incorporated: 1913, 4th generation brewer
annual production: 145k L
distribution: 85% in Tokushima and neighboring Kagawa, 15% rest of Japan and elsewhere
breweries in same prefecture: 10 actively brewing
Located on the island of Shikoku off the southern coast of Japan, owner and proprietor of Housui Brewery, Mr. Yasuo Baba, introduces us to some uncommon foods and great sake, “most Japanese don’t even get to visit Shikoku,” he says.
We ducked in a little izakaya near the Awa Ikeda station off the JR Line and our conversation started over a customary glass of beer, a bowl of cockles and some downright hearty honjozo.
Mr. Yasuo Baba, 51, listens to a lot of Sara Brightman nowadays, though is a punk rocker at heart. Some of his music favorites include the Stranglers, Yes (the early prog years), David Bowie, Elvis Costello, and like his taste for progressive rock bands Mr. Baba-san set to create an edge in his sakes, preferring even the softer styles to be hearty and full of character.
Only having had the tokubetsu junmai previously, the underlying characteristics of Housui sakes become apparent after sipping the warmed honjozo in front of us.
There’s a distinct taste that runs through his 20 or so sake varietals, which Baba-san says is much attributed to the water he uses. Spring water running down from the mountains surrounding the island meets the hard water from the adjacent Japan Sea creating a naturally balanced water base rich in minerality.
Mr. Baba-san is continually worried about water contamination as development encroaches the island. “Even the slightest advancements like hospitals and factories create the possibility,” he says, “but thankfully nothing noticeable has changed in the water so far.”
Apart from the water, Mr Baba-san says the integrity of his sakes also comes from the brew master’s focus and attention. “My job is to create the environment for a brew master to fully concentrate on his work,” says Baba-san.
As an employee who started on the bottling line, Mr. Yasuharu Takeuchi worked at the brewery for 4 years before delving into the brewing process. Now almost 20 years later Takeuchi-san is the head brew master at Housi making sure the koji gets cultivated and the yeast become able.
Takeuchi-san explains that since they want that heartier sake the yeast and koji need to be stronger and they do so by temperature control making the yeast work and struggle, building their muscles so to say for when they’re needed in the “moto” (rice mash) to start the fermentation process with that commanding edge throughout. Progressive and hard hitting, like the music he savors.
Housui Brewery’s Tokubetsu Junmai is currently available for purchase at Sakaya in New York City.
Distributed in NYC by Craft Division at Paleewong Trading Co.