HUNTSVILLE – Muskoka’s water is the best in the province – at least for booze.
Japanese saké being made with Huntsville’s very own spring water.
SUSTAINABLE SAKÉ: Huntsville businesses owner Ken Inglis was thrilled that his company was asked to supply water to Ontario’s first saké brewery.
Toronto-based Ontario Spring Water Saké Company opened in April and according to owner Ken Valvur there was only one choice for the water used in his traditional Japanese beverage.
“The two reasons to do a brewery here in Ontario is first of all to be able to produce fresh saké. Saké is like beer, it’s best consumed fresh,” said Valvur. “The second reason is Ontario has tremendous freshwater resources.”
He said the company could have chosen water with almost any freshwater characteristic, but it found what he called the ideal water in Muskoka. The source is Spring Hill Fresh Water Company off Brunel Road in Huntsville.
Toronto native and former banking executive Valvur said he had studied in Japan and lived there while working for Scotiabank in Tokyo.
“I was transferred from Tokyo to London (England) and I saw how popular Japanese takeout foods including sushi were,” he said.
He then quit Scotiabank and moved back to Canada to open a sushi company, Bento Nouveau. Over 10 years it became the largest sushi company in the country.
During that time he had started importing saké from Japan, but eventually decided to open his own brewery in Toronto.
He then started looking for the water that best matched the most famous saké water sources in Japan.
The Ministry of Natural Resources was the first stop, he said.
“They had a very comprehensive listing of groundwater chemical makeup throughout the province,” he said. “We discovered that somewhere in Muskoka would be a good place to find the water we were looking for.”
Several tests were done on sources in the region and the results narrowed the choice down to one in Huntsville.
“The basic idea is you want to have soft water, so that divides the province between Canadian Shield areas, which have softer ground waters in general, and south of shield, which has harder waters,” he said. “Then you want to have sufficient quantities of calcium and magnesium, but virtually zero sulfates and iron.”
Valvur said his company has the capacity to brew 25,000 liters of saké a year but it is not at capacity yet.
Ontario Spring Water Saké Company supplies about 25 restaurants and has just started distributing its product through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
Valvur said people in Huntsville can order his company’s product, Izumi Nama-Cho, through the LCBO by requesting product number 260174.
Saké is a rice-based alcoholic beverage that originated in Japan. Although it is sometimes referred to as a rice wine, the brewing process is more like that of beer.
Valvur said his company’s saké is about 18 per cent alcohol until it is diluted 15 per cent, which makes it more drinkable during meals.
Ken Inglis, owner of Springhill Fresh Water Company, said he sampled the saké and was impressed.
“It’s not like any saké I’ve had that is shipped here from Japan,” said Inglis. “It’s tastier. It has a little bit of a fruity flavour to it.”
When Valvur’s company contacted Inglis about his water, he was excited about the prospect of supplying water for saké.
“After coming off the G8/G20 event last year where I supplied water to the world leaders and about 400 writers … it was kind of hard to come down after that,” he said. “Then all of a sudden I get a phone call asking me about my water for saké.”
As a martial arts black belt, Inglis said he had an appreciation for saké because the beverage is used in some important martial arts ceremonies.
As a business owner, being part of the saké production process means a lot to him, he said.
“It means the sky is the limit. If I have something I can supply to someone that is making one of the best products in the world and I have the best water for it, it just means exactly that,” he said.
Inglis said his business has been in operation for four years and he prides himself on sustainable practices.
Not only is he considerate of how much water he uses, but he has won awards for environmental efforts, including eco-friendly bottles.
“It’s nice to … have something so important to not only Muskoka but to our being. We don’t live without water and air, although there’s nothing I can do about the air,” he said with a chuckle. “There’s lots I can do about the water.”