Archive for February, 2009

The rice ball begins to roll….

A few months ago, I signed up to receive a monthly online saké newsletter written by John Gauntner, a professional saké taster here in Japan (  This turned out to be a very good idea.  As I was reading my 2nd newsletter, I came across a link with the title “Do you want to work in a sake brewery?”.  Now, for someone who is thinking about trading in their career to become a saké brewer, could you imagine a better link?  Needless to say, I clicked, and was taken to a website for a saké brewery in Osaka, called Sakahan (酒半) (a.k.a Mukune), which was accepting applications from foreigners to work in the brewery for one week.  Not wasting a moment, I filled out and submitted the detailed application with my hopes filled high that I would surely be accepted- this internship program was designed for me!  The next day, after patiently checking my hotmail account every 30 minutes, the response came with the subject:  “Mukune!”.  Elated that I had been accepted, I opened the email to find, exclamation mark aside, that in fact I had not been accepted for this year’s brewing season, but was number one on the waiting list for next year.  Somewhat disappointed, I replied that yes, I would like to participate next year and because I am living in Tokyo, I would be able to fill in with short notice should someone have to cancel.  To this an excellent email was received:  I would be able to join a March session for those foreigners currently residing in Japan!  The rice ball has begun to roll for this little grasshopper.  In just under 4 weeks, I will travel to Osaka for the beginning of my brewing adventures- very exciting. Sakahan brewery had its first wave of interns in early February, and you can read about their experience here:  It was in fact the internship blog that inspired me to start this one.  Thanks for reading.


Saké: past and present

Saké:  a Japanese drink made from rice, always served hot, smells a bit like rubbing alcohol, and not particularly good. 

These were my first impressions of saké, and may very well be your opinion of it now. My first encounters were in Canada with saké bought from The Liquor Store (in most provinces in Canada, the sale of alcohol is completely controlled by the government and is sold in two different shops:  The Beer Store and The Liquor Store.  No confusion there- although you can buy beer at The Liquor store, but the opposite is not true, hmmn.) as an accompaniment to home-made sushi.  It was cheap, in a large bottle and capable of delivering quite a hangover.  But it was fun to try something new, heating up the saké in hot water and drinking from little cups.  However, the taste left something to be desired so drinking saké was not a very frequent event- until I came to Japan.


Saké:  a Japanese drink made from rice, served in a range of temperatures from chilled to warmed, fruity aromas, from dry to sweet, and delicious.


These are my impressions of saké now, and I hope they will become yours too.  Why did my opinion change so much?  Well, by coming to Japan I was exposed to high quality, hand crafted saké, and it makes all the difference in the world.  Delicious saké is a little more expensive than the cheap stuff, known as sanzoushu (三増酒 or “triple sake”), much like good wine is a little more than table wine, but well worth the investment if taste is important to you.  And the varieties here!  Different combinations of rice varieties, yeast, rice polishing (the good part of the rice grain is the starch in the middle, not the minerals, fats and proteins in the outer portion), fermentation temperature, filtration, the list goes on, can create a staggering diversity of flavours and types.  While wine generally leaves this up to the variety of grape, saké has many more variables that can be tweaked to create quite different tastes.  Those are the reasons my opinions of saké have changed from luke warm to positively glowing.  But what really intrigues me is how saké is made- quite a different process from beer and wine, and unique in the world of alcohol.  More about this later.


The good news is that saké is becoming more and more popular outside of Japan, and specialty shops dedicated to it are beginning to open (for example:  I encourage you to put your previous notions aside and give saké a fresh start.  I plan to write a post soon to help you decipher the label on the bottle, as you only need to learn a few Kanji characters to know what you are buying.  It will be a good exercise for the right side of your brain too.  Thanks for reading.



Mt. Fuji (富士山)

Mt. Fuji (富士山)



A new path

Hello, my name is Greg, thank you for reading.  I should say from the outset that this is my first blog.  I have always wanted to write about something, but other than my own diary ramblings, there was nothing I felt I could post that anyone else would find particularly interesting.  But at the age of 34, I have decided to attempt a career change and this blog is an extension of that decision. As some of you may have astutely guessed from my blog’s subtitle, my current career is as a scientist- a microbiologist in fact.  I graduated from the U of Guelph, Canada with a M.Sc. in Microbiology, worked at a laboratory in Washington state for 5 years and have been working for 1.5 years at the U of Tokyo.  Without getting into the details, I am not fully satisfied with my career as a research scientist, but without a solid feeling of what to do instead, I have drifted along for several years in the lab.  Now, due to a series of fortuitous events and personal introspection I have decided the road I am traveling is just not for me.  It is a nice road, well paved with pretty scenery, but leaving me feel unfulfilled.  I want to try a different path, an uncertain one, and will have to overcome some serious hurdles to even get on it.  This blog is where I hope to share about my attempt to get on that path, the path to becoming a sake brewer.