Rewriting Wine 101: TAIKO 18 HEBI へび SAKE. A marriage between Japanese tradition and Western culture

Rewriting Wine 101: TAIKO 18 HEBI へび SAKE

A marriage between Japanese tradition and Western culture

by:  
Tersina  Tersina  on 10 Jan '23


Hiro Yoshikawa is the second son of 18th-generation Japanese sake family TAIKO. Based in Hong Kong, Hiro might be more well known on the fashion scene as the creator of premium paper denim brand WASHI.

Born the second son, Hiro has been free to do what he wants ever since he was a child because he was not expected to inherit the family business. Creative and artistic, he travelled around the world after graduating from university. In 1989, he decided to settle in Hong Kong in order to pursue his dream in fashion. Hiro’s passion is denim, and he eventually became the adviser to some of the world’s leading denim brands. He spent seven years creating washi paper yarn, using the same paper that is utilitised to make traditional Japanese doors and windows. Hiro founded his own denim brand, WASHI, in 2013.


In the midst of his successful career, Hiro’s father called and asked him to take over the sake brewery because his elder brother had become a medical doctor. Not wanting to give up his denim profession, Hiro persuaded his father that he would be the face of TAIKO in order to develop the export markets, while the production would be taken care of by the toji (master brewer).


Located at the foothills of Mount Ibuki in Shiga Prefecture, TAIKO SAKE was founded by the Yoshikawa family in 1672. It’s named after Lake Biwa, the largest lake on Japan’s main island of Honshu, located close to the brewery. Producing only around 60,000 bottles of sake annually, it’s one of the few handcrafted breweries and the only one within 50 surrounding villages. However, being small doesn’t mean skimping on quality. The family grow their own Yamada Nishiki rice and use the mineral-rich underground hard water from Mount Ibuki. The family also insist on using centuries-old traditional brewing techniques to produce their high-quality sake, with Hiro’s father reminding his son not to mechanise the brewing process before he passed away.


Hiro is the first family member to travel outside Japan. While he respects tradition, he also embraces change. To celebrate the 350th anniversary of TAIKO in 2022, he created TAIKO 18 HEBI へび, a Junmai Daiginjo sake made in the traditional technique using home-grown rice, but with apple yeast and soft water for a light, fruity and dry flavour profile. It’s a modern sake that reflects Hiro’s mixed traditional and Western background.

Hebi means “snake” in Japanese. The family believe that their ancestral home is guarded by a white snake. Hiro hopes this sake will give a new look to TAIKO, just like a snake shedding its skin. He has certainly achieved his aim! TAIKO 18 HEBI へび is elegant, with a nose similar to an unoaked Chardonnay, and it goes especially well with delicate seafood dishes. Hiro hopes this sake will one day be served at fine French restaurants. Well, I would be more than happy to have this sake paired with sole meunière or moules à la marinière!


TAIKO 18 HEBI へび comes with two Kaori “eggshell” glasses from the renowned Arita porcelain maker Yamaheigama. Kaori means “aroma ”in Japanese. The glass is only 0.9mm thick, featuring a tulip shape that can trap the aroma of sake. Packaged in a denim box, this is 100% Hiro! It’s priced at HK$1,800 per set, and only 450 sets have been produced (with about half to be sold).


TAIKO’s sake range includes Honjozo, Tokubetsu Junmai, Daiginjo, Junmai Daiginjo and Mikan sake. Hiro conducts tasting workshops, pairing sake with Japanese otsumami (appetisers) at his studio in Mid-Levels. Sake lovers can even try on Hiro’s paper denim while enjoying a drink!


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Tersina

Tersina

A marketer turned winemaker, I make, promote, judge, write about and drink wine.