Saturday, February 28, 2015

My story in the New York Times

My story is out!! The New York Times, yo!!

I am grateful for the opportunity to brew sake in Fukuoka and for your support and encouragement. May I be an instrument to further respect for the brewing and appreciation for the consuming of premium sake from Kyushu! Kanpai!

Let me clear up a few items:

Sake is not “rice wine”. This is like calling hefeweizen “wheat wine” or merlot “grape beer”. Sake is fermented from rice, water, yeast and koji and should be categorized in its own unique category.

I am not trying to change how American sake is brewed. I do enjoy helping American brewers who ask me for help or advice. If I can't help them personally, I ask my Toji and questions get answered! But in the end, it would be impossible for me to care less than I do about how American sake tastes. I drink premium sake from Japan. That said, most of the start-up breweries in North America that I have either consulted with or otherwise know through tasting their wares are making quality jizakes that I enjoy and are worthy of your attention.

The quote describing our delicious genrokshu (A Zen Ai Koshu) comes from the canny Beau Timken of True Sake in San Francisco. I would describe this very rare, aged sake as having notes of hazelnut, chocolate, orange and persimmon. I’ve been drinking sake for 25 years and I haven’t had a sake quite like it! Oishi desu ne! It is the only sake that we brew at Wakatakeya Shuzo that can be purchased in the USA at True Sake’s website. Please enjoy!

“Even the gods drink sake, so it is natural that so should we.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

10,000 Waves, Izanami, and My New Home

I moved to Santa Fe to steward the sake program for Izanami—a remarkable izakaya located at 10,000 Waves—a unique Japanese-inspired mountain resort/spa/onsen. I am elated!!

The term "izakaya" is new to many. It's an informal restaurant (I liken it to a tavern) designed to encourage the sharing of food and drink; celebrating life; and enjoying camaraderie with friends or even strangers. 

As you can imagine, sake plays a vital role in izakaya-life! Training, educating, prostyletizing colleagues and customers on the history, mystery, nuances, and abundant virtues of premium sake from Japan is my great gift; my most rewarding passion; and no less than my 生き甲斐 ("ikigai"). I am humbled to work at Izanami.

"Ikigai" is a Japanese term that refers to one's raison d'être or one's reason for being; the discovery of which brings satisfaction and meaning to life. Everyone has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. I regard such a search as being very important, since the discovery of one's ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life. Living out one's ikigai is one of the reasons the people of Japan have the longest lifespans of any nation in the world.

Much of what makes working at Izanami so rewarding goes beyond my role. I hold the leadership team; whom I met in 2012 through the fateful intercession of Yoramu-san, a sake bar owner based in Kyoto; in very high regard. I am respected and received with uncommon kindness. I share their vision for Izanami and how sake should be appreciated.

In addition, in the winter I will return to Wakatakeya Shuzo to continue my work as a humble kurabito, while being allowed to return to Izanami with my job intact. Oscillating between Japan and New Mexico in this way, between brewery and izakaya, is wonderful. I'm grateful Izanami will allow this to happen.

Farmers, kurabito, tojis, kuramotos bring sake to life. Importers, wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants bring it to the public. May consumers everywhere come to appreciate premium sake, the greatest bounty of Japan, and one of the great wonders of the world. I am thrilled to play my part, in Fukuoka, and now in Santa Fe.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Born-again Shinto! A Religion I Can Endorse :-)

Fushimi Inari Taisha, established in the year 711 AD is the head shrine of Inari—the Shinto god of rice and sake. It's my favorite part of Kyoto—so far!

Merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the 10,000 torii (gates) at Fushimi Inari Taisha is donated by a Japanese business. To walk through them all requires a rigorous two-hour hike up Inari Mountain. 

Signs along the way warn pilgrims "Please do not feed the wild monkeys. Do not look at the wild monkeys. If the wild monkeys approach you, pretend to throw a rock."

Stone foxes, regarded as the messengers, are everywhere. In their mouth there is usually a  key for the rice warehouse! What does this fox say? "I guard the sake that you brew, Kurabito. Respect!" 

This popular shrine is said to have as many as 32,000 sub-shrines throughout Japan.

Afterwards I visit the Gekkeikan museum and drink from the fabled Fushimi water. 

Another glorious day in Kyoto, Japan!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Three Incredible Kura Visits In One Day.

Yesterday was one for the books! A summary:

Plot twist: tea! Toji-san found a heretofore unknown, hidden hidden tea house less than 400 meters where he has been working for 33 year years!! Surprise, ne!! I was seated in a secret room that was actually inside an upcycled, wooden soy sauce vat.

Sated, we visited Asahi Giku, whose 100+ year-old kura burned to the ground a few years ago. But they bounced back! Because 8x down, 9x up. I was shocked at how delicious their sake was. If you can lay your hands on their Junmai Kimoto, do. I give it my highest recommendation. Asahi Giku is one of 10-15 kuras that only brew Junmai sakes, too.

Then Toji-san drove us to Mori No Kura. Murata-san is one of my favorites. A new sake is found!! Aged sake that uses nitrogen in the tank to slow the aging process? Whoa. We were sent away with a 1.8L sake that can't be bought.

Last stop: Wakanami Shuzo. Yuka-chan is one of 30 female tojis of the 2,000 alive in Japan and one of my favorite people, Toji or otherwise. Yuka-chan assumed leadership of her kura with her brother when her father was ill five years ago. Her sakes soar!

We say in sake-brewing "Every year is like the first grade." If you love learning, as I do, this is a good thing. I sampled sake brewed by heretofore unknown methods and I've got so much to learn.

My life is so grand. Every day, a holiday. Every meal, a feast. Camaraderie, culture, hospitality...It was one of the best days of my life. But so was the day before, and the day before that.

The Japanese friends that I am making are such honorable people—sometimes even heroic. I'm a plain person. Yet such icons were made for plain people, who don't know how far they can go.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Audrey Hepburn Sake Debuts Next Week!

Our so-called "Audrey Hepburn" sake (our flagship, Tani Junmai Ginjo) is being presented at an annual Kyushu-wide sake sampling symposium next weekend--for brewing professionals only.

On this occasion dozens of Toji's, Government Technical Experts and Academics critique (often with brutal honesty) the best of what breweries have accomplished so far this season. Breweries will be present from Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto and Fukuoka. At a minimum, the headcount stands right now at 28 tojis alone! A feat given how busy these master-brewers are right now.

I thoroughly enjoy being an apprentice to a master on a day such as this one. I recall last year's event with great fondness. Truly, the only gaijin in the room. ("Gaijin" means non-Japanese, foreigner, or even connotes being an alien). But as I'm fond of telling, "I only look gaijin. I'm really Japanese!"

This occasion is essential for consumers, though the public is not allowed, as it helps brewers make choices on pasteurization, aging, adding water, adding distilled alcohol, whether to add fining agents (and what type!) etc. etc. from that day forward. Suggestions can really help jizake brewers improve their sakes before releasing them to the public. In Kyushu, there is a great deal of camaraderie, friendship and mutual respect among the brewers. I am thrilled to belong to this group! 

It's nerve-racking, but surely not for Ms. Hepburn. She's as graceful as ever. May our sake shine like a star next week!

Sake Recommendation: Mutemuka Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu

Shikoku Island is home to one of the great pilgrimages of the world. Each year, thousands of Buddhists walk 900 miles around the entire island, stopping at each of the designated 88 temples dotted along the path.

On average it takes 40-60 days to complete the circuit, and devotees believe that walking the entire route brings you one step closer to enlightenment.

Along their route, pilgrims looking for sustenance can hope to find sake served with some of their meals, sometimes offered as a form of oblation to weary travelers.

A local sake a pilgrim might sample is Mutemuka Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu from Mutemuka Shuzo in Kochi.

I first sampled Mutemuka Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu sake in Kyoto two years ago. Now my friends Linda and Deborah from Floating World are importing it into the USA.

It's truly a formidable sake—one of my favorites. Rich, creamy, zesty, delicious. Most Americans, even some of my sake otaku friends, have rarely tried such a sake. 

If you have a chance to sample this sake, please do. I give it my highest recommendation. On my path to sake enlightenment, I consider finding it a boon and a blessing.

PS: Mutemuka Shuzo is a pioneer in the organic sake movement in Japan. They are also famous for making kuri-jochu—a shochu from chestnuts.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Now, say my name.

"Now, say my name" is a powerful question from an iconic character:

I think my names were clues from Providence; markers to help guide my way on my path through life.

My first name, Gordon, can be translated into Japanese to mean "Strong man, drinks".

My last name, Heady, has descriptions that give context to my personality and my individuality.

...and people wonder why I am a sake brewer! With a name like "Gordon Heady", it's either brew or brawl!! I'm a lover, not a fighter. So the choice was easy. 😄☺️😍


adjective, head·i·er, head·i·est.
intoxicating: a heady wine.
affecting the mind or senses greatly: heady perfume.
exciting; exhilarating: the heady news of victory.
rashly impetuous: heady conduct.
violent; destructive: heady winds.
clever; shrewd: a heady scheme to win the election.