Kirei Shuzo was founded more than a century and a half ago, but the story really begins in 1998 when the owners lured father-and-son brewers Nobumichi and Masahiro Nishigaki to take charge. Nobumichi had earned a stellar reputation as a master brewer in Shikoku, so when Kirei’s owners decided to reinvent their brewery as a producer of quality sake, they reached out.
After three years of father and son working side-by-side, the father retired and the son took the reins. Over the last two decades, Masahiro Nishigaki has spent his summers farming in Hyogo Prefecture and his winters brewing in Hiroshima.
Inside Kirei’s walls, Nishigaki-san commands a respect and deference that’s unusual even by Japanese standards, and with good reason: his technical ability and understanding of the process is second to none. If there’s a challenge or a hiccup, he can solve it.
His brewing philosophy is “low and slow”. His koji takes three days to make—a full day longer than the textbook average—and he ferments at low temperatures for about twice as long as you’re supposed to. Naturally, this means his output is far lower than it could be, but he says this is what accounts for the quality of his brews.
His skill with lightly milled rice is legendary, and his take on a dry sake, using rice with a polishing ratio of 80%, has put Kirei on the craft sake map. But even when he goes to daiginjo level, with a sake called Mannen, he shows that the style doesn’t have to mean sweet, aromatic and thin. The delicate, fragrant nose is followed by a robust but graceful umami palate with a touch of sweetness, then a refreshing, acidic finish. It’s perfectly balanced and, we think, a masterpiece.
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