SAKE 101: Dewasansan

An introduction to Yamagata Prefecture's own unique rice cultivar


Dewasansan (noun)
[de-wa-sahn-sahn]
Japanese characters: 出羽燦々 (出:leave,  羽: feather, 燦々:sparkle)

What is Dewasansan?

Dewasansan is a sake rice developed in Yamagata Prefecture, a region famed in sake circles as the “Ginjo Kingdom” of Japan. This rice is grown exclusively in Yamagata and as of 2020 was the most widely cultivated rice in the prefecture.   

Dewasansan began life in 1985 as a crossbreed of Miyamanishiki and Hanafubuki. The new offshoot was selectively bred and cultivated over several years, receiving the collective name Yamagatashu No. 49 in 1991, before its official registration as Dewasansan in 1997. The name Dewasansan combines “Dewa,” an ancient kingdom that included the Yamagata region, with “sansan,” meaning “to sparkle.”

Characteristics

Dewasansan plants produce large grains containing an extremely high 85% shinpaku rice core, an opaque white starch that is one of the key indicators of sake rice quality. The cultivar is resistant to cold, with a sturdy stalk that helps to keep the plant upright.  

From a brewing perspective, Dewasansan produces a mild sake that helps to highlight the distinctive properties of the brew. Dewasansan sake tends to be refreshing and relatively free of off-flavors, which makes Dewasansan a good fit for a wide range of styles, from junmai to ginjo.

Strengthening the Yamagata brand

Yamagata Prefecture previously promoted Miyamanishiki, developed in Nagano Prefecture, as its sake rice of choice. However, calls for the use of a distinctive Yamagata rice, combined with efforts to establish Yamagata as a brand for local breweries, led the prefecture to develop its own rice cultivar.

Nowadays, breweries that fulfil a strict set of criteria, such as using 100% Dewasansan rice, Yamagata yeast and koji developed in Yamagata, in addition to passing a rigorous inspection, are permitted to use the “DEWA33” mark on their label, indicating that their sake is a bona fide Yamagata product.  

 

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