June 2011

Ask Beau - "Is anyone planning an article that will explain how to choose a 'safe' sake in the future?"

Posted by Beau Timken in 2011, Ask Beau, June, Newsletter
Beau Timken Cecil K - in Kansas wrote the following:

"I read every word of your newsletter, intent on figuring out if there is any chance that future sake will be contaminated from the nuclear disaster. I guess it's, especially sitting in the middle of Kansas, hard to understand which sake's will be effected and what controls will be in place so that we can be absolutely sure that sake will be safe to drink (talking about sake that is being made in the future).


Let me preface this reply by stating and re-stating the obvious - the Japanese are the most hypersensitive, hyperactively clean freak people in the world. There is no culture on this ball of mud and water that takes cleanliness and purity to a higher degree than the Japanese. If there is a "problem" or hint of a problem having to do with food or drink they run for the hills. Do you remember when one cow was discovered with mad cow disease in the US? (It was sourced from Canada and there was only one.) Basically within the hour they banned all beef from the US for almost two years. And that response was not unusual. It's typical. They simply do not mess around when it comes to contamination.

But we have entered into a new realm of "contamination." And this is very uncharted waters for the Japanese and most of the rest of the world. The Russians know first hand the devastation and longevity of a post nuclear event. And Cherynoble is a perfect case study of what happens in the long run. Using the Russian example that area in Japan will not be "planted" for years to come. So at the very least there will be no locally grown rice that could be contaminated. But what about the ground water? This is where the Japanese lose control of the elements in a manner of speaking. Water, as you know, travels in Japan. I read somewhere that of all island nations Japan has the most amount of movement of water both above ground and beneath the surface because of its volcanic roots. And there is absolutely no question that water in that immediate area is contaminated. The question remains, how far and where did this infected water travel."

So Cecil, there are ways of production going forward that will greatly reduce the possibility that sake will be contaminated. First, locally grown rice and local water will not be used in that very acute region. Many breweries that were deeply affected have vowed to return to production, but this may take longer than what they ever imagined. I suspect that if they try to brew it will be with all raw materials from someplace other than their area. Your chance of drinking contaminated sake from the impacted areas is slim to none for the above said reasons. But what about sakes from the rest of Japan?

Radiation is an easily detected element. And they have been using the latest and best technology to detect radiation in food and drink both in Japan and in the US. All food and beverages that leave Japan are tested in Japan. Then they are re-tested in the arrival nations. One of my distributors told me that they received food products from Japan and it was tested for radiation at the arrival port. The products were trucked to their warehouse, and an unannounced visit by the FDA produced yet another exam. Basically there is a very heightened sense of awareness out there and both the Japanese and the Americans are erring on the side of caution.

Speaking directly to your question about articles that have been or will be written about selecting safe sake in the future I have not seen one nor do I envision one being written. If a sake is contaminated it will not be on store shelves. For those who are overly concerned I do know that you can purchase radiation detecting equipment. I know of two exporting/importing companies that have purchased their own equipment for this very reason. I will leave you with a final thought. There is more of a chance that you will be exposed to radiation at or near a hospital or by using your cell phone than by purchasing sake from Japan. Will we be able to say this in the future? I believe so.

Please send your sake specific questions to askbeau2 @ truesake.com. (This address is not for general questions and I only review the questions once per month. All other correspondence should use info @ truesake.com.)

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