Ginjo sake, with all four of its sub-classes, is but seven percent of all sake brewed. Legally, it is defined by nothing more significant than how much the rice was milled before brewing. But technically, it calls for longer-term, lower-temperature fermentation.
How long and how low? Oh, perhaps 35 days fermenting in the tank for ginjo, versus about 20 days for lower grades, and perhaps 8C to 10C for ginjo versus 15C to 17C for regular sake.
But there are those – not surprisingly, the Hiroshima brewing community most prominent among them – that say ginjo brewing developed in Hiroshima. Why and how might this be?
They have Senzaburo Miura to thank for that.
Mr. Miura lived from 1847 to 1908, and had a challenging, yet varied and interesting life. In truth, while intending to just check a couple of facts for this article, I stumbled upon a veritable bottomless chasm of fascinating information that begs to shaped into a story. Just not this time…
In short, Senzaburo Miura came from a family running a very successful “general store” kind of business, which led to him starting a sake brewery. He went to Nada near Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, not far from Kyoto and Osaka, to learn from the masters in the center of the sake-brewing universe.
But across four years, his sake kept spoiling. This drove the sake-brewing part of the family enterprise out of business. As a side note, Imada Shuzo, brewers of the excellent Fukucho, bought some of their brewing equipment and tools when they ceased operations. What a small sake world!
Learn more about sake's history in Nara Sake: The Original Sake.
Eventually, Mr. Miura’s search for better sake took him to Fushimi in Kyoto city, where he first learned that brewing sake with hard water (like that in Nada) and brewing it with soft water (like that in Kyoto, and Hiroshima!) call for significantly different approaches. So he took this newfound knowledge back to Hiroshima, figured out how to adjust techniques to Hiroshima’s very soft water, and taught the brewing community in Hiroshima.
From which point sake in Hiroshima took off in quality and popularity, winning every prize in sight for a while. This is the short version of a long, fascinating story.
In any event, Hiroshima water is soft, which dictates slow fermentation, which calls for lower temperatures to chemically facilitate tasty, desirable results. And that calls for more time, since the whole process moves more slowly. This is what Senzaburo figured out: how to brew sake at lower temperatures over a longer period of time.
And this is how ginjo is brewed: at lower temperatures over a longer period of time. Hence, brewers in Hiroshima insist that, via the auspices of Senzaburo Miura, ginjo-shu brewing was developed in Hiroshima. But there are likely other theories…