Rice is an essential ingredient in making sake. Just as grapes are an essential ingredient in making wine. And yet, unlike with wine, very few sake are actually named after the rice. Some even avoid listing the variety on the label at all. That’s perhaps because, unlike the grapes in wine making, the rice has a comparatively smaller effect on the end flavour and style. In fact it’s the brewer and their craft that has the biggest influence in sake brewing.
Be that as it may, there are bound to be people who want to know what type of rice their sake is made from.
As introduced in a past article, Yamada Nishiki has already made quite a name for itself as the so-called “king of sake rice”, but there are so many others, each with its own unique history and characteristics.
In this article we introduce the third most widely planted brewing rice after Yamada Nishiki & Gohyaku Mangoku: Miyama Nishiki.
A Word about Brewing Rice
Miyama Nishiki is a type of brewing rice. Brewing rice or Shuzokotekimai (lit: rice suitable for brewing) as it’s referred in Japanese, is rice that has special characteristics that are particularly suited to brewing such as a larger Shimpaku (AKA: White Heart, a nucleus filled with starch), a higher water absorbency, bigger grains that don’t crack under pressure when polished, and less proteins, fats, lipids and other undesirable components that cause off flavours in the end product. The downside of brewing rice is that it is much harder to grow. For more details, see this article.
The Origin of the Name
When it was first discovered in 1978 through a sudden mutation by exposing another variety of rice, Takane Nishiki to gamma radiation, the thing that stood out was its shimpaku: a “whiter than white” white-heart to rival the snow capped peaks of even the most beautiful mountain ranges. And so it was named as such: Miyama literally translating to “the beautiful peaks”.
Where it is Grown
Although its main growing area is Nagano, it is grown in as many as 7 prefectures located in the North East of Japan, usually at higher altitudes because of its resistance to the cold.
The Flavour Characteristics
It’s the clean flavour of Miyama Nishiki that sets it apart.
It is what we call a wase (early ripening) rice which means that it is one of the first rice to be harvested each year. Because of this, it is a much harder rice which means that it breaks up less easily in the fermentation mash, releasing less flavour into the end product. As a result, the sake it produces is cleaner, leaner, but not light in body like Gohyaku Mangoku and still manages to impart enough inherent ricey (cereal-like) notes, albeit in a tight manner and with a quieter nose. If you want to spot this rather elusive rice and impress your friends, look for its trademark long narrow finish often with a sharpness. If you prefer that kind of flavour profile, then Miyama Nishiki is for you. It’s a profile that pairs quite well with food too.
Here at KURAND, our fridges often include the odd Miyama Nishiki sake or two.
Why not challenge your friends to see who can find the most Miyama Nishiki sake or even try blind tasting your way through our selection. Identifying a sake’s raw ingredient by taste is not nearly as easy as it is with wine, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
We look forward to welcoming you to KURAND soon!