Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Momokawa Brewing of Japan

I write now from my favorite American city, San Francisco. I have several weeks before brewing season begins in Kyushu with gusto, and so now I have time to reflect on my recent travel experiences.

One very prominent day for me recently was the occasion of visiting my dear friend Kyota Murai, the scion of the family behind Momokawa Brewing of Japan in Aomori prefecture. It was the Murai family which gave SakeOne in Oregon the assistance we needed to begin brewing operations 15 years ago. Visiting Momokawa in Aomori was one of the most special experiences. It was by drinking their premium sakes 15 years ago that lit the fuse for my devotion for nihonshu. A passion for their sakes was renewed thanks to the time and attention Kyota and the team at Momokawa Brewing in Aomori.

The Murai family behind Momokawa has been brewing sake for since the Edo period. A fire ravaged the city of Oirase in the late 1800’s, destroying every building and the recorded history of Momokawa that predates the year of the current structure (1889). By capacity Momokawa is one of the 50 largest sakes breweries of the 1166 (approximate number) still in operation. Their business has achieved the ISO 9001:2008 certification, one of the first breweries in Japan to accomplish this feat in 2002.

The toji (brewmaster) at Momokawa is the most honorable Mr. Yoshio Koizumi. Koizumi-san has been brewing sake with great distinction for many years and has earned a lifetime achievement award identifying him as one of five great brewers, winemakers, and distillers in all of Japan. Momokawa has won a gold medal at the Nanbu Toji Sake Competition for a record 64 years... consecutively. This is a record of unmatched achievement amongst the 330 sake breweries represented in this most prestigious sake brewers guild.

Here I am meeting Mr. Cheong Hwanseo, President of Momokawa Brewing of Japan.

Here I am in front of the world's largest sugidama or cedar ball, measuring 2.2 meters in diameter and weighing 1,100 lbs. The sugidama adorns the entrance of the sake brewery and signifies the role Japanese cedar plays in the production and drinking of sake. At the end of each year the withered sugidama is replaced with a fresh, green one as an offering of thanks to the gods for the previous year's yield.

After a tour of the operations I was given the chance to taste through a selection of 12 of their delicious sakes.

Meeting Mr. Cheong Hwanseo with Kyota.

It was such an amazing day, not just one of the best days in Japan, but one of the best days of my life. I am forever grateful for my friendship with Kyota Murai, his family, and the team at Momokawa Brewing of Japan for making my morning visiting the kura so very special.

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