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Sake High School; Left-Over Sake

# 23

Aug. 2001

Sake World Sake e-Newsletter
Issue #23
August 25, 2001


-Sake High School
-What to do With Left-Over Sake
-Professional Sake Course to Begin Internet-based Sales in the US
-Sake to look for
-Sake events and other miscellany
-Sake World Website Major Updates
-Subscribe/unsubscribe information
-Publication information
Sake High School

It is likely that few of us remember in much detail our high school curriculum. After all, the three r's and a dollop of foreign language is hardly a memorable course of study. Now, of course, if we were able to study and *practice* something like, say, sake brewing, well *that* would be fun - and something to remember.

Well, the lucky students of Yoshikawa High School in Yoshikawa-cho, Niigata Prefecture, get to do just that. Yoshikawa High School is the only school in Japan that has a sake-brewing course of study, and an actual license from the government to brew sake.

Yoshikawa is otherwise a normal Japanese high school, although its overall curriculum tends a bit toward the agricultural. The school is very small by Japanese high school standards, and the region is very much a farming region. As such, the overall curriculum is geared toward this.

Yoshikawa-cho is a town that is famous for being a source of toji (the head brewer at a sake brewery) from the Echigo Toji group. It is toji from this Echigo Toji group that make most Niigata sake the sterling brew that it is. Niigata, famous for 鍍anrei karakuchi・sake, and well-known brands like Koshi no Kanbai, Kubota, Hakkaisan, and others, is overall number three amongst prefectures in terms of sake production. Of all the villages in Niigata, more Echigo Toji come from Yoshikawa-cho than any other.

Although in the past, a high school in Hiroshima Prefecture and one in Aichi Prefecture also had sake-brewing departments, Yoshikawa is the now the only one with the special permit from the Ministry of Finance allowing them to brew up to 30 koku (5.4 kiloliters).

Naturally, the students cannot do this on their own. So the school employs their own toji, currently a semi-retired Echigo Toji that has worked at two well-known kura in Japan (Hanaharu in Fukushima and Nanawarai in Nagano, both well-known and solid brands). He guides the students through the various steps of the brewing process.

The high school is well equipped, having four fermentation tanks, a sake-pressing machine, a proper koji-making room, and rice-milling facilities as well. (This is one step up on some of the smaller local breweries that do not even have their own milling equipment.)  What they do *not* have is pasteurization or bottling equipment, so these two final steps of the process must be outsourced. From mid-January to the end of February, they brew four tanks, with students alternating in staying overnight at school to mind the sake. This means constantly checking the temperature and other parameters to be sure the fermentation is proceeding in the desired manner. Sake brewing is hard work, and just because they are high school students doesn稚 mean they are spared this.

Things are kept simple: all sake uses locally grown rice milled to 68 percent. This, by the way, allows it to qualify as semi-premium sake, either honjozoshu or junmaishu ・assuming no added alcohol (in the case of junmai) or a minimum of added alcohol (in the case of honjozo) is used. All four tanks use Number 10 yeast. The sake brewed in each tank is of a slightly different type, so in the end, the students get to experience brewing four different types of sake.

As is to be expected, all of the students graduating from this course go on to work in sake breweries later, and a good percentage of them end up becoming toji after some time.

Sounds like a great program, doesn稚 it? 

There's just two catches: one, they can't sell it, and two, the can't drink it. They do not have a license to sell it themselves, so the sake is sold by another company, a local wholesaler called Kato Shuzo. The name of the sake is "Yoshikawa no Wakaizumi" or 典he spring of youth of Yoshikawa.・It was at one time called "Yoshikawa High School Wakaizumi," and bore the crest of the high school. But it was considered less than appropriate by a few stuffed shirts to have the name of a high school on a bottle of sake, and changed a few years ago to the present manifestation.

As for not being able to drink it, well, being minors, there is not much to be done about that. The official word is that they check on progress and quality by sniffing it only. Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure.

Apparently, the final flavor profile of the sake is mellow but sharp and clear. In the end, only about 3000 1.8 liter bottles are made each year, and rarely do they leave Yoshikawa-cho.

Naturally, all of this hands-on experience is supplanted by plenty of classroom work, including microbiology of fermentation, sake-brewing theory, and of course, the courses that all high school students take in Japan. But the sake-brewing classes are likely to be the most memorable of all. And, considering that almost all graduates spend the rest of their careers in sake breweries, the curriculum is as useful as it is memorable. If only we could all say that.


What To Do With Leftover Sake

Just like wine, sake has a very short life span once the bottle has been opened. In fact, like wine, sake should be consumed as soon as possible after opening to ensure that delicate fragrances and flavors remain intact. Although this varies from sake to sake, in general the more delicate and refined the flavor and fragrance of a sake, the sooner it goes downhill.

Of course, it will not spoil in such a way as to make you sick, nor will it turn to vinegar or became downright unpalatable. But after a few days, sake in an opened bottle will lose its finely-wrought edges and graceful curves. More solidly built sake, such as junmai-shu with a bolstering acidity, may last a couple of weeks. But as a principle, if a bottle cannot be drunk at one sitting, try to finish it off within a few days.

Naturally there will be occasions when this is simply not feasible. Fear not! All is not lost. There are several ways to use sake that may have lost its zing. Sake is used in countless recipes, and cookbooks centering on the use of sake abound (well, in Japanese, anyway). But beyond that, here are a few practical uses.

Take sake back to its roots by putting in a small amount of sake with the water when cooking rice. Although the effect is subtle, the added sake lends a bit more flavor to the steamed rice. Also, for leftover rice that has been stored in the refrigerator or freezer, sprinkling a bit of sake over the rice before heating it in a microwave oven definitely brings in renewed life.

Adding a bit of sake to dressings that use vinegar can round out the harsher edges imparted by the vinegar and help the flavors blend. Also, it can bring balance back to dishes-in-progress to which a bit too much salt or vinegar have been added.

Sprinkling sake over fish before salting and grilling it helps stronger fishy smells to go up in smoke. This also works very well with frozen fish and seafood after it has been defrosted. When grilling or frying meat, mixing in one tablespoon or so of sake for each 100 grams can help tenderize the meat and bring out the flavor.

Sake has uses outside of the kitchen as well. Many people swear by a sake-buro, putting a bit of sake in the bath water. Usually about half a large bottle is used, and it is said to help the warmth penetrate to the core of the body.

Alternatively, a cup or sake in a small facial wash basin can be used to help keep the skin of the face soft. Gently scrubbing fingernails with a sake-soaked cotton ball can remove discoloration and return a luster to the nails.

Obviously, many of these applications do not depend on the flavor of the sake remaining intact. Although it may have been more rewarding to enjoy the sake while in its prime, at least we know it doesn稚 have to go waste.


Professional Sake Course

In early 2002, I will be holding the first professional sake course here in Japan. The course will be five days long, and held in either January or February in the Osaka area. It will combine several days of classroom activity interspersed with plenty of tasting, and include visits to several sake breweries. Every possible aspect of the sake world will be covered in detail, from raw materials to production, and including rice, water, yeast, brewing styles, sake grades and types, history and culture, and pairing with food.

Evenings will be filled with meals and more sake. The point would be to introduce as many types, styles and brands as possible while avoiding sensory overload and fatigue.

Considering all that is involved, it will be by far the most comprehensive, intense, and thorough sake training program in English ever held. Although the focus would be wine professionals looking to master sake, the course would, of course, be open to anyone.

Those interested in the program should please send me an email at I will, over the coming weeks, draw up more specifics and provide them when they are of a presentable form.

----------------------------------------------------------- to Begin Internet-based Sales in the US

Finally. As of October 1, 2001, will begin selling 11 brands of premium sake in many states over the internet. One sake from each of eSake.com痴 11 kura will be available. Although not all states will be covered at the time of opening, it is only a matter of weeks until all those states that allow shipment of alcoholic beverages in one form or another will be part of the network of deliverability.

The initial list of 11 products is expected to expand soon, but there will still be quite a nice range of products and styles to keep sake aficionados happy for a good while. Look for complete details in the next email newsletter.


Sake to Look For

Tedorigawa (Ishikawa Prefecture)

Tedorigawa makes a wide range of recommendable sake. Overall light and crisp, the most identifying thing that can be said about Tedorigawa sake is that it is wonderfully balanced, with fragrance and flavor finely harmonized.

Perhaps the most easily recommendable is their 敵old Label・Junmai-shu. It is a settled and mature sake, smooth and billowing. The crispness is a clear result of the well-extracted acidity, and the solid texture makes it enjoyable on its own. Although this sake is not available yet overseas, it should be soon.

Tedorigawa also makes a thoroughly enjoyable ginjo-shu called Tedorigawa Shukon, or 鉄oul of Sake,・that is elegantly put together, complex and fragrant in a mildly fruity way.

Finally, Yoshida-gura is the name of one of Tedorigawa痴 daiginjo sake. It is fairly subdued for a daiginjo, fragrant but not overly so, perhaps more stout in flavorful than most, and is a solid session sake at a very reasonable price.

In short, all Tedorigawa products are tasty values, and should not be passed up.

Tama no Hikari (Kyoto)

Another brewery very much worth remembering. They claim (as does at least one other brewery, in all fairness) to be the first kura to brew junmai-shu, i.e. sake with no added alcohol, after the war. They indeed put a lot of care and attention into growing rice, having special contracts with farmers for all of their sake rice. They then inspect it all, compare that to the sake that results, and feed the data back to the rice farmers so that they can make better rice next year.

They are located in the heart of Fushimi in Kyoto, historically the second most important brewing region in Japan, where the water runs soft, clean and plentiful beneath the ground.

Perhaps the most recommendable of their many recommendable products is their junmai daginjo sake made with Omachi rice. Sure, the Yamada Nishiki version is fine, elegant and complex. But the Omachi version has a more settled and fuller flavor, with a bit more acidity and lots more earthy breadth to the flavor.

Tama no Hikari is available in the US as well.


Sake events and other miscellany...


September 8, 2001 (Japanese) Haruo Matsuzaki and his band of 鉄humin Koza・followers will be having a party on the historical Sumida River in a 添agata-bune,・those low, slow party boats of old Edo. Those interested in participating should do so soon b y making a reservation by emailing me at, or Matsuzaki-san directly at

September 1, 2001 (English)On the evening of Saturday, September 1, Japan Times Ceramics Scene columnist, and Japanese yakimono (ceramics) expert Robert Yellin and I will be hosting another sake and Japanese pottery seminar, at the sake pub Mushu near Shin Ochanomizu and Awajicho Stations, from 6pm to 9pm. The topic this time will be sake rice, especially the rice Kame no O. If you are interested in more details and/or attending, please email me. Participation is limited to 50. The cost for half a dozen sakes for sampling, ample food, and a hopefully enlightening lecture with printed handouts is 7000 yen. No deposit is required.

FEEDBACKIf any readers at any time have any opinions on this newsletter, its format or its content, please do not hesitate to contact me at If there is anything you would like to see more of (or less of), I am always open to suggestions.

Sake books:

The Sake Companion, published by Running Press

A hardbound, well designed book, The Sake Companion approaches the sake world from a bit more of a romantic, cultural side, and less of a technical touch. Unlike my first book, The Sake Handbook, this new volume covers material like sake history and the differences in sake styles and flavor profiles from the major sake-producing regions of Japan. Sake production is also explained, although not in as much detail as in The Sake Handbook. Almost 140 sake are introduced with numerical rankings and an indication of the region from which each hails. Large, full-color photographs of the labels makes them easier to remember.

Also included is a listing of where to buy and drink sake in the US. As this book is geared mostly to a market other than Japan, where to buy and drink sake in Japan is not covered, as it is in The Sake Handbook.

The Sake Companion is available at bookstores such as Borders for $24.95, as well as at Amazon for a bit less. If you are in Japan, is highly recommended, as the price in Japanese bookstores is quite high (4490 yen).

Also worth searching for:

-The Sake Handbook (John Gauntner): A bit more technical but with a listing of 50 sake pubs in Tokyo.

-Sake: Pure and Simple (John Gauntner, Griffith Frost): A light, pure and simple guide to sake.

-Sake, An Insider's Guide (Phillip Harper): A pocket sized, well-written book by an insider; Harper brews sake at a kura in Japan.

-Sake: A Drinker's Guide (Hiroshi Kondo): The original book on sake in English, nice historic notes and good peripheral information.

Home-Brewing Sake

If you have even a passing interest in brewing sake at home, you must check out The Sake Digest, a mailing list on sake home brewing maintained by Jim Liddil at On this list, issues both stylistic and technical, detailed and general, are discussed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable home brewers. Fred Eckhardt, easily the most experienced sake home-brewer in North America, regularly generously imparts his experience and wisdom to readers. A message is generated perhaps twice a week, so one in not inundated with information and countless emails. It is quite interesting to follow along with the apparently successful efforts of these brewers from a cyber-distance.

Most recently, several brewers are experimenting with koji obtained from SakeOne Corporation in Oregon, with apparently significantly improved results. This koji can be purchased from F.H. Steinbarts for about $8.00 for a 2.5 lb. Batch. For more information call Steinbarts, at 503-232-8793.

Also, koji spores (as opposed to completed koji) are also available from Vision Brewing in Australia. According to proprietor Brendan Tibbs, the product is available online for anyone, and is particularly suitable to the home brewer. Contact him at Vision Brewing: , and see their site at

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Look for the next issue of this newsletter June 15 - 20, 2001.


Publication Information

Sake World is distributed free via email only with the intent of disseminating useful information about sake and the culture and world that surrounds it. Information on sake, sake production, sake shops and sake pubs, sake events and sake culture are included, targeting audiences both in and out of Japan.

NOTE: Please feel free to pass this newsletter along to anyone even remotely interested in sake. It may be printed and distributed, or forwarded in electronic form, provided it is sent in its entirety, including this message and the copyright notice below.

All of the past issues of this newsletter have been posted (or soon will be) in their entirety on the Sake World website. Just go to, click on the Sake Newsletter tab, click on Archived Email Versions, and select the issues you want to read from the chart. For those that have only recently signed up, all the past issues can be downloaded (either now or in the near future) and perused at your leisure.

Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner,

Copyright 2001 Sake World


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