New Kid on the block
“What’s your favourite sake?” is a question I get asked all too often. While I’ll usually deflect it with, “it depends on the food, mood and season”, some folks can be particularly persistent. Recently, while having this well worn conversation with a fellow sake enthusiast the question was put to me in a different way. “Well, which breweries’ sake do you buy or drink the most often?” he enquired. That actually got me thinking and I realized I could answer that one quite easily. Kid.
Surrounded by mountains in Kainan City, Wakayama prefecture Heiwa Shuzo have only been brewing Kido (also known simply as Kid) for a few years. The brewery itself has been around for much longer and was in fact originally a temple but underwent a couple of rebirths, the first being in 1952 when they renamed to Heiwa Shuzo as a nod to the end of World War Two (Heiwa meaning “peace”). The second came about ten years ago when fourth generation Norimasa Yamamoto returned to the family brewery with a passion and a vision for bringing sake into the new world. Being aware of his position as a the likely successor to the family brewery Yamamoto-san graduated from Kyoto University with a degree in economics. After dabbling in a human resources venture, Yamamoto-san returned to the family brewery. At the time Heiwa Shuzo’s sake production consisted almost entirely of carton sake, the cheap stuff, mostly brewing for other breweries. Having developed a palate for nihonshu in his time away from home, Yamamoto-san was disappointed to find that the family sake wasn’t particularly tasty. After some investigation, he found the cause of the off flavors stemmed from the mold-ridden walls and ceiling of the brewery, a by product of the high humidity of the area. If the family brewery was to make a comeback the only way was to repaint the entire brewery interior with an anti-bacterial coating (kakishibu). This dedication to cleanliness and sanitation is still a high priority with thorough cleaning a big part of the day to day at Heiwa Shuzo. Upon visiting the brewery my first impression immediately was that of the cleanest brewery I had ever seen. No tools lying around, no clutter, all business. The birth of the Kido name comes from combing the Kishu 紀州 name of the area with fudo 風土(environment or topography) into Kido 紀土 which also provides the wordplay “Kid” identifying the brand and brewery as young up and comers.
Yamamoto-san is one of those inspiring people that makes you feel terribly lazy. In fact the first time I met him was at a sake event in Osaka that he appeared at after running the Tokyo marathon that morning, catching the 2 hour shinkansen to Osaka and then driving home a couple of hours to Wakayama after the event! Amidst his busy schedule at the brewery and relentless promoting on the road in the off-season he even managed to write a book on the current possibilities in the nihonshu production industry and has also seen the brewery expand into the ever growing craft beer market with great results. This guy has energy to burn! Yamamoto-san’s MO is all about bringing young people back to nihonshu and his approach and presence in the industry has shown he means business. He has been instrumental in the highly popular Dawn of the Young Brewers (Wakate no Yoake) sake event which has been held in Tokyo for the last couple of years and is starting to branch out into other areas and is also a leader in giving sake a strong social media platform. But of all course all of this means nothing if the sake aint good right? Well, rest assured, it’s brilliant. Like I said I probably drink Kid more than anything else.
Around the time Yamamoto-san returned to the family business and started shaking things up he lost some employees. In an all too familiar tale, some old hands struggle to get behind new visions so it was around this time brewery worker Shibata-san stepped up to become Toji. Another interesting approach Yamamoto-san took was to delegate certain tasks to each kurabito. Instead of having the toji running around micro-managing every step of the brewing process he figured it would inspire initiative and a sense of responsibility to charge each brewery worker with a specific task that they see over and are held accountable for. These days the eight kurabito (brewery workers) at Heiwa Shuzo are relatively young with most (besides Shibata-san and Yamamoto-san) if not all under 35 years old. With Shibata-san at the helm and Yamamoto-san in a “producer” type role, Heiwa Shuzo has been tremendously successful in realizing Yamamto-san’s goal of showcasing the soft, clean water of Wakayama in a vibrant, attractive nihonshu package. To further strengthen the Wakayama character of their sake Heiwa Shuzo also uses a large amount of Yamadanishiki rice that they harvest themselves. This is showcased most readily in their Agara no Ta de Sodateta (grown in our own field) seasonal offering made with wholly with their own grown Yamadanishiki milled to just 80%.
The common thread throughout the Kid range is a tasteful balance of fruity esters leading to a soft and clean mouth feel with refreshing acid and character all tailed off with a remarkable moreish quality that constantly draws you back for sip after sip without being cloying or remotely boring. Across the whole range from their humble but outstanding value for money junmai to their gorgeously fragrant and clean daiginjo, Kid is the kind of sake you can drink everyday without tiring. Heiwa Shuzo is one of the most exciting breweries around at the moment and Kid is certainly one of the names to look out for in the new breed of sake brewers for the new world and with their sake finding its way overseas I’m sure they’ll find a market equally as welcoming as their following in Japan.