True Stories – Second Generation Sake Sellers And Their First Brewery Tour
Last month I took my daughters to Japan for their first trip to the wonderful and unique nation. Why was this trip so long in the making? Well it’s actually my fault. Can you believe it? Yup! For years they've been begging me to take me on one of my many excursions. Please! And I would say sure! We will go in the summer of 2013! 2014! 2015! And it would never materialize. Why? Well – like I said it was my fault! (But I was actually really looking out for them.)
When I go to Japan I focus on sake. I make sake. I learn about sake. I see sake. And I drink a lot of sake. It’s totally sake-centric trips where I am absolutely absorbed with what I am doing and learning. And selfishly in a sense - I like staying focused so that I can take in as much as possible. It’s my chance to focus on nothing but sake, sake, and sake. Oh and I drink a lot of sake too with owners of breweries, sake makers, sake sellers, and sake importers and this is not the best environment for young folks.
But if anybody is deserving of a trip to Japan, it’s those two! Why? Well first and most importantly they put up with their dad who so happened to open up the first dedicated sake store outside of Japan. What does this mean? Well they grew up in the store. In fact they may have helped you with a purchase or two! They have put stickers on a ton of our bags, they stock sake, they used to stamp our receipt pads, and they have been smelling sakes for my reviews for over a decade. More than that they have been great ambassadors for the sake market in the US. I cannot tell you how many times that they have hosted sake brewery owners to our house for fun dinners or going out with sake folks always with sake in tow to “challenge” or taste at western restaurants etc. They’ve been super stars!
It does sound sort of fun right? Well, what about those nights when owners of breweries, importers, and Japanese sake guys came to our house as guests later in the evening when the girls have gone to bed? Do you know how weird it is to wake up to some random Japanese guy sitting at the breakfast table? “Herro!” It has happened more than once, and each time those two girls made the person feel very welcome. I am very proud of them for that. And so that is why when I said, “I promise that we will go in the summer of 2016!” that they held me to it!
My two daughters are very unique in this world as they are second-generation sake sellers (of sorts), who are not Japanese. That’s pretty cool! And guess what? Japan was waiting for them. BUT for this trip I told them, “There will be NO sake, and this trip is for you to do and experience everything that YOU want to do.” And yes, I was super stoked when they both said, “But dad we want to see a sake brewery!” Hell Yes! Woot!
So! What would be the lucky brewery to host second-generation American sake sellers? Of course we are friends with so many brewery owners who said, “Please come to our kura!” But I “selfishly” decided to go to a brewery that I have never been to before so we could kill two birds with one stone. Oddly, I feel as if I am the last person in a very long line to visit Miyasaka Shuzo “Masumi” in Nagano, but I have always wanted to, so that was the call. But life works in mysterious ways and Masumi was actually the second brewery that my daughters visited in Japan.
Despite specifically organizing a trip to Suwa in Nagano prefecture to see Masumi, we were approached by a great family to visit their kura in Fushimi when we first went to Kyoto before Nagano. How could we say no! We couldn't and we didn’t! But this story has backstory to set the stage for the special invitation.
About 7 years ago at a sake tasting held by my peeps at the Sake Samurai in Fushimi Kyoto, I met a female toji, who worked at a very small brewery that was relatively nearby. The tasting was very unique and I ended up tasting and recording over 1,108 sakes in one effort (this remains my personal record). Around sake #785 I saw a woman watching me about to taste a sake. It was, of course, hers, and we started talking about the very unique sake that she actually made with her feet – stamping the steamed rice like grapes for her version of “Kimoto” sake.
Fast forward to a tasting in San Francisco in March 2016 when the daughter of the owner of the brewery who employs the very same “footy” sake maker I was reintroduced to this sake as she was pouring it and several other labels. And while speaking to the daughter of the brewery owner, I showed her a photo of me and their head of brewing (Ms. Maho Otsuka) back in Fushimi 7 years ago with the exact same bottle of Kimoto sake. (Since the Sake Samurai held the event they said that I could take home whatever sake I wanted to at the end of the tasting and of course I took that brew – of course!)
The name of the brewery is Shoutoku Shuzo. And yes! It is very small. But they have a certain passion that radiates, and I am a fan. After the tasting in SF, Hisato Kimura sent me an email and said that since we would be in Kyoto would we like to visit the brewery? Hmmmmm! Sure! Why not! They were very nice to keep in contact and to actually extend such a nice offer, which also included an amazing dinner, which will remain with me until the end of my days as I got to look down a long table, in a massive tatami room overlooking the most famous river in Kyoto, and see my two daughters at their first Japanese “business meeting dinner.” So cool! Especially when they said Kanpai!
It was raining as we taxied up to the Shoutoku Brewery. We were early! The original brewery used to be in Kyoto city very near the river where we had dinner. They moved it and discovered that the brewing water in Fushimi was far superior. In fact that was the first stop on the tour. We were shown the well! I love that. When we first arrived Hisato, her Uncle Mr. Kimura, and their brewer Maho Otsuka greeted us. But only the Maho and Hisato took us around the brewery and Mr. Kimura joined us later for the tasting!
I’ve seen a lot of breweries so I was very interested in watching my daughters and tried to deduce what fascinated them. I think that they were pretty impressed. But I also wanted to show off, so I was asking some pretty technical questions that took the Maho by surprise. Yup! Just couldn't help myself. Had to keep my “Greatest Dad in the World” perception in tact. And then I almost fell down a set of steps when they weren’t looking. Cool! Nevertheless, I was in a sake brewery with my two favorite people alive and I couldn’t have been happier. Yes, the stars did align.
Shoutoku Shuzo is one of the only breweries that I have ever been to that has blue floors throughout their kura. Most breweries use some variation of green, as this is supposed to represent “clean.” So I was fascinated by the blue and asked Maho why she chose it? She said that she simply liked the color. She is cool like that!
I did shatter one misconception at Shoutoku. For years I thought that the Maho made the kimoto foot sake with her feet! (Her bare feet.) But, no she laughed when I said this. She in fact uses boots. And as I was so focused on my girls I forgot to ask to see the special boots. She promised to send me a picture. And she did:
Thank you so much for visiting Shoutoku. I'm glad to have seen you again and be able to talk about sake a lot! Here I send you some photos of growing kimoto. I hope people in San Francisco enjoy our Junmaishu in near future! Thank you and please enjoy Japan travel with pretty daughters! Best Regards, Maho Ohtsuka
I am really into this brewery! I LOVE Shoutoku! So let’s find a home for their sakes here on the west coast. They have a good thing going and I want to make certain that they are paired up with a solid distributor who values their brewing efforts. And I especially want people to taste Maho’s feet! Just kidding! But how cool is that? Foot kimoto sake. Talk about a great story!
As for my girls! They loved visiting the brewery. It was a good opportunity to see what really goes on inside a bottle of sake, and it really completed the circle for them. Now the question is, which brewery will I send them to for a sake making apprenticeship? They need to make sake to round out their education. Any takers?