What is Nihonshudo ?
Today we present the Shuho Shuzojo brewery with two sakes that lead us straight to the notion of Nihonshudo.
Nihonshudo is a parameter to be aware of when tasting sake.
A value that fluctuates around zero and indicates whether the sake is: dry, where the value is positive and the higher it is, the drier the sake; or sweet, where the value is negative and the lower it is, the sweeter the sake.
Also known as Sake Meter Value (SMV), it is measured at the brewery using a densimeter. Zero corresponds to the density of the water at 4°C. It is influenced by two factors
- alcohol content: since alcohol is less dense than water, a more alcoholic sake will tend towards more positive values
- sugar content: as sugar is denser than water, a sweeter sake will be denser and will tend towards negative nihonshudo values.
The nihonshudo is measured using a densimeter. Zero corresponds to the density of water at 4°C. Nihonshudo is positive for dry sake and negative for sweet sake.
Although the perception of sweetness varies from person to person and is influenced by the acidity of the sake itself, the Nihonshudo is a good indicator of the flavour profile to expect. Nihonshudo is not compulsory, but is often given by the producer on the back label. In this case, the brewery has decided to highlight the Nihonshudo by attaching it to the name of the sake: Shuho+10, Shuho+20, sakes that in Japan are known as 'chokarakuchi', literally super dry.
Explanations from the producer
How do you produce sake like this? We put the question to Hidekazu Takeda, the owner of the Shuho Shuzojo brewery. Here's what he had to say :
"In the world of sake, a nihonshudo of +6 already corresponds to a very dry sake. With values of +10, and even +20, we're reaching extreme levels! But as you can see, the challenge was not only to obtain super-clean sakes, but also sakes that continue to express the elegance of Ginjo and Daïginjo.
Hidekazu Takeda, owner of the Shuho Shuzojo brewery, producer of Shuho+10 and Shuho+20 sakes
To briefly explain how we do this, it's important to remember that the yeast feeds on the sugar in the moromi (the sake must) supplied by the Koji during the alcoholic fermentation process. As fermentation progresses, the sugar content decreases and the sake becomes drier. But simply producing a sake with a low sugar content means producing a very watery sake, with a high alcohol content and, above all, with much less flavour. Our aim was to let the aromas develop in a typical Ginjo style. It was a subtle balance between the different components of the shubo (the fermentation starter) that enabled us to make the difference. We fine-tuned the proportions of water, yeast and koji to control the initial sugar content. Then, in the moromi, it was the amount of water added at each stage that was the determining factor. The conditions were adjusted so that the yeasts developed to the correct level, before allowing fermentation to take place at low temperature, as slow fermentation brings out the characteristic aromas of Ginjo. This subtle balance has enabled us to produce Shuho+10 and Shuho+20, sakes that are fluid and straightforward, but also fruity. We were looking for these characteristics in order to offer sakes that are suitable for all types of food, sakes that don't interfere with the flavour of the dishes and that provide delicate aromas and thirst-quenching sensations between bites".
About the region and the brewery
The Shuho Shuzojo brewery is located in Yamagata prefecture, in the north-west of the main island of Honshu. Yamagata is recognised as one of the most picturesque places in Japan, renowned for its breathtaking natural scenery, rich cultural heritage and gastronomy. Nestled between the majestic Zao Mountains and surrounded by lush green valleys, fertile plains and winding rivers, the region offers a breathtaking variety of natural landscapes. The winter snows give rise to numerous rivers and streams, providing spring water of excellent quality.
The Yamagata plain surrounded by mountains
Low winter temperatures, good quality water and fertile plains - these are the ideal conditions for sake production. Yamagata is also known as "Ginjo Okoku", the empire of the Ginjo, because the variety of sakes in this category produced here is far superior to anything you'll find anywhere else in Japan. In Yamagata, each brewery has its own style. This incredible diversity has two origins. Firstly, the geography of the area: each mountainside or hill on which the breweries are located has its own microclimate and its own spring water. Secondly, the human factor: the Tojis of Yamagata are very independent, as they have no direct links with the traditional guilds in neighbouring prefectures. The Kurabitos, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly native to Yamagata. All of which adds a strong identity to the region's sake!
The entrance to the Shuho Shuzojo brewery in winter
The Shuho Shuzojo brewery was founded in Meiji 23 (1890). It is a family-run brewery that produces almost exclusively Ginjo sakes, with an average semibuai of 46% (average rice polish across all its vintages), a really high figure! It is the rising star of the Prefecture, thanks to the talent of the new generation represented by Hidekazu Takeda, who took over management just a few years ago after a career in Tokyo. Shuho Shuzojo stands out in particular with its Chokarakuchi sake series, very dry sakes named Shuho+10 and Shuho+20.
Shuho Shuzojo sakes
Junmaï Daïginjo Genshu
72cl - Alc. 17% Vol.
Produced from 45% polished Yukimegami rice, it is also a Genshu, meaning no water is added at the end of fermentation. No reduction, so 17% alcohol. The nose is lively and crystalline, with aromas of green melon, muscatel and white flowers. On the palate, it's juicy and refreshing, with fruity sensations punctuated by fine notes of citrus zest.
These elegant characteristics, classically associated with the Daïginjo category, are generally accompanied by a marked sweetness. This is precisely where Shuho stands out from other sakes in its class. Beyond the fruity sensations, the sake is incredibly precise and dry. The finish is clean and clear. It refreshes the palate very pleasantly.
Tasting advice : A sake that goes well with many culinary preparations. It goes well with any meal, without tiring you out, and is very lively.
72cl - Alc. 16% Vol.
Shuho+20 is a clear, limpid Ginjo. The nose is lively, with fresh notes of green plum and young grapes, against a light, iodised, aniseed background. On the palate, the aromas come on suddenly, with a strong impact.
It starts out silky, then suddenly becomes precise and sharp, mineral! It finishes with a slight bitterness that adds to the overall sensation of tension. The palate is delicately perfumed. We return to thirst-quenching sensations, the quality of water, freshness and incredible clarity.
Tasting advice : A sake that pairs superbly with oysters for its tension and slightly iodised flavour, but also with white fish sashimi. With raw vegetables and white meats accompanied by fresh herbs such as parsley, basil and coriander.
Other Shuho Shuzojo wines