The Chunichi Shinbun Web site reports on a new variety of sake rice that is setting its sights on the current king, Yamada Nishiki.

The as yet unnamed variety was developed by the Fukui Prefecture Agricultural Experimental Station, who hope that its hidden potential will make it a match for the best sake rice variety, and that it will persuade more top-level local brewers to use Fukui rice.

The prefecture announced the new variety on 31 July, and is already in talks with breweries to get them interested before cultivation starts in earnest next year.

The prefecture's sake breweries use around 2,400 tons of rice every year. [It's not completely clear whether this is sake-specific rice (酒造好適米, shuzōkōtekimai) - the article uses sakamai (酒米) throughout, which according to SSI means any rice used to brew sake. It's hard to see how the new variety could go up against Yamada Nishiki without being shuzōkōtekimai but it's not clear if the 2,400 tons is all shuzōkōtekimai.] 20 to 30% of that is Yamada Nishiki, and around half is Gohyakumangoku grown in Fukui. The main rice used to produce daiginjō sake is Yamada Nishiki brought in from Hyogo Prefecture.

The new variety is a cross between Yamada Nishiki and another variety. The prefectural brewers association asked the prefecture to create an original sake rice, so they started selecting and cultivating varieties in 2010. Like its parent, the new variety can be milled down to 35% in order to eliminate any zatsumi (雑味, rough or undesirable flavours) in sake.

Fully-grown rice plants are around 93 cm tall, about 10% shorter than Yamada Nishiki. This makes the variety easier to cultivate, as taller plants are more vulnerable to wind. It's also more productive, with the harvest per hectare reaching 522 kg, 10 kg more than Yamada Nishiki.

The rice will be available to brew with from autumn 2019. The prefecture is also hard at work developing a yeast suitable for daiginjō and hopes to have its own rice, yeast and water used by its breweries by FY2020. Production of the new rice variety is planned to increase to 300 tons by FY2023.

Prefectural governor Issei Nishikawa noted that Fukui is already known for its sake, so he hopes these new developments will increase the prefecture's reputation for both sake and rice.

The deadline for naming the new rice variety is 31 August 2018. The name will be decided before the end of the year and the new variety will be registered. The person who comes up with the name will receive prizes including a set of local sake worth JPY 100,000.

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