[siteorigin_widget class=”SiteOrigin_Widget_Image_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]

The Kobe Shinbun Next site reports on the revival of a 100 year old sake-specific rice in an attempt to create a new regional product.

The “Benkei” variety was popular in Hyōgo Prefecture a century ago, but a new project aims to grow it again and produce sake in the Yumesaki district of Himeji city.

The long-standing Tsubosaka brewery is teaming up with young farmers to grow and brew the challenging rice variety. Benkei was the “ace variety” before the current dominating champion Yamada Nishiki. The farmers started growing the rice from a few remaining grains of seed, and hope to have a finished product by spring 2019.

Benkei was developed in Hyōgo and designated as a promoted variety in 1924, and was the most widely-grown rice in the prefecture before WWII. It has similar characteristics to Yamada Nishiki, with large grains and a large shinpaku starch core for feeding kōji. Yamada Nishiki was made a promoted variety in 1936, after which it gained in popularity and squeezed out Benkei. Benkei lost its designation in 1955 and mostly fell out of use.

The project to revive and brew Benkei is the brainchild of the Yumesaki Dream Highway Creation Committee, set up in 2013, which includes the Tsubosaka brewery, local businesses and the prefectural university. They hope their efforts will attract more tourists to the town.

Advertising started in autumn 2017, with the keyword “100 years ago”. It focused on the history of growing Benkei in the local area, including stories of a rampage by the warrior monk the rice is named after, Saito Musashibō Benkei, at nearby Shoshazan Engyōji temple and speculation that a stone sculpture at the local Kitano shrine is the grave of Benkei’s mother.

The committee checked that the prefectural agricultural, forestry and fisheries technical centre had around 700 g of seed rice for Benkei before going for it. Tsubosaka found records from the early Showa period with instructions on how to brew with the variety, and the Department of Brewing at Kibi International University helped them to collect yeast from the Tsubosaka brewery buildings which will be used to brew the sake.

Seedlings were planted in late June 2018, with the intention to harvest in October and brew by February of 2019. If all goes well, the sake should be available from March 2019. Benkei is already being grown by some breweries in Tohoku, but there is very little available. Tsubosaka plans to brew around five hundred 720 ml bottles, mostly for the local area.