It was late May. The temperature outside was unusually hot; well above 30 degree Celsius. Inside the old Japanese style storehouse, where I was, it was cool and cozy as if I were in full-air-conditioned room. This storehouse is a part of the old Mirin factory owned by the Kankyo Brewery, manufacturer of Muso’s Organic Genuine Mirin & Organic Sake. This wonderful factory is the original building structure which can be traced back as far as the 1860’s. This storehouse is called “Kura,” and is usually made of wood with clay walls in order to naturally maintain the near constant temperatures. Being too hot in summer or being too cold in winter is critical to mirin and sake fermentation process. Sound fermentation is enhanced with optimal temperature conditions and a Kura is the best place for this process.
The birth of Mirin goes back to the Sengoku Period (1493-1573AD). Mirin, originally written as the “beautiful and fresh sake,” had been highly appreciated as a sweet flavored sake in ancient times. Today, this appreciation of sweet sake is remained as
“O-toso”, a spiced medicinal sake traditionally consumed during New Year’s celebrations in Japan. People started to use Mirin as a seasoning in the middle of the Edo period (18th century) but was still limited only to nobles. Mirin, a seasoning, was finally spread to the common people in the postwar period.
Hirahachi Yamada started to produce Mirin back in 1892 by taking advantage of a creek running nearby. Upstream, was the Noubi Plain -growing center of sweet rice. In 1935 the company was renamed to the Kanyo Brewery (literally meaning “sweet and strong). Unfortunately, during the war period, the commercial production of Mirin was prohibited because it was considered a luxury item. It was until 1951, 6 years after the war, the commercial production of Mirin was once again permitted. Kankyo also started to sell Sake commercially in 1954. Now they produce Mirin, Sake, Shochu (distilled spirit), and Plum Wine. In 1995, they became the first brewery in Japan to be certified organic by OCIA International. And now they are certified organic by Ecocert.
If you visit any Sake Breweries in Japan, you are likely to encounter a mysterious cedar ball hanging at the entrance of the brewery (see photo). This cedar ball is also called “Sakabayashi” tailored by professional gardeners (they actually learn how to cut by making a cedar ball) Hanging a green cedar ball at a brewery entrance signals that newly-brewed sake is ready for press and the gradual color change of the cedar ball (from green to brown) indicates the progress of sake maturity. It is also said that the God of Sake lives in this cedar ball!
Historical records dating back to the 8th century offers an interesting episode in the birth of sake. According to the record, people used to prepare sake with chewing raw rice by themselves and spitting them into the container full of water. They let it sit (ferment) for one night or so until the aroma of sake starts to emerge. They used to call this “mouth-chewing sake.” It is amazing to know the wisdom the ancient people had. Without so-called science, they knew what our saliva contains, starch degrading enzyme, amylase & diastase. This ancient brewing method of utilizing starch degrading enzymes existed in saliva and wild yeast living in the air has changed its form throughout time; however it still remains as the basic traditional brewing method of sake today. Kankyo is committed to carry this tradition to future generations to come.