Yoshida Sake Brewing Co., Ltd., more widely known as Gassan, resides in the small city of Yasugi, a town in the Shimane Prefecture. Established in 1743, the brewery was taken over by Tomonori Yoshida-san’s family in 1826, making Yoshida-san the 5th generation of his family’s involvement and ownership of the brewery.
The Gassan Toda Castle, theorized to have been constructed in the 12th century, flourished under the rule of the Amago-clan in the 16th century. This castle is located on Mount Gassan, the highest of the Three Mountains of Dewa, and was once considered the most impregnable castle in all of Japan due to its strategic location. Located in Yasugi, these three mountains, also known as Dewa Sanzan, are holy to the Shinto religion of Japan and are popular sites for pilgrimage. Although largely inaccessible throughout the year due to heavy snowfall, Mount Gassan is reknowned for its natural scenery and beauty, and the name “Gassan” is derived from this specific mountain.
The method of sake brewing employed by Gassan has been passed down through generations, preserving the tradition of sake brewing. As a testament to their skill, their sake has received the gold award more than ten times at the leading and recognized competition in the sake industry, the Zenkoku Shinshu Kanpyou Kai, also known as the National New Sake Contest. Although their competition sake, produced in eighteen litre vessels known as tobin, are limited, they are still available on the market. They produce seven types of sake, and their total production per season is seven hundred koku, with each koku equivalent to one hundred and eighty litres.
Many factors play a part in the final taste and quality of sake, and one large factor is the water used in the brewing process. Most areas in Japan have water sources of soft water, and Gassan uses such soft and fine water in their brewing process. In fact, the water they use is recognized as one of the best hundred waters in Japan. They also utilise other water sources to balance and refine the hardness of the water depending on environmental changes, as specificity is vital in brewing sake to the quality and taste that is desired; one small variation can affect the final taste, thus precision and care must be taken in all aspects to brew quality sake.
Tanaka-san is the Toji, the head brewer, of Gassan, and has been certified as a “modern master craftsman” by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in Japan. People awarded with this accreditation are recognized to have exceptional skills in their field, with the government encouraging them to pass down their skills to the next generation. He is thus currently passing his skills to a younger toji, Adachi-san.
The owner of Gassan, Tomonori Yoshida-san, is a certified Sake Expert Assessor, of whom there are only fifty currently. Yoshida-san was the second person awarded with this certificate amongst this fifty, and such a title is equivalent to that of a Master Sommelier in the wine industry. A person awarded with this certificate is considered a top taster of sake, and this is a testament to Yoshida-san’s passion for creating high quality sake, and the skill involved in the process, as more than a thousand breweries exist in Japan, but only fifty people have been awarded with this certification.
With a combination of contemporary and traditional toji skills, as well as the care taken by Yoshida-san to produce quality sake, Gassan is able to deliver sake that is one of a kind.