Greetings just after the Harvest Moon, which took place on October 1, here, although it was totally impossible to view, thanks to Typhoon #17, which slid right up the main axis of Japan, hammering the entire country.
No one saw a sliver of that moon! However, the following day was especially clear, and made for great
viewing. October 1 was not only the Harvest Moon, but was also "Sake Day," or "Nihonshu no Hi," and the plethora of events in Japan as well as overseas are evidence of sake's increasing popularity. To learn just why October 1, and not another of the year's 364 eligible days, has been dubbed Sake Day, check out this post on my blog. There are as of this moment four seats open for the Sake Professional Course in San Francisco, later this month, October 24 to 26, should you be the last-minute type. And after that, consider the mother of all sake courses, the Sake Professional Course in Japan, January 21 to 25, 2013. "No sake stone remains unturned" in the most important activity of the year for me. Learn more below. Enjoy the ever-cooling weather, along with your favorite sake, and the newsletter as well. John
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Growing New Rice, then Brewing with it!
Fukucho is a sake brewed in Hiroshima, albeit a bit far from Hiroshima city, or from Saijo, the most concentrated
and significant sake patch-o-land in that prefecture. And the current toji (and owner-inherit) is one Ms. Miho Imada, a light-hearted yet focused woman that is one of perhaps 20 female toji (master brewers) in the
industry. Fukucho is a small brewery, much smaller than it was a century ago, and Imada-san makes a decent range of lively, interesting and tasty sake. She uses a handful of rice types, and one of them is a particular
variety called Hattan-so.
Hattan-so is perhaps the quintessential Hiroshima rice. It was first discovered about 150 years ago near what is now Hiroshima airport. Like many rice types, it fell out of favor with
the decision-making cash-crop loving farming cooperatives. But seed banks kept its legacy alive.
It is, in fact, in the lineage of all sake rice in Hiroshima, including Hattan Nishiki, Hattan 35, and (albeit
separated by several generations) Senbon Nishiki. Curiously, though, it is not a sake rice itself. How could this be? Simply put, crossbreeding produced offspring that were more suited to the job than the pure-bred
parent. Note, too, that just because it is not an official sake rice does not mean it cannot be used to make good sake! It just calls for more effort and tweaking, that's all.
About 13 years ago, Imada-san
decided she would revive this rice and use it in her sake. While this sounds simple enough on paper, it is anything but. Every rice has its own idiosyncrasies and hassles, both in growing and in brewing with them. And
getting accustomed to these calls for time.
In any event, to get started, she found three farmers willing to grow the rice on a contract basis. Step one was to take the few thousand seeds, which had not been
grown on a large scale basis (just enough to keep fresh seeds around in the seed bank) for damn-near 150 years, and use them to create enough seeds for three farmers to work with. Along the way, the particulars of how
this particular rice grew were confirmed as well. How big and tall, when it sprouts, when it is ready to be harvested, what its particular needs and liabilities are… all these vary from rice to rice.
was done by 2006, the year they grew enough for her to begin to use in brewing. Which she did, and has every year since then.
When new rice types come out, brewers in general are nervous as they do not know
yet how the rice will behave. The biggest point of concern is how much and how fast the rice will absorb water in the pre-steaming step. Why? Because when rice absorbs too much water, it dissolves too fast, and leads
to rough, wild and over-extended flavors. As that is what many brewers want to avoid more than anything else, they over-compensate, erring on the side of too little moisture, and thereby reigning in fuller flavors.
And this leads to tight, restrained, and almost conservative sake.
In fact, in my experience, often (but not always!) it takes a decade for a new rice to come into its own, i.e. to start to show how good it
can be. Dewasansan rice from Yamagata is a classic example of this.
So, the first few years I tasted Fukucho made with Hattan-so, I found it just that way: astringent and tighter than most of her sake. And I
approached her about this, asking if she was being cautious about letting it absorb too much water or otherwise holding back a bit on this new rice. And her answer was not quite what I had expected.
"I am not
even to that point, yet, where I can worry about that!" she began. "The growers themselves," she lamented, "are still trying to get a grip on how to best produce this rice so as to optimize it for sake brewing. It is
vastly different every year, and it is all I can do to just try to make good sake with it, even though it's all over the map."
In other words, she could not get control of her processes until the raw materials
coming to her had at least some semblance of stability! "Until they get their part down, I cannot focus on my part!" she concluded.
Fast forward to earlier this year, in the spring new-sake tasting season.
Fukucho's Hattan-so based sake was much smoother and rounder and significantly more balanced and deep. And so naturally, I asked her, "Whuzzup wi' dis? Has it become more mellow?"
"I made it more mellow," she
stated definitively. As there were dozens of tasters around, I left it at that. But at a later event I was able to sequester & pester her for a bit more info.
"Yeah, the three growers got a grip on their
processes, and started making consistent rice for me. That lets me get a grip on my processes, and make the kind of sake I would like to make," came the concise explanation.
And what is that? In her words, "It
has a beautiful finish, perhaps a bit slimmer than something like Yamada Nishiki. In fact, the word beautiful suits the way it wraps things up. It does not have the power and presence of something like Yamada Nishiki,
but on the contrary has a gentle flavor that reflects the gentle climate of Hiroshima."
It is also worthwhile to note that Fukucho is the only brewer in the cosmos that uses Hattan-so. What this means is that
she is on her own, in other words, she has no data upon which to draw, she cannot use the experience of others to find her way. The mighty Yamada Nishiki, for example, is used in at least some measure by 75% of the
sake breweries in Japan. What that means is lots of data, lots of experience, to help any brewer use it with confidence and produce consistent results. Find yourself in a Yamada Nishiki bind? Just call your buddy down
the brewing-road. (She can likely help you out! Not so with Hattan-so.
What this demonstrates, of course, is one measure of double-difficulty in sake brewing. You can read a bit more about Hattan-so (in Japanese) and see some pics here. And you can see Miho Imada talk about it (in Japanese)
here. Currently, Fukucho made with Hattan-so is not available outside of Japan, although Fukucho made with other rice types is.
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Sake Brewery Tours Expands!
Akita! Kansai! More than just sake!
Make 2013 the year you participate!
In 2013, you have more opportunities to experience sake.
Sake Brewery Tours will have two 5-day tours: one to Akita and one to Kansai (Kyoto, Nara and Shiga). Kansai has been added as a new destination this year! In addition, Nippon Travel Agency, one of the largest travel
agencies in Japan, just announced the schedules for two tours for their "Exclusive Sake Tour" program to central Japan, for which they will be partnering with Sake Brewery Tours. Don't miss the chance to
sign up early registering before November 30. Space is extremely limited, so act now. Learn more here.
Details of the Akita and Kansai regions are as follows.
- Akita – four breweries
February 23 (Sat) - 27 (Wed): Yuki no Bosha, Ama no To,
Manabito/Mansaku no Hana, Kariho
- Kansai – 3 breweies
March 4 (Mon) - 8 (Fri): Tsuki no Katsura (Kyoto), Shichihon Yari (Shiga), Harushika (Nara). In addition, the Kansai tour will include an optional visit to Tamagawa in Kyoto to see the
only non-Japanese toji in history, Mr. Philip Harper on March 9th.
Both tours will include some very special features. In addition to learning from the world's best sake sensei, John Gauntner, we will spend a lot of time at sake breweries, dine with kuramoto, and dive into cultural
activities, which include:
- Akita - making soba at the Kariho brewery, a cooking lesson from a local expert at a farm, a visit to Mr. Ito's (the owner of Kariho) historic private residence, a private minyo folk music performance and a
tranquil stay at Tsuru no Yu onsen (hotspring). Learn more here.
- Kansai - Food and sake parings only available in the area, using local delicacies such as funazushi and a lunch with local game meat with the owner of Shichihon Yari, a one day excursion to the Shigaraki pottery
region with Rob Yellin, a visit to a yuba (a creamy soy vegetarian food, a by-product of tofu) maker, and join the Goma fire ritual performed by Ajari, a Buddhist monk who went through the Sennichi Kaiho-gyo, a
seven-year marathon pilgrimage and spiritual quest.
This is really the ultimate Japan experience - all packed into five days.
Learn more here. To find out more about Nippon Travel Agency's Exclusive Sake Tour in January and March, visit this site.
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Did You Know?
Hiroshima: The Birthplace of Ginjo
Or so say some.......Ginjo sake, with all four of its sub-classes, is but seven percent of all
sake brewed. Legally, it is defined by nothing more significant than how much the rice was milled before brewing. But technically, it calls for longer-term, lower-temperature fermentation. How long and how low? Oh,
perhaps 35 days fermenting in the tank for ginjo, versus about 20 days for lower grades, and perhaps 8C to 10C for ginjo versus 15C to 17C for regular sake.
But there are those (not surprisingly, the Hiroshima
brewing community most prominent among them) that say ginjo brewing developed in Hiroshima. Why and how might this be? They have Senzaburo Miura to thank for that. Mr. Miura lived from 1847 to 1908, and had a
challenging, yet varied and interesting life. In truth, while intending to just check a couple of facts for this article, I stumbled upon a veritable bottomless chasm of fascinating information that begs to shaped
into a story. Just not this month…
In short, Senzaburo Miura came from a family running a very successful "general store" kind of business, which led to him starting a sake brewery. He went to Nada (which is
partly in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, near Kyoto and Osaka), to learn from the masters in the center of the sake-brewing universe. But across four years, his sake kept spoiling. This drove the sake-brewing part of the
family enterprise out of business. As a side note, Imada Shuzo, brewers of the above-introduced Fukucho, bought some of their brewing equipment and tools when they ceased operations. What a small sake world!
Eventually, Mr. Miura's search for better sake took him to Fushimi (in Kyoto city), where he first learned that brewing sake with hard water (like that in Nada) and brewing it with soft water (like that in Kyoto, and
Hiroshima!) call for significantly different approaches. So he took this newfound knowledge back to Hiroshima, figured out how to adjust techniques to Hiroshima's very soft water, and taught the brewing community in
From which point sake in Hiroshima took off in quality and popularity, winning every prize in sight for a while. This is the short version of a long, fascinating story. In any event, Hiroshima water
is soft, which dictates slow fermentation, which calls for lower temperatures to chemically facilitate tasty, desirable results. And that calls for more time, since the whole process moves more slowly. This is what
Senzaburo figured out: how to brew sake at lower temperatures over a longer period of time. And this is how ginjo is brewed: at lower temperatures over a longer period of time. Hence, brewers in Hiroshima insist that,
via the auspices of Senzaburo Miura, ginjo-shu brewing was developed in Hiroshima. But there are likely other interpretations......
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Announcements and Events
Sake Professional Course
San Francisco, CA, October 24 ~ 26
The next Sake Professional Course will take place on
October 24, 25 and 26 at Bentley Reserve in San Francisco, Caifornia. We are currently taking reservations for this course. Only five seats remain available as of today, Oct. 5. The Sake Professional Course,
with Sake Education Council-recognized Certified Sake Professional certification testing, is by far the most intensive, immersing, comprehensive sake educational program in existence. Three days of classroom lectures
and tastings leave "no sake stone unturned."
The tuition for the course is $799. For more information about the daily schedule and to read a handful of testimonials, click here. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions about the course, or to make a reservation. All marketing noise and shameless self-promotion aside, this course is already filling up quite fast. As such, interested parties should email me soon to make a reservation.
Sake Professional Course
Japan, January 21 ~ 25, 2013
next Japan-based Sake Professional Course will take place the week of January 21 to 25, 2013, in Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka, Japan. This is it, folks, the most important thing I do all year. The Sake Professional
Course, with Sake Education Council-recognized Certified Sake Professional certification testing, is by far the most intensive, immersing, comprehensive sake educational program in existence. The course is identical
to the US-based course, with two days of brewery visits tacked on to the end. Furthermore, each evening is spent eating in fine restaurants with the best sake in the world. The five days together leave "no sake
The tuition for the course is JPY180,000 (at 80 yen to the dollar, about $2250). This includes dinner each night as well as all course materials, but does not include transportation or
lodging. For more information about the daily schedule and to read a handful of testimonials, click here. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions about the course, or to make a reservation.
Sake Professional Course Level II
The Level II Sake Professional Course, with SEC-supported Advanced Sake Professional testing, is scheduled for February 11- 15, 2013. Note that this course is only open to graduates of the Level I course. Should
you be interested in attending, please contact me directly.
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Sake Education Council
Please take a moment to check out the website
for the Sake Education Council, the organization behind the Certified Sake Professional and Advanced Sake Professional certifications. We plan to grow steadily, strongly and continually, and we will need the support
of all those that love sake to do so. Follow us through the "usual suspects" of social media.
Sake Homebrewer's Online Store
Please be sure to check out Homebrewsake.com for supplies, information and a forum, including lots of supporting information on everything from recipes to history. I have been meaning to mention this site and the gentleman behind it, Will Auld, but have repeatedly forgotten in past newsletters. The site is replete with instruction, augmented with videos, schedules, and more. If you are even remotely interested check this site out right away.
SAKE EDUCATION CENTRAL
For Your iPhone & iPod: The Sake Dictionary App.
Newly improved, now with audio, and
drastically reduced in price to $0.99!
Get it here: http://itunes.com/apps/sakedictionary
There you are, perusing a menu, or standing in front of a shelf of great sake, or perhaps reading a sake newsletter… and up pops one of those hairy, pesky sake terms in Japanese. You know you have heard it many
times, but dammit, you just cannot remember what it means now…
No problem! Just whip out your iPhone or iPod and fire up your trusty old version of The Sake Dictionary. In a matter of seconds, you'll be
amongst the cognoscenti once again. But… if only you could pronounce it properly. Now that would really rock!
Done! Just tap on the term and you will hear a clear example of how to pronounce the term in
Japanese. Repeat it a couple of times and the term is yours for eternity, to toss about and impress your mates.
What's more, it's less! Less than what it cost before, much less. Like less than one-seventh
less. For a limited time only, the audio-enhanced version of The Sake Dictionary iPhone app is available for a mere $0.99.
The Sake Dictionary is a concise little package of all the terms you might ever come
across when dealing with sake. Almost 200 of them - including sake grades, rice variety names, seasonal sake terms, special varieties, rare types, post-brewing processing words and the myriad terms used in
sake production - many of which are not even familiar to the average Japanese person on the street - are listed up here with concise, useful and clear definitions and the written Japanese version as well. And now,
with the new audio component, you can listen and learn just how to pronounce those terms properly.
Start to toss around Japanese sake terms like you were raised knowing them! Gain a level of familiarity
hitherto unimaginable! Avoid frustrating paralysis when faced with a sake-related purchase!
Get your copy of The Sake Dictionary now and never be confused by sake terms - or how to pronounce them - again.
Get it here: http://itunes.com/apps/sakedictionary
(Note if you have already purchased it, this upgrade to the audio version is free.
Just go to iTunes and get it!)
Sake's Hidden Stories
I am very pleased to announce the publication of my new ebook, Sake's Hidden Stories, subtitled The Personalities, Philosophies, and Tricks-of-the-Trade Behind the Brew.
Sake's Hidden Stories ($14.99) will give you a view to what goes on in the sake
industry behind the brew we all love so much. The book goes into stories much deeper than the information we most commonly encounter; way beyond simply what ginjo-shu is, what junmai-shu is, or what the role of koji
is. You will learn about the personalities behind the sake. You will see in just how much detail some brewers make sake, and how each is different in where importance is placed. And most significantly, something that
has not been written about in any book on sake in English, you will meet more than a dozen brewers, and encounter their personalities. You'll see what makes them tick, what drives them in their work, and how their
histories and idiosyncrasies affect the sake they brew.
For more information on content and get your copy, go here.As with any ebook or informational product I offer, satisfaction is 100% guaranteed. If you
don't like it or feel it was worth what you paid for it, I will cheerfully refund your money. Finally, for a nice third-party review of the book, check out this cool blog.
Sake Educational Products
Jump-start your sake savvy
Just a reminder to check out the Sake-World e-store, currently offering three educational products immediately downloadable for your education and further sake
enjoyment. We offer three products, with more to come soon, including a full-blown, comprehensive self-study course covering all the material in the Sake Professional Course, and more.
First is The Sake Notebook, a 15-page pdf file guaranteed to jump-start your sake understanding and appreciation. It covers everything related to
sake in a tight, concise and easily digestible presentation replete with plenty of photos and diagrams for at-a-glance enlightenment. Sake basics, history, grades and quality levels, aging, temperature, storage and
more are all briefly touched upon to create a foundation upon which more sake learning can flourish. There is also a list of 250 (count 'em!) sake brands to look for and try. Finally, included with purchase is access
to a password protected area on www.sake-world.com known as "The Goodstuff" a regularly updated list of good sake recommendations, replete with brief commentary on each, and some indication of John's
personal recommendations and preferences. Available for $15.
Next is The Sake Production Slideshow, an executable file (Photojam) wherein resides a 15-minute slideshow of photos of the sake-brewing
process from beginning to end, giving you a glimpse into the day-to-day brewing environment of sakagura in Japan. Available for $15. Also, access to "The Goodstuff" comes with this product as well.
Third is a bundled package of both The Sake Notebook and The Sake Production Slideshow for those that cannot make up their minds or simply have to have - or give - both as gifts. Available as a set for $25.
Surely these would make wonderful gifts for those close to you that are itching to get into good sake, and their easily downloadable digital format makes it all that much easier.
More information on the following topics can be found at
- Sake Homebrewing
- Books on Sake
- Information on the archives of this newsletter
- General information related to this publication
Questions and comments should be directed to John Gauntner. Email John from this link: www.sake-world.com/html/email.html
All material Copyright, John Gauntner & Sake World Inc.