Welcome to the blog that brings you little nuggets of information about sake. This time we introduce the most representative type of rice used to make sake— Yamada Nishiki.
The King of Sake Rice Yamada Nishiki
The best types of rice for making sake are referred to as Shuzokotekimai (LIT: special rice for brewing. Only rice that has passed a special inspection can be categorised as Shuzokotekimai.
Yamada Nishiki is a variety of Shuzokotekimai that because of its outstanding features has earned the title of ‘king of the sake rice, the zenith with a high price to match. It was born in 1923, at the agricultural research station in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture, from an artificial cross-breeding of Yamada-Ho and Tankanwataribune. Even today, 80% of the total Yamada Nishiki yield is grown in Hyogo Prefecture.
Traits of Yamada Nishiki
Some of the traits that make it the king of sake rice include a large size grain with a good sized white heart (a nucleus filled with starch), contains very few proteins that can contribute unwanted off flavours to the end product, good water absorbency and digestibility. These are also the traits that create a high quality koji called Tsukihaze, a type of koji where the hypha of the koji mould has penetrated right to the centre of the rice grain. However, the king does not come without its drawbacks. Namely: one of the reasons why Yamada Nishiki is always in such short supply is because it is so notoriously difficult to grow. For starters, the below conditions have to be met.
- A place with morning to evening extremes of hot and cold.
- A soil rich in nutrients.
- The seeds must be laid at intervals to allow for sufficient sunlight and breathing space.
- Sufficiently skilled farmers with the right technology to hand.
Condition no.1 makes it difficult to grow good quality Yamada Nishiki in the more northern reaches such as Niigata and Yamagata; it is generally not done.
Because Yamada Nishiki is a type of rice that ripens very late its harvest often clashes with the typhoon season which can spell disaster; its top heavy nature makes it vulnerable in the face of such extreme weather which is why it is important to develop a sturdy stem. So, whether or not Yamada Nishiki will be successfully harvested or not is a yearly lottery. This is ultimately what makes it such an expensive, sought after type of sake rice. So much so that in recent years it has been in short supply which has prompted some breweries to start securing their own supply of Yamada Nishiki by converting local none-sake-rice growing farmers. Some brewers have even started to grow their own private supply of Yamada Nishiki inside the brewery grounds.
Extra Note: The main Yamada Nishiki growing area is called Banshu and is located in Hyogo Prefecture. The rice fields that produce the best Yamada Nishiki are classified as A-grade.
Traits of Sake Made with Yamada Nishiki
Sake made with Yamada Nishiki tends to have both a good flavour and aroma, as well as a fuller-bodied more fine-grained texture. It is the rice of choice to make the cleaner more aromatic styles, Daiginjo in particular. It is also the rice of choice to make competition entry sake. In fact the majority of gold winning entrants at the ‘National New Sake Tasting Competition’ will have been made with it.
So there you have it! That pretty much about wraps up this little sermon on the king of sake rice.
Here at KURAND SAKE MARKET, we are fortunate to be able to showcase a large variety of sakes made with Yamada Nishiki.
37. Noto Junmai Ishikawa Prefecture Kazuma Brewery (see this article to learn more about their farmer brewer partnership)
35. Kihotsuru Tokubetsu Junmai Saga Prefecture Motoyama Brewery
19. Miyoshikiku YN 60% Jikagumi Tokushima Prefecture (made with Awanami grown Yamada Nishiki rice polished to 60% in the straight from press to bottle style)
60. Fukunishiki Junmai Ginjo Hyogo Prefecture (Banshu)