November 2009

Sake Souls - Making Sake With Her Soles!

Posted by Beau Timken in 2009, Newsletter, November
Sake Souls So there I was! - nose and pallet working away on over 260 sakes for a tasting in Fushimi (Kyoto) that was hosted by my fellow Sake Samurai organization last month. The tasting itself is superb in concept. Basically all of the brews are organized by price - no matter the grade or designation. The tables are set up by the retail price for each and every brew, and I had a ton of fun down in the "cheap" end. The quality was really really good for brews that cost as much $12/720ml bottles. (Again - this is the future for the jizake industry and we must make better sake at a lower price-point to attract younger drinkers who have little to spend on booze.)

I just so happened to have the same drinking pace as a woman wearing a t-shirt and work pants. I could tell right away that she was a brewery worker of some sort - and since the tasting took place in the heart of the brewing region known as Fushimi - I was fairly confident that she was in the biz. Her tasting skills were also front and center - this woman knew what she was drinking, and I could tell that she was breaking the brews down for her own reasons. My tasting partner asked this "focused" sake drinker what she liked, and then we were introduced.

Truthfully, when I taste - I don't like to talk. (Is this anti- social? I dunno, but do surgeons chit chat when doing their job? Am I a surgeon? No, but my point is that I am pretty focused when I am in the midst of so much wonderful brew! But, she was intriguing and I was guessing that sake from her brewery was at least within the very near vicinity. Then she said that she was a toji (head brewer) for a local kura. Cool - I love that! I love female head brewers? Why? Why should I care? Well - the industry used to be very "male" in scope, and I know how hard it is to get to the level of head brewer - even for a man! So for women - well - let's just say that I wish that it would be more of the norm, rather than the exception.

So there I was speaking to Maho Otsuka - the head brewer for Shoutoku Brewery in Fushimi proper - and of course I had to ask: "Okay where is your sake?" Without missing a beat she said "#270." (I think she was expecting the question) "I entered my kimoto sake." I said great as I am a big fan of kimoto sake. "But this is a different kind of kimoto!" Huh? What do you mean different? "I made it with my feet!" NICE! Rather than pole ram the steamed rice, she used her feet to pound out the lactic acid. "I made it like wine!" She said this for the visual effect I believe. In any case I was very stoked and immediately went over and tried her foot juice! How cool is that?

Proper technique is to always say that a sake is amazing when the maker is standing there watching you taste their efforts. "Amazing!" But this time I meant it. What a wonderful rich and vast brew. I didn't want to go on and on - still had 200 sakes to taste - so I played it cool. But inside I really wanted to pick her brain and ask the reasoning as to why she chose that method, what the shortcomings are, does she do other types etc?

Now membership has its privileges - isn't that the slogan? - and as a charter Sake Samurai member the guys who organized the event asked me if I would like to take a bottle with me when the event was over and the room cleared out. Ummmmmm- Sure! So I ran and grabbed the rest of good ol'#270. Before the end of the event - Maho and I took some pictures together and she told me that she liked the brew served at the luke-warm "nuru-kan" temperature point. I was excited to play with the last few ounces. But would do so back in the States.

I had so many questions to ask Maho but realized that she was so busy. But that never stops me - so I produced a lengthy email asking her all sorts of questions - technical and non - thinking that she would sort of reply! Boy was I wrong - herewith is an email exchange with her at the start of her brewing season - I am so honored that she took her valuable time and applied it to educating a sake freak in America:

Herewith is my email to her:

"As I needed to give my liver a little break from drinking so many sakes in Japan - I waited until tonight to taste your brew: A very deep and impactful kimoto with layers of rice, grains, wood, and earthy elements with a solid "roasted" vein that carries all of the moods. It has a very nice body, well-rounded, and the richness is one part umami - one part earth tones - and one part rice goodness all balanced out by a very high acidity and an extremely high amino acidity - which to me makes the sake drink plump and alive! A very solid and "attitude-driven" kimoto - by foot!

Questions:
  1. Why is the amino san-do (acidity) so high?
  2. How would this brew taste if you only milled to 70%?
  3. What supplemental kobo (yeast) did you use?
  4. How long did you use your "feet"? (Kimoto time is typically 12-16 minutes.) Looking at your kurabito picture I hope it was only your feet!
  5. How long was the brewing cycle - days?
  6. Does your brewery export currently?
  7. How long have you been toji?
  8. What is your strength? What are you known for - style, expression?
  9. What toji guild are you from? Who trained you? Nanbu Toji?
  10. How many shikomi (tanks)will you make this season? - how many last year?
  11. Of your product line - what is Shoutoku best known for?
  12. Fushimi-mizu is a little bit of a generalization as there is both soft and hard water in Fushimi - which do you pull from your well?
  13. Is all of your rice local? How many farmers?
  14. What other kobo and rice varietals do you use?
  15. Why did you make kimoto using the wine method? Does it produce more and superior lactic acid?
And because she is so incredibly cool - here is her great reply:

Thank you very much for your enthusiasm tasting impression to our Kimoto.

This product is very special for me, because when I became Toji, I proposed to my owner to try brewing Kimoto and it started. Till that time, our company didn't brew Kimoto so nobody know how to brew Kimoto, but I wanted to try because I felt Kimoto of another Kura like Daishichi, Hurousen...etc. have very rich and deep tastes and clearly different to normal Sake. I loved the deep tastes. When I try to brew Kimoto at first, I studied old text book and also took advices from some Toji, engineers and I assembled those to my own way. During brewing Kimoto at 1st year, there were difficulty and some troubles but I enjoyed because the taste of seed mash (Shubo) was very delicious and it changed little by little, every day. Kimoto is very special for me for such a memories. And fortunately, Junmai Kimoto Genshu of 19BY is awarded to Trophy of Kimoto-Yamahai category of International Sake Challenge2009 (http://www.sakechallenge.com/). (The product Kimoto you brought to SF is the blend of 18BY and 19BY, and added water a little.)

Now, let me answer to your question.

  1. The amino acid of our Kimoto may be a little high than another kimoto. I don't know the reason exactly but I suppose that our Kimoto's term of Shubo is longer than usual kimoto so more reaction of enzyme may go on . I have no experience of brewing Kimoto with 70% milled rice but I image that the taste will be more acidity and the characteristic of Kimoto will be more clear and strong but it may too strong for some persons, may be.

    Last year, I tried Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto with 40% milled Yamadanishiki. The reason of this trial is that I supposed that the fusion of new technique (milling rice more than half) and traditional technique(Kimoto) may produce newly tastes of Sake. The finished Junmai Daiginjo Kimoto has both the Umami of KImoto and the elegance of Daiginjo, and very interesting. It is Daiginjo but good for Nurukan. The product is started to sell from this October.

  2. Kyoukai 9-gou

  3. About 15mins. (It due to the condition of crashed rice.)

  4. We export to China and Hong Kong a little, and not to USA now.

  5. Four years.

  6. I think one of my strength is Kimoto of my own brewing method, as I wrote above in detail. in Hushimi,no other Kura brew Kimoto( although some Kura in Hushimi brew Yamahai) so it became one of the characteristic of Shoutoku. As Toji, I don't gain a lot of experience yet, but I want to aim for Junmaishu with tasty acid(Umai sanmi). And also, I designs the labels of our products from 3-4years ago. By Toji designs the labels, those will represent the inside of the bottle well, I think.

  7. At first year I joined Shoutoku, Toji was a man from Tanba. Next year, Toji changed to Nuka( Fukui Pref.) Toji and I learned brewing from him for 3 years and he retired. Now I don't belong to any Toji guild but I have took part in summer Toji seminar of Noto Toji guild these three years.

  8. 35 tanks. The regular Shikomi size is 2ton rice / tank

  9. Our company restarted to brew Junmaishu from 1960's and now, more than 70% of our products are Junmai. Shoutoku was best known for Junmaiginjo Hana, but it became behind of the time a little, so we produced a new brand from this September,named"Karaku"(the word means "the city of Kyoto with a lot of flowers"). We made both Junmaiginjo and Junmaidaiginjo Karaku. These will be the main brand of Shoutoku, I hope.

  10. Soft water, I suppose.

  11. We are increasing the amount of rice local but not all, yet. Now, the amount of rice local is about 50% of Junmai Product. We contract with two regions of Kyoto Prefecture One is young Nishiyama brother's farm in Ayabe city and the other is four farmers of SagaKoshihata.

  12. kyoukai 9-gou, Kouro(from Kumamoto Pref.), Kyo no Koto(from Kyoto Pref.).

  13. The most famous way of Yamaoroshi( the way of crashing rice) is to use Kaibou(stick), but in my company, Nobody had the experience of Kimoto, so we didn't know how to use Kai. I heard the wine method from a Kura which is famous for Kimoto and I adopted it. The wine method is the most primitive and easy way for kimoto beginners, I suppose.

  14. I brew Fuhimi sake(Onnazake) not consciously but naturally. I think if someone brew sake in Husimi with Hushimi water, the taste of Sake will become Hushimi taste(mild and soft), naturally.
How cool is that?

If you would like more information on the brewery check out their website.

And yes - you can click the "English" button.

This - I have a feeling - will be a long lasting relationship - one that may just see their products here in the US - (Hint Hint)

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