Thursday, January 24, 2013

I discovered a new rice variety today. 

This is Yumeikkon rice, sakamai rice hybridized about ten years and grown here in Fukuoka. We wash, then soak this rice for about 30 minutes versus just eight for Yamadanishiki. This is due to the hardness of Yumeikkon versus relative softness of Yamadanishiki.

The parents for this sake-brewing rice are Reihou and Yamadanishiki.

The term sakamai refers to the 80-100 varieties of sake brewing rice versus standard table rice. I have much to learn, but I can tell you this much: sake brewing rice is not yet grown commercially in the USA and this is one disadvantage to all US brewed sakes.

Why is Japanese sakje rice, AKA, sakamai, better for those who love premium sake?

A picture says a thousand words. (Courtesy of Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association)

On table rice, anything that is not starch exists (typically) on the outside of the grain. This includes, but is not limited to, proteins, lipids, minerals, fats, albumins and ash.

When premium sake is achieved, the toji (master brewer) polishes the rice before brewing such that with sakamai, impurities that are not sakamai are largely removed.

I look forward to sharing more of what I learn about rice and sake as I spend my time living and working as a Japanese sake brewery in Fukuoka, Japan!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My New Life Working & Living At Japanese Sake Brewery

Ten Days In

A sake brewery can be a chilly place to work. If the weather is 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it's just as cold inside the kura (the warm koji room, as warm as Hawaii, notwithstanding). 

Yet working in this cold weather is a boon for sake lovers, so I curse it not. Sake yeast propagation soars in the winter, but in warm weather yeast suffers from jet lag and can't operate at normal capacity (art imitates life!) The yeast, much like this gaijin kurabito, needs to hustle in order to make delicious sake. When it's warm outside, sake yeast is not as active and sake is less flavorful as a result. Now, in the dead of winter, hundreds of sake breweries come to life with activity. 

Cleaning, as if I joined the US Navy

Friends and family ask me what it is like to be living my dream, for my great passion – my ikigai – is the sake industry. I don't wish to write like an otaku, or a sake geek, right now....and discuss the nuances of brewing sake. But I will tell you this: Kurabito (kura = sake brewery, bito = worker) life rotates around keeping the kura clean, as unintentional yeast propagation can spoil sake and corrupt entire batches. One is not yet a proper kurabito if you have yet taken a wet rag and wiped down walls, ceilings, and a phalanx of 2700-liters tanks *twice* (wet with water, then again with an astringent mix of persimmon juice and water. Take that, wild yeast.) Cleaning is the most regular activity in a kura..

A Portion of the Kyushu Sake Trade

This picture includes sake and shochu breweries in Fukuoka (in green), Saga (in red) and Nagasaki (in blue).

There is one brewery on this map that matters more to me than the others combined right now: Wakatakeya Shuzo. 

The man who owns Wakatakeya, Mr. Hironobu Hiyashida (pictured with me above), looks after his employees like they are member of his family. To think the brewery has been in operation in his family since 1699. I have been made to feel welcome and more than at home immediately. It is an authentic concern for his employees. Together, we have a mutual celebration and appreciation for the sake trade. 

As a consequence of Hironobu-shacho's leadership, my cohorts.themselves treat each other with kindness, care, and concern. Even the new guy who does not speak much Japanese. There is a sign in the kura that sums up the spirit best. The kanji read as “Harmony, Brewing, Good, Sake”  I like the sound of that! 

End of the Shift, But Not the Day

Just before finishing this blog post, I got upstairs to the roof for the first time...I am on top of the brewery in this picture, and in some ways, on top of my small, modest sake world. The day is done and it is now surprisingly warm outside. I bask in the sun for a minute before I clock out. I’ve got nothing to do tonight but smile…and enjoy a Wakatakeya sake with my co-workers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shizuku shibori namachozo sake... BY 16!! Brewed, then uncannily laid down...not six, not seven...but eight years. Opened this week!! Booty from the Toji's "Secret Stash" and not available for sale. OMG.

I'm blessed to try such sake. After 20 years of enjoying sake, I've not tasted one like this before. I'm humbled.

Another day of the office?!?! Ha! Onward, upward!

PS: this sake is light and fruity, and *not* tasting like koshu whatsoever. I'm stupefied. It broke all the rules.