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The Culturati

The Culturati

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March 18, 2021
Toji: Maiko Tsuji

As Okayama’s first female Toji (Master Brewer) and the 8th generation family member of Tsuji Honten (also known as Gozenshu), Maiko Tsuji is set to refine the scene of the family-owned 200+ year-old brewery. As one of the 30 existing female Toji’s in Japan, she brings to life ancient, long-lost techniques back from extinction with a fresh spin that is uniquely Tsuji Honten’s. With Maiko Tsuji taking over the helm of the brewing operation since 2007, the brewery has been reinvigorated and continues to dedicate itself to the art of sake making, formed by its history and wealth of their local resources.

To begin, it’s essential to appreciate the rich history of the beautiful region of Katsuyama, Maniwa-shi city, Okayama Prefecture. It forms the foundations of the brewery which was established in 1804 by a merchant turned sake-maker, Yahei Tsuji. Originally inaugurated with the sole purpose of supplying sake to the feudal overlord of the province, lord Miura of the Mimasaka Katsuyama, it received the name Gozenshu which means “gentleman’s sake”. Katsuyama is located in the northern Okayama, once called Mimasaka, long known as "Umasake no Kuni" the literal translation of this is “land of beautiful sake"! This historical influence is seen in the architecture of the brewery where it's columns and beams have been preserved in the building from centuries ago, seemingly turning back time from our contemporary era.

Tsuji Honten’s sake is defined by its clear-cut taste, unlike its southern Okayamaian counterpart which is often sweeter in taste. This is due to the cold climate of the northern regions, the delicious groundwater of local Katsuyama and Ochimai, the type of rice they use to make their sake. These regional advantages have moulded the brewery’s motto to "be responsible for making the best sake with local rice, water and genuine local craftsmanship." Over the generations, the philosophy has always been an inspiration to brewers, striving to make the best sake without compromise.

In their everlasting pursuit to uphold this philosophy, the Tsuji family are responsible for the revival of the Bodaimoto method; a method that had been lost over four centuries ago and dates back to the 1100s. It was phased out with the introduction of the Kimoto method which yielded more stable brews during the colder winter climate of the northern region. The rediscovery of the Bodaimoto Method in 1980 is a story within itself. It was found in an ancient Japanese book, "Nihon Sankaimeisan Zue" (Japanese Sake Making Method) by the husband of Maiko’s aunt, Mike Deen, an English antique dealer specialising in Japanese antiques. He gifted this book to the Tsuji family and they then set about making it their mission to revive its use.

So what is Bodaimoto? It is an ancient fermentation starter method for making sake. Whilst 99% of modern sake production uses laboratory-made pure lactic acid, the majority of Tsuji Honten’s productions are made using Bodaimoto. The Bodaimoto method produces sake with rich, deep, slightly sour and umami flavours. Its derived flavour tends towards a delicate and refined level of funk, like delicious lightly fermented pickles or namazume (pickles aged in sake kasu). A small number of breweries have now dedicated themselves to the resurgence of the Bodaimoto method, looking to create interesting funky sake, using traditional in-brewery techniques. Despite pioneering the re-birth of an ancient traditional method, the Tsuji Honten brewery is not by any means stuck in the past. To be at the forefront of modern progressive sake, Maiko recognised the need to evolve without compromising centuries of development in the brewery’s unique methodology and process. As a result, new product lines were created; “9” and “Modern”.

Reflective of her strong values in highly collaborative teamwork, “9” is named after the 9 members of her brewery crew. Together they share the same philosophy and ideals to create the ultimate sake from their region. It's a testament and celebration of bonds between the members of her vibrant and innovative young team, a statement emphasising the flaws in the strict non-collaborative, top-down hierarchical system of work . All “9” releases are Bodaimoto and use Omachi rice. “9” is fresh and delicate but with a true depth of flavour.

Omachi is the oldest known sake specific strain of rice which is grown almost exclusively in Tsuji Honten and is known to be particularly difficult to grow. Despite this, Tsuji Honten excels at its usage, bringing out rustic and earthy flavours in the sake they produce and has a unique kind of herbaceous/rooty/spicy character. The powerful flavour structure from the use of Omachi rice is balanced out by the use of softer water from the Asahi River which is fed from the 110m high Kanba waterfall. Soft water generally produces clean and sweeter sake, thus, the marriage of the two ingredients results in well-balanced, rich, clear tasting sake with buckets of umami.
Visit our website at sakeden.com to try Tsuji Honten's creations:

This unique Junmai is brewed by Bodai-moto method, bringing in aromas of yogurt and cooked rice. The sake is freshly squeezed and aged chilled, which creates a soft and refreshing mouthfeel with a dry and refreshing aftertaste. The rounded acidity rolls richness and umami over the pallet, which is a specialty only Omachi delivers. Gozenshu 9 strikes a modern finish, which isn’t too heavy. Pairs perfectly with yellowtail, fried eggplant, sashimi and ajillo.

"We want to make sake that is loved by young people of my generation, sake that is a testament to ourselves."
Gozenshu 9
Gozenshu 9
Gozenshu 9
Using 100% of Omachi from Okayama, this Junmaishu embodies the philosophy of “Bodaimoto brewing”. This unique sake pays tribute to its origins and ancestors who laid the foundations of Okayama sake culture. With a refreshing scent and nuances of muscat, rice cake, and mushroom, this Junmai sake encompasses the pallet with a firm structure and bite, along with an acidity profile that is unique to sake rice.

Delivering a modern impression, the balance of umami and richness spreads across the pallet. Balanced well with its bitterness, this sake pairs well with bonito Tosa sashimi, sushi, and fried eggplant.
Gozenshu 1859
Gozenshu 1859
Gozenshu 1859

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