Water & Rice: Essential for Kumamoto Sake

Brewers find their own unique flavors in Kumamoto’s 1000+ natural springs

 Kumamoto is known as Hi no Kuni—"the land of fire”—but thanks to its bountiful water resources, it is also a Mizu no Kuni, or “land of water.” Abundant rainfall, large swathes of water-retaining forests, and a uniquely bowl-shaped groundwater basin all combine to make Kumamoto a land overflowing with water resources. There are over 1000 natural springs in the prefecture, and around 80% of all water used by local residents is natural groundwater. Kumamoto is also unique in that water properties vary greatly by spring, with some providing harder waters and others soft. These naturally unique types of water help give each of the breweries in Kumamoto their own distinct flavor.

Crystal-clear spring water streams can be found all over Kumamoto.
Kumamoto breweries are located close to these springs.

Kumamoto’s own variety of rice that revolutionized sake-brewing

Rice for sake needs to have a large grain size so that it is easier to polish. Such varieties are referred to as shuzo kotekimai, i.e., rice that is ideal for brewing sake. 14 years of research and development into new rice varieties resulted in Hananishiki, Kumamoto’s first original rice cultivar. A combination of Yamadanishiki, the best rice variety for sake-making, and Yumeizumi, a variety of rice improved upon in Kumamoto that is hardier in strong winds, Hananishiki is both easy for brewers to use and for farmers to grow. It can be crafted into sakes of a wide variety of styles, from dry and clean to rich and deep, thereby further expanding the potential of Kumamoto sakes.

Hananishiki has a large grain size and large white core, making it more suitable than previous varieties for styles that require greater levels of grain polishing, like ginjo sake.

Comparison of Yamadanishiki (top) and Hananishiki (bottom) rice plants. Hananishiki plants are shorter, making them less prone to being blown over, and thus easier to grow.

Next page:The History of Sake in Kumamoto

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