June 2011

Sake Soldiers - A Canadian Brewing Japanese Sake In Norway - Huh?

Posted by Beau Timken in 2011, June, Newsletter
Hah! This sake game is so funny sometimes. I have often written about the evolution of the sake empire, from small indie brewers in Canada and Minnesota to large-scale producers from Japan opening up operations in Brazil and Australia. We-they-are all connected by the liquid thread called nihonshu. All of their (our) paths are interconnected on some level via the same passion for sake. It's been wonderful watching these golden paths venture out in extremely different directions. And I greatly enjoy the humility of the "smaller" brewers who know first hand how difficult making excellent sake is in the grand scheme of the fermentation field.

And I get really geeked when I play a small part in this market maturation.

Exhibit A: Brock Bennet

As Brock is about to mention I met him at the Mukune International Sake Brewing Program, which I co-created with a wonderful light in the sake world, and my brother in all things rice and water, Mr. Yasutaka Daimon from Daimon Shuzu brewery in Osaka Prefecture. Our joint passion for sake, and his little bit of insanity created a brewing program for enthusiasts and sake freaks to allow them the brewer's perspective of hands-on sake making. Two of our hand selected "sake dudes" were in the inaugural class. Brock was there and so too was Kjetil Jikiun, a true sake madman who happens to be an award winning beer maker by trade-he also flies commercial airliners (Helloooo!) in Norway.

If you read the True Sake Newsletter then you know that Kjetil has been morphing into a sake brewing "toji" a title he feels a little uncomfortable wearing. A toji is the name of a master brewer, who has been trained to a certain degree by regional sake guilds or by former head brewers for a "On the job" education process. I like calling Kjetil toji, because in a sense he was born to be one.

Last March Kjetil came to True Sake for a tasting of his entire line- up of sakes. And let's be frank, he is a Yamahai dude and makes his sakes that way! I was extremely stoked that he brought his sakes, as he had been sending me samples of initial exploratory batches - test batches that came to me in plastic water bottles Ha! - and was so pleased to taste his evolution of goodness.

By the way this is a plug calling out to all of you who haven't been to one of our tastings as of yet. This is how we billed Kjetil's event:

March 22nd - The First Ever Norwegian Sake Tasting at True Sake

Come celebrate the Internationality of sake as Norway's top beer maker, Kjetil Jikiun, launches his brand new line of sakes. Taste 6 different Yamahai sakes that are constructed with several different rice varietals and yeasts. As most breweries are well over 300-400 years old, we never had the chance to taste their first efforts, but on March 22nd you will get that chance to grow up with a brewery of note.

When: Tuesday, March 22nd
Time: 4-7pm
Where: True Sake
How Much: $1
NOTE: This tasting may get quite crowded, so we would like to ask your help in getting in and getting out of the store in an effective manner that gives everybody a chance to taste and speak to Kjetil briefly.

Here are the sakes that Kjetil will be pouring in his words.
  1. Junmai: pasteurized sake made with Ginpu and yeast 701
  2. House Yeast: unpasteurized sake made with naturally occurring yeast
  3. Nigori
  4. Yamahai MotoshiboriL: sake made from a full size moto.
  5. Nama genshu. Sake made with Ginpu and yeast 701
  6. YK70. Sake using Yamada Nishiki rice and yeast No 9.
Should be an amazing evening of exploration and fun!


And it was! Kjetil was on fire speaking to and pouring his very well packaged sakes. The tasters had a great time exploring his use of the Yamahai brewing technique with big acidity and impact plays. The nigori with its especially large grains of rice was a first for many folks. It was quite a mouth festival and the immense "toji" did his best to introduce his style of sake making to crowd of some pretty educated sake drinkers. In a word this was one of the most memorable sake tastings that True Sake has ever laid down.

Fast forward to now! And working with Kjetil is Brock Bennet a true sake friend. I am over the moon that these two daring guys are making sake together a world away. But this piece is not about Kjetil; it's about Brock. So herewith is Brock's story, which is about as international as a sake story can get.

Canadian Kurabito in Norway

I am a kurabito at a Sake Brewery in Norway. I've been working at the Nøgne Ø Sake Brewery since August 2010 and I still have to pinch myself once in a while to make sure it's not a dream. Kjetil Jikiun, the Head Brewer, has incorporated a Sake Microbrewery to function side by side in the same facility as the already very successful Beer Brewery. Nøgne Ø is in fact the first Sake Brewery in Europe!

It's been a great learning experience for me. Kjetil is a real traditionalist when it comes to Sake brewing so we use the older Yamahai method for our Motos (the starter or Mother, if you will, of a Sake batch). It is a much more labor intensive and demanding process but leads to more complex and unique flavours in the final product. Other noteworthy brewing choices are the use of Ginpu rice from Hokkaido, a naturally occurring yeast for one of the products (House Yeast), and another product made entirely from the Yamahai moto.

I first met Kjetil in February 2009 when we were both interns at the very first Mukune International Sake Brewing Program at the Daimon Brewery in Osaka Prefecture. Yasutaka Daimon and Beau, yes True Sake Beau, two Sake visionaries and international promoters of all things Sake had come up with the epic concept of an internship at a working Kura. It set my life on a new course. The internship opened up a whole world of inspiration and knowledge and I was able to work with and meet real Sake professionals like Beau and Daimon-san, the Toji and the owner of the Daimon Brewery.

My initiation into Sake brewing evolved from home brewing beer in Vancouver, Canada. Back in 2003 I decided to try home brewing Sake as a challenge and to use up a large sack of Thai rice that had been kicking around the house for too long. I got hooked, seriously hooked. Thankfully my brewing skills improved and eventually I was able to source proper Sake rice and Koji and made half decent brews. I labored away in the wilderness with my Sake brewing for years until one magical day when I heard about the Mukune Internship. After the internship and a Sake related vacation in Japan I returned to Canada to resume my life there. However it seemed that greater forces were at work. In short order I changed my career path and started working for Masa Shiroki, the Artisan Sakemaker on Granville Island, in Vancouver. I continued to stay in touch with Daimon-san and Kjetil who both provided encouragement and technical advice in my Sake brewing. Kjetil must have gotten tired answering all the questions I kept asking him about Sake brewing because the next thing I knew he offered me the opportunity to come and work for him in Norway as a kurabito. And of course I jumped at the offer!

Since March of 2011, I have been training to brew beer at Nøgne Ø as well. It's fascinating to work in both disciplines and see the common threads and then contrast the huge differences. In many respects Sake and Beer Brewing are like chalk and cheese; the industriousness of Sake Brewing versus the industrial Beer Brewing. Sake is hands on rice; washing, gently working apart freshly steamed grains, hours and hours of laboriousness coaxing koji and yeast into a harmonious synergy. Beer is pumps, piping and valves moving ingredients en masse. Of course the lines blur and cross and in the end they are both promoting enzymatic reactions to convert starch to sugar to alcohol. And most importantly the precise attention to detail and love and passion of the brewer in both cases leads to a beautiful, flavorful brew.

Our Sake brewing at Nøgne Ø is continuing to evolve and improve. We have received a new shipment of Ginpu rice from Hokkaido and because we have a refrigerated brewing room we are able to make Sake all year round. The future is bright for Kjetil's bold dream!

(my email address brock @ nogne-o.no and our website nogne-o.com which has links to a Sake blog etc.)


Thanks Brock! I must admit that I am glad you got the gig for the exact same reason that you think Kjetil gave you the job in the first place. Keep up the great work and we will keep inquiring about a good importer for your wares here in the US.

BUT wait!! The story is not over!

Please see the next section and you can taste these very unique and wonderful Norwegian sakes while helping Japan's relief efforts.

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