Hakkaisan is the name of the holy mountain in Minami-Uonuma in Niigata Prefecture, an area famous for its high-quality rice which is the main ingredient of sake. Niigata is also an extremely cold region that often gets up to three meters of snow in the winter. In order to survive the long, arduous winter, Niigata folks have a food culture that centers around preparing and preserving foods using drying, fermentation and salting, where koji (fermented product that functions as a starter) plays a significant part. Techniques are passed on through the generations and across family tables.
Within this environment, Hakkaisan sake was born. Good quality sake depends on good quality rice, but also how much of the rice is polished. The most expensive and highest quality sake uses only rice that has practically all of the outside polished away until only the center of the rice grain remains. At Hakkaisan, only the center of the rice grains are used. The water for sake-making comes from the Raiden Spring at Mt. Hakkai.
Aside from regular sake, Hakkaisan Nihonbashi offers sparkling sake, shochu, plum wine, beer, and non-alcohol amazake that is naturally sweet (the natural sugars do not ferment into alcohol). A refreshing drink when served cold in the summer, amazake is also now enjoyed warm in the winter. Amazake can be used as a healthy alternative to sugar in baking. The specialty shop features products made from rice koji. The koji itself can be used to marinate meat and fish, tenderizing as well as drawing out umami or savory flavors. But koji is also used in making miso and soy sauce.
Unlike some high-end sake bars, Hakkaisan Nihonbashi's counter seating and casual atmosphere will put you at ease. If you're unsure what to order, try the sampler set of three different kinds of sake from Hakkaisan's brewery. If you prefer not to drink on an empty stomach, the bar offers reasonable fish set meal (¥1000) and seafood rice bowl (¥1,100), which go well with Hakkaisan's offerings.