|The First Mist saké|
First the background. To make saké, a consistent supply of high-quality wine-rice must be available. The recent development of YiChuan Fragrant Rice (益全香米 or 台農71號) fits the bill perfectly. This strain was bred from the Japanese Kinu-hikari (絹光) strain and a Taiwanese native 農稉 No 4 (a legacy of the Penglai rice) that finally entered the official registry in Year 2000, after 9 years of exhaustive testing. The name YiChuan is in honor/memory of Kuo Yi-Chuan PhD (1946-2000), the project leader.
According to Mr Huang Ching-Chien黃景建, General Manager of Wu Feng Farmers' Association (霧峰農會), in 2002, this new strain of rice went into wide cultivation locally; its high quality has proved an instant hit. And a decision was made to try and use YiChuan rice produced from all 250 hectares of fields in Wu Feng to make Taiwan saké. A consultant, 廣井忠夫Hiroi Tadao PhD of Tohoku University in Sendai was appointed and engineers/technicians from Taiwan dispatched to Niigata Prefecture, the saké country, to learn the art and science of saké-making. And in 2005, a distillery (霧峰農會酒莊) was planned and established in 2007 to also promote the saké brands.
There are all together 14 steps in traditional saké-making, now summarized below:
The principal ingredient is of course the rice, which must first go through stringent preparation processes in order to obtain the rice core. Each grain of rice is consisted of the outer cortex that contains protein and lipids, and the inner nucleus or core, which is rich in starch. Only the core, 60% of the total weight, is suitable for wine-making (the removed cortex is used for making rice crackers). After this polishing, rice-washing then ensues and with which, an additional 2% of the original weight is removed. Washing is done by using the clear and sweet spring water shipped in from Puli (埔里). Then the rice cores are soaked in the water and allowed to absorb 25-30% (w/w) at 10-15C. The excess is then quickly drained - done within a predetermined time.
By mixing koji酒母, water, and wine-starter rice together with yeast and Lactobacillus, the fermentation process starts to break the starch down to glucose residues and from the latter, ethanol is generated. This step takes about 20-25 days or when the foaming from carbon dioxide formation stops. The mixture will now contain about 20% alcohol. This final mix is loaded into cloth-sacs and hydraulically pressed to release the liquid, known as the new wine (新酒), which is further filtered and sterilized (at 65C) to eliminate impurities and residual yeast and bacillus, respectively.
The Distillery has been very active in its R&D. Not only saké, recently minted liqueur and fruit wines by the Distillery have also begun receiving international accolades. Among the many awards, 純米吟釀 has received silver medals at Vinalies Internationales in Paris (2011 and 2015), gold/silver medals for 燒酎 at the International Spirits Award in Germany (2011 and 2012) and a gold medal for 荔枝蜂蜜酒 from Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Brazil (2014).
For more on wine selection, contacts, location and direction to 霧峰農會酒莊, click here.