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

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