Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tobin: 18 Liter Bottles of Joy

There are three common ways to press sake, the shizuku press method being the most expensive.

Sake is scooped up and poured into cotton bags that resemble a pillow case.

The bags are hung with sake slowly dripping out of the bag, with the lees or kasu (rice solids) being left behind.

I've tasted shizuku press sakes on many occasions. It's clear that this is sake at its most elegant.

I helped by washing and rinsing the tobin; and the bags that would receive the sake; and held the bags as the toji poured the sake. This was interesting, especially since it was the 38% polish junmai daiginjo I was honored to brew, and then nicknamed, Grace Kelly. She's a beauty, and her picture on the side of the tank made everyone laugh. Not at Grace Kelly, but at the foolish kurabito who wanted to give the sake a nickname.

A surprise occurred in storing the tobin: an eerie, unknown to me, filamentous white substance had accumulated at the bottom of each tobin. This is called "ori" and it's a mixture of yeast, rice residue and stray esters (sake has 400 esters, wine has 200, which give sake an advantage on flavor and nuance.) I took many pictures to capture the appearance, see the at the end of this post.

We harvested the clear sake of each tobin, leaving the dregs behind to be poured into one large turbo-charged with flavor tobin. This sake is not bad! On the contrary, it's very much rich and savory in flavor. It is not elegant, like Grace Kelly, but rough around the edges, lets call her...Jane Russell.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Of Yeast Patents and Yamahai.

Oba-san (pictured right) and Suzuki-sensei (middle) visited our shuzo today were both kind enough to spend 30 minutes discussing sake with me this Monday afternoon.

It was a very interesting afternoon, as I was in the presence of some brilliant sake professionals and was afforded the chance to share views on sake in America as well as learn something about two fascinating topics, sake yeast as well as a unique yamahai brewing method.


Oba-san; with the participation of Suzuki-san and my toji; Yoko-san; have developed a new proprietoty sake yeast called "Dream yeast #3". Our brewery, Wakatakeya Shuzo, was the very first brewery to brew sake with this yeast. I have tasted sake from the yeast, and it makes a very nice junmai ginjo sake. Our flahship junmai ginjo, called Tani (meaning "valley") uses this yeast. On this occasion, Oba-san was able to bring with him the official certificate of patent which bears the name of Oba-san, Suzuki-sensei, and Yoko-san. A picture of the patent, presented to Yoko-san today:

Yeast is one of four key ingredients in sake, along with rice, water and koji. The word yeast stems from the Greek word "Zestos" (boil) as well as the Sanskrit term yasyati (it seethes). Fukuoka prefecture, through the work of these three sake professionals, continues to demonstrate that there is still room for modern innovation with this ancient beverage.

Yamahai Innovation

I was also able to discuss the nuances of sake brewed in Chiba by Kidoizumi Shuzo, as they use truly unique brewing methods such as deploying high concentration of lactobacillus (instead of lactic acid) and thus brew sake via what is know as the "hot yamahi method". Suzuki-sensei, who used to profess at the prestigious Tokyo Agricultural College, understands this method very well as the toji at Kidoizumi is a former pupil (as is my toji, by the way).

Hakugyokko “White Jewel” from Kidoizumi happens to have been my favorite sake of 2012--and I sampled hundreds, as my friends and bartenders in three countries can attest!

For my friends in Oregon and Washington, you can order “White Jewel” sake through Southern Wine & Spirits. Please inquire with me if you are interested in learning more about this sake and I will direct you. I am fond of the importer's very informative landing page and slideshow:

Long day

I started my shift at 7 AM and I will end it at 6 AM. Sleep is fickle and comes late, not when I ask it, too! Later tonight I will turn the koji rice over with Yoko-san.

You will find me in Japan doing this every brewing season for the rest of my life. Now I need to figure out where I will go and what I will do when I am not brewing sake in the middle of winter. That's the $64,000 question on my mind lately.

Good night and kanpai!