Happy Belated New Year, Happy Belated Post

I realize the irony of calling my blog ‘sake chronicles’ and then falling off the ladder by failing to chronicle my progress in the sake world, but this time I have a good excuse! I have been extremely busy in a new, sake-related adventure.

In my post last summer, I mentioned visiting Ontario Spring Water Sake Company in Toronto, Ontario. I had introduced the head brewer to the owner (we had both worked at the same sake brewery in Saku, Nagano, Japan, albeit at different times), and stopped by for a visit. Well, things progressed from there, and since September, 2011, I have been working as the head brewer’s assistant, continuing my quest to be a sake brewer. As much as I liked living in Japan, this opportunity was too good to pass up.

So, if you are ever in Toronto and want to get a close look at a sake brewery and try some delicious, fresh, unpasteurized sake, please stop by (see the link for directions), I will be happy to show you around!

thanks for reading.

New Sake Book

Actually, it is not just a book, but is basically a comprehensive textbook on all aspects of brewing sake that is published by the Japanese Brewing Association (日本酒醸造協会) and is found in almost every sake brewery in Japan. As you have no doubt astutely guessed from the front cover, it is all in Japanese. So, my plan is to translate this entire book. It may a take while, but I am up for the challenge!

Visiting Ontario Spring Water Sake Company in Toronto

On the second last day of our trip to Canada this summer, Kazuko and I stopped by the Toronto Distillery District to visit the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company, which makes Izumi (泉) brand sake. It is a bit of a long story, but through some sake connections here in Nagano, I was able to introduce the current Toji of OSWSC to the general manager, Kaz, on his visit here to Miyasaka Brewery (maker of Masumi). Anyway, Kazuko and I were happy to meet with the Toji, Takahashi-san, Kaz, and the owner, Ken, who are all pictured here:

Visiting OSWSC in the Distillery District, Toronto, July 2011

The brewery just opened this year, and has a nice compact set-up that allows visitors to view the brewing and nestle up to the bar for tasting of fresh, unpasteurized (nama) sake. After touring the brewery, we sampled all of Takahashi-san’s sakes, which were crafted towards the Canadian palate; sweet, full-bodied, and fruity.

If you are in Toronto, definitely plan on making a visit to the brewery and the Distillery District.

How long to soak sake rice?

After polishing the rice, the next step in the sake making is process is washing and soaking. Washing is simple enough (if you have a nice little washer like they have here); the rice is washed in 10 kg portions for 1 min, dropped into a bag, rinsed gently for 30 sec, and is then placed into a container full of water to soak.

But how long should the rice be soaked for?

For rice to be used in making koji, the target amount of water to absorb is approximately 33% of the dry weight. For rice to be added into the fermentation directly(after steaming- called “kake mai”), the rice should absorb a little less water, around 29%.  In the photo, Uei-san is writing down the times that rice should be placed in, and taken out of, the soaking containers. For the first bag, there is a little trial and error, with the rice being soaked, then weighed (after removing excess external water), then placed back in the water, then weighed again. For this batch of rice, which was called “Hinohikari” and was milled to 60%, it took 11 min 15 sec to soak up 29% the initial weight of water. Hope that helps answer the question!

Uei-san calculating the soaking time


Back at Daimon Shuzo

The week is off to a great start here at Daimon-shuzo. After a long bus ride, I arrived late Monday afternoon, and was kindly greeted by Daimon-san after walking through the brewery’s beautiful front garden. We chatted for an hour and were then joined by Brock Bennett, who is working for Nogne-o brewery in Norway as a sake brewer and had come to Daimon shuzo for some additional training.

The next morning we got straight down business by washing the rice for the next fermtation (soe), the next yeast starter culture (moto), and the rice to be used for making koji for the tome part of the next fermentation.

My Japanese is now much better after working in a sake brewery for one season, so I was able to talk to Uei-san (Daimon-san’s right-hand man) in much more detail about the various aspects of brewing than I could when I was here last. In the photo below, you can see us talking about the moto (yeast starter) that was going to be used the next day to start the main fermentation. I know it is going to be a great week here at the brewery, as everyone is eager to share their knowledge about sake. I will try and impart some of that knowledge here- stay tuned!

Checking out the moto with Uei-san


Joining the washing and soaking routine


A new sake chronicle!

Well, it is Sunday night (Feb. 20), and I am just about to hop onto an overnight bus headed to Osaka to start a new, small chapter in my sake training. I will be visiting my friends at Daimon Shuzo, whom I visited 2 years ago (please see the archived blogs), for several days of (hopefully) intense training. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to seeing the super-friendly brewery staff again, and learning as much as I can from them. Fortunately, my Japanese has improved since then, so communicating should be easier.

It has also motivated me to revive this blog, so if there is anyone still reading the blog, stayed tuned for some posts from inside the brewery- hopefully I can share some of the things I learn.

Time to finish packing!


Wow, beyond neglect

After receiving a nice email from my friend, Daimon-san (owner and head brewer at Daimon Sake Brewery), who encouraged me to update the Sake Chronicles, I adding my first entry in quite some time.  My sincere and deepest apologies to anyone who may have been tuning in periodically to read about my adventures.

Without getting into the specifics, I had a very interesting first winter working full-time as a kura-bito (brewery staff). It was at times grueling work, as most days it was a 6am to 6pm work day, which was then followed by several hours of scientific editing at home, but I learned a lot about the sake brewery process, substantially improved my Japanese, and received more media attention in a 4-month span than I ever have in my life. It was also the first time I have worked for 36 hours straight! A 12-hour shift at the brewery, followed by 12 hours of editing to meet a deadline, and then back to the brewery for another 12-hour shift. Sound fun? It wasn’t! So yes, it was a tough winter, but a memorable one.

It is now summer here in Saku, Nagano, and rice-planting season is well underway. As I also want to learn how to grow rice, I do not pass up opportunities to get my feet wet, literally, by helping with planting.  Last weekend I helped a husband and wife plant their rice paddy near my apartment, and today, I was part of large crew planting sake rice for a local brewery. Hand-planting rice is sure hard on the back, but is a great sense of accomplishment looking over the planted paddy and seeing all the little plants in neat rows, half-submerged in water, on their way to becoming tall plants.

Well, that is short update for now, I will update again with more news sooner than later. And if you read this Daimon-san, sorry for not posting sooner, but thanks for the encouragement!


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