Located in the rural town of Ryuo in Shiga prefecture, Matsuse Shuzo lies in the middle of rice country. Shiga consists of stretches of lowlands and rice paddies crisscrossed by dozens of waterways that flow from surrounding mountains into the massive feature at the center of the prefecture: Japan’s largest lake, the placid and vast Lake Biwa.
With a history dating to 1860, Matsuse Shuzo made a leap in 1988 to commit themselves to sourcing high quality sake rice from the surrounding area of Ryuo. Traditionally known for growing everyday eating rice, the highest quality Yamada Nishiki rice was brought from the legendary area of Tojo in western Hyogo Prefecture and was grown and adapted to local conditions, providing the basis for much of Matsuse Shuzo’s sake today: Ryuo Yamada Nishiki. Since then the brewery has pioneered rice cultivation techniques both old and new, moving away from the use of chemicals and fertilizers and in the winter leaving paddies flooded and untilled, promoting growth of microorganisms and biodiversity. Working closely with local farmers, the brewery workers oversee every step of rice cultivation.
The attention to detail in producing high quality sake extends to the brewing process. Water is sourced from 120 meters below the ground, koji is cultivated by the labor intensive ‘box’ method, batches are kept small and fermented slowly at low temperatures to fully develop the flavor. Brewmaster Keizou Ishida believes in making sake with a purity of flavor that is as natural as the air and the water of Shiga. His aim is to make sake that conveys feelings of calmness, and mirrors the tranquil natural landscape around the brewery.
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