The crown jewel of Kodama Brewery
Award-winning “Tenko” sake is crafted with expert care, representing Kodama’s fine art.
Established in 1879, Kodama Brewery is located in the heart of Akita in an area of abundant rice fields. The brand name “Taiheizan” is taken from Akita City’s tallest mountain: Mount Taihei, whose spring water is used in the production of Taiheizan-brand sake. Enter “Tenko” Junmai Daiginjo, the proud crown jewel of Kodama Brewery. Although Tenko has only been available in Ontario since 2013, it has a rich history of winning awards all over the world. These accolades include 14 straight years of gold medals at Monde Selection, first prize at the 2009 International Wine Challenge in London and a silver medal from the Toronto International Sake Challenge (daiginjo category).
The finest ingredients
Tenko is a very complex, full-bodied sake with a long and smooth finish. Rich and elegant, it is well balanced with the soft aroma of Japanese apples and a palate as smooth as silk. In English, Tenko translates to “Heaven Ingenuity.” Fittingly, Tenko’s inventiveness is a key part of its success—the result of top-level ingredients, expert care and traditional brewing methods that have been passed down from generation to generation. Like many other daiginjo, this sake is made with the “king of sake rice,” Yamada Nishiki. What makes Yamada Nishiki so desirable is its ability to absorb lots of water and dissolve easily. The result is often sake that is light and smooth, yet complex and flavourful.
A major difference between Tenko and most other top-level daiginjo sake is the use of the traditional kimoto method. Instead of the brewer adding lactic acid and yeast to the starter mash (a mix of water, koji mould and steamed rice), they let these organisms develop naturally in smaller tubs by controlling temperatures and physically mashing the mix at specific intervals.
The science of sake
Sake brewing is an incredibly scientific and precise process. Each step requires constant monitoring and adjustments that are informed by brewer expertise and daily chemical testing. Tenko in particular is processed for 40 days at extremely low temperatures to produce unique and complex flavours. For centuries the kimoto method was the prevalent way of making sake, but in the 20th century it was largely replaced with quick-fermentation methods. Thus Tenko is more time-consuming, labour-intensive and costly to produce than other sake. What is kept by sticking to the kimoto method is the sake’s traditional taste. Kimoto sake tends to have more flavour and complexity, often being characterized as having a slightly wilder or gamier taste.
It is amazing to think that, before modern scientific knowledge, brewers perfected this high-level biotechnology through trial and error. With its dedication to this traditional ingenuity, Tenko Junmai Daiginjo truly encapsulates the best of Taiheizan sake.
Tenko is now on the regular menu at the new Kinka Izakaya North York location, available by glass, 300-mL tokkuri or 720-mL bottle. Tenko can also be enjoyed at Boku Sushi in the Distillery District, Ginko Japanese Restaurant in Etobicoke and Inatei Japanese Cuisine in Richmond Hill.
Koji mould is the primary source of sake’s aromas and flavours. As such, it is vital to the brewing process. Kodama Brewery continues the tradition of making koji by hand, which involves constant handling and monitoring of steamed rice covered in koji spores in a hot room. This process takes about two days.
Samples are collected daily and analyzed by a lab technician who carefully monitors every development with the Toji master. They test a variety of measurements— including temperature, acidity, density, enzymes and alcohol percentage—then adjust each batch accordingly.
Once sake has been cultivated to the brewer’s satisfaction, it is ready to be pressed. This involves pumping the mash of rice/water/koji into mesh sheets. The rice solids fill the sheets while sake filters out the bottom. The resulting caked rice solids are called kasu. Sake kasu is used as a pickling agent, marinade or cooking paste.