Senkin Shuzo (Domaine Senkin) is the oldest kura (brewery) in Tochigi prefecture, dating to 1806. Two brothers who represent the 11th generation have been responsible for giving a modern twist to traditional sake and the elder brother, Kazuki Usui, a former wine sommelier is applying his wine knowledge to refine the sake style at Senkin and is a pioneer in believing that sake can express terroir – in the way that wine does.
Usui-san’s philosophy is that the sake rice and water need to be local to truly express terroir, and vintage characteristics are equally important, hence the vintage of the rice harvest is always shown on the label. The Usui brothers believe in wooden barrels for their top sake, in place of modern enamel tanks and use natural indigenous lactic acid bacteria and laborious mashing technique to produce rich and complex sake, evidenced by the Senkin Nature-Un, based on the kimoto technique of producing the seed mash.
As their brewing motto is “Yokei na koto shinai” (do nothing unnecessary), all of their sake are brewed in small batches, are Muroka (unfiltered), Genshu (undiluted), and Nama (unpasteurized), as well as bottle aged in near-freezing temperatures. Applying the same concept as a Domaine or Estate, Senkin uses the same water for brewing as that which grows their rice, and they will only use contract-farmed Omachi, Yamada Nishiki, or Kame no O rice grown within 5 minutes of the brewery. They proudly implement both modern and traditional brewing methods across their various sake series.
To a spectacular degree, Senkin has also taken the seimaibuai to a record low with one barrel, at 7% (i.e. with 93% of the rice polished away) – much lower than their signature 19% – and far lower than the ubiquitous 35%. Also, in a daring move, Usui-San has eschewed the official sake designation system whereby according to rice polishing rates, a sake would be rated Honjozo (minimum 70% RPR), Ginjo (minimum 60% RPR) and Daiginjo (minimum 50% RPR), and instead has titled his sakes with monikers such as ‘Classic’ and ‘Modern’.