Thursday, November 26, 2009

Making Sake with Daishinshu Day 1

So i'm back in Sapporo, and ready to start blogging!
Things are starting to heat up for the holiday season, so before things get too crazy, I will recap on the sake making experience.

On the afternoon of the 16th, I flew in to Matsumoto airport, an airport so small it only has flights to and from Sapporo 4 times a week, and is on the list of airports to be shut down now that the economy isn't doing so well (a big problem for those of us who live in Hokkaido and want to go to Nagano, as flying into Tokyo means a switch to the bullet train and about twice the price).

The small turbo-prop plane we flew in on.

I was picked up at the airport by the brewery president Ryuichi Tanaka.


The drive to the brewery took about an hour on the tollway.
On the way, Tanaka-san played a bit of tour guide giving me some general info about the surrounding area.
Daishinshu brewery is nestled in a beautiful valley between the Northern Alps (Kita Alps) and Southern Alps (Minami Alps) mountain ranges.  Mountain ranges named for their likeness to the Swiss Alps.  Quite and impressive sight, as the mountains jut up suddenly and steeply from the valley floor.

Northern Alps

Southern Alps (bigger than Northern Alps)

Southern Alps from the airplane, on the way home.

Daishinshu, as a company, is broken up into two places. One closer to Matsumoto City, mainly the company offices and some bottling facilities (no brewing takes place there), and the other, a little farther to the north west, where they make the sake.  The reason for the split was that the brewery grew too large for their original location, the current office and bottling building, so the brewing facilities were relocated.

Once we reached the brewery, I was handed off to Katsumi Tanaka (The presidents younger brother, in charge of brewery operations). Katsumi-san and I have met several times in Hokkaido (I have met the president many times in Hokkaido as well), and he is very good friends with Meishu no Yutaka's president. Katsumi-san gave me a lighting tour of the brewery, mainly to let me know where I was expected to be the next morning at 5:30 AM.


The day's work is more or less over at 5:30 PM, so after the tour it was time for dinner. Lunch and dinner are prepared by a really nice lady hired on as a cook, and breakfast is prepared on rotation by the five people who live at the brewery.

After dinner, it was time for the evening work, which consisted of tending to the yeast starters and Kome-koji (Koji molded rice). I helped out in the Koji-muro (room where the Kome-koji is made). The Koji-muro is more or less a sauna. With the temperature around 30~35˚C (85~95˚F) and the humidity bouncing around 50~70% depending on the work that is being done, you break a sweat pretty quickly. While being relatively inhospitable to Humans (unless you live in southern Japan), this is the ideal temp and humidity for our little moldy friends.
The nights work consisted of rotating the Kome-koji trays so that the temperature would remain constant throughout all the trays, and checking the temperatures of all the different stages of koji growth. Last the Toji (Master brewer) checked the temperature of the room, and adjusted it by opening little windows here and there to cool things down, or turning on and off various heaters to warm things up and/or keep the temp steady. The Toji is the king of the Koji-muro, and it is his touch that creates the Kome-koji that will later determine the greater part of the overall flavor and fragrance of the sake. (I will discuss the Kome-koji making process at Daishinshu in more detail in later posts.)

The end of the evening work meant the beginning of the evening drinks. That night's drink of choice: Daishinshu's futsu-shu, Okan (warmed). A good table sake with a small nose of rich rice aromas, and a medium to full body with a sturdy acid base and a crisp dry finish.

Well that's it for day 1. I plan on splitting the weeks events into three or four posts by the different steps in the brewing process rather than by day at the brewery.  The reason for this is that I jumped around between different jobs on the same day, so doing things by day might be kind of confusing, and putting everything in one post would be way too long.

See you at the next post!

Meishu no Yutaka staff

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Unexpected difficulties

So it turns out that Daishinshu doesn't have an internet connection that I can use so, I will be posting from my cell phone.

Today is my second day at the brewery, but my first full day. yesterday was mostly travling, and then a quick tour of the brewery.
Today's work started at 5AM, whith a trip to the koji room. We started a fresh bactch of koji today so the first line of business was to make room for it. This meant a fair amount of moving things around. After making Some room it was time to steam some rice. The large steam drum that they use was very impressive, and quite frankly terrifying. Steaming the rice took about an hour, then came cooling, and then spreading the koji spores.

All in all I spent most all of today making kome koji.

I will keep posting from my cell, but look forward to a full recap when I get home.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter is HERE!!!

Well folks it's official: Winter is here.
How do I know?
Well it's not the cold weather, or the snow, or even the Christmas decorations that are already going up in department stores.
My sign came through the store doors in two sizes, 1.8L and 720ml!

That's right I'm talking about the Winter brew, "Shiboritatte (fresh pressed) Sake"!!!
Riding in on the snow here in Hokkaido, we received our first Shiboritatte of the year.
I present to you:

Shimeharitsuru / 〆張鶴
Shiboritatte Nama Genshu / しぼりたって生原酒
Alcohol: 20% / Polish: 60%
SMV: +4
Miyao Shuzo / Niigata Prefecture

Tasting notes:
On the nose: When I first opened the bottle and poured this sake, the nose was huge, with tons of rice, and very sharp. As I let it sit in the glass a little the nose opened up and became more complex, with rich fruit aromas and good depth. Overall very fresh with hints of yeast. The high alcohol came through on the nose a little when chilled, but mellowed as the temperature rose sitting in the glass.

On the palate: Very clean; lots of full bodied fruit and rice flavors. Slight fruity sweetness was balanced beautifully against a dry body with crisp acidity, and a bite from the alcohol on the finish. The finish was crisp and clean. As the sake sat in the glass and warmed a little the acidity mellowed out and the alcohol became almost invisible.

Other notes: 
  • This is a Genshu sake (Undiluted sake), so be careful of the high alcohol content. 
  • This is a nama (unpasteurized or raw) sake so keep this one in the fridge. 
  • Being Shimeharitsuru this is a Niigata prefecture sake, although, in my opinion, this sake does not fall into the traditional Niigata style (light and dry), as it has a full body and a good amount of flavor. 
  • Despite the polish rate of 60%, Shimeharitsuru Shiboritatte is in fact a Futsu-shu. This is due in part to the kind of rice they are using and the amount of alchohol that was added to the Moromi (main mash/fermentation). Although it is classified as Futsu-shu there is nothing Futsu about this sake. 
  • This is only the first Shiboritatte sake to come in, so look forward to plenty more to come, as well as a turn over to this year’s sakes. 

On a final note, I will be heading off to brew sake with Daishinshu for a week starting this Monday the 16th through the 23rd. Both my camera and my computer will be in tow, so look forward to a week of behind the scenes sake making.

I will be posting tasting notes on more shiboritatte and new sakes as they come out, including the ones that I help make!!

See you all next week!

Meishu no Yutaka Staff

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

First snow of the season!!

The first snow of the year fell here in sapporo yesterday!
The temperature is now well below freezing (although they say it will warm up a bit by the weekend),
and it is starting to feel like the sake brewing season again!

The first snow came just about the same time as some very good news!!
I will be Joining Daishinshuu Shuzo for a week and learning how to make sake FIRST HAND!!!

Join me between Nov. 16th~23rd as I enter the world of the Jizake Sake makers.
True handmade sake; no koji machines, no fancy rice steaming conveyors, only sweat, blood, tears, and a lot of hard work!

I will also be heading over to Kozaemon (Nakashima shuzo) and Nishida shuzo (makers of Denshu, Utou, Kiyoizumi etc.) in February of next year for a week at a time.

I am looking forward to sharing my adventures and insights with you!


Meishu no Yutaka staff