added to adjust the alcohol content. Finally, the sake is bottled, labeled, and shipped right to your home for you to enjoy!
Tsukiyama Sake Brewery Museum
Gassan Shuzou also has a Gassan Sake Brewery Museum that exhibits the multitude of tools used for sake brewing from the time of the company’s founding until the Showa era. This museum aims to teach people about the history of sake brewing that was born and still growing in Nishikawa Town.
Some of the sake-making tools on display include traditional sake brewing tools such as steamers (a tool used to steam rice), sake tanks (a device used to press sake by applying pressure to the mash), and snake pipes (a spiral pipe used to heat and sterilize raw sake).
Visitors are also able to taste and sample various types of sake made from the high quality “water of romance” from Mount Gassan. Additionally, there are limited edition Ginrei Gassan sake available for sale at the souvenir shop, along with a wide variety of other sake brands.
Shop at Sake Inn
Here at Sake Inn, we have a range of sake from Ginrei Gassan. Grab one now to have a taste of Mount Gassan!
Ginrei Gassan Junmai Daiginjyo Sake
Available in 300ml ($33) and 720ml ($74)
Ginrei Gassan Junmai Daiginjyo Sake uses large luxurious Yamada-Nishiki yeast rice to ferment into this perfect sake. After it has been brewed, the sake is kept in ice temperature for aging and gives off a slightly sweet taste. This sake is suitable to drink chilled or at room temperature. Recommended pairing with fatty meats like pork belly and fish.
Awards: 2022 Fine Sake Awards: Gold
Ginrei Gassan Setchu Jyukusei Junmai Ginjyo Sake
Available in 300ml ($28) and 720ml ($59)
If you miss being in the throes of winter, then a glass of the award-winning Ginrei Gassan Junmai Ginjyo Setchu Jyukusei is all you need to recreate that feeling. Each sip of this pure, light sake and each whiff of its calming aroma brings forth an image of fresh snow. Recommended to be paired with fish, shrimp and lightly fried dishes.
Ginrei Gassan Sasara Tsuki Junmai Sake
Available in 300ml ($24)
The Sasara Tsuki Junmai Sake comes from the Yamagata prefecture, a region with abundant mineral water and high-quality rice. The sake has a sweet aroma and moderate roundness and is best served chilled to complement light dishes.
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