August 2007

Sake Bummer - The Earthquake in Niigata

Posted by admin in 2007, August, Newsletter, Sake Bummer

sake bummer aug 2007As I have a difficult stopping this ongoing mass of inertia I would like to create another sake section for this Newsletter and I have aptly entitled it "Sake Bummer." This segment will focus on events, happenings, trends, and anything else that hurts my sake industry for whatever reason. This reason can even be generated by Mother Nature herself, which brings us to this month's Sake Bummer.

It is a simple fact - Japan and earthquakes go together like raw fish and rice. The island lays on several major fault lines and their tectonic plates are constantly being juggled like a "spinning dishes on sticks" circus act. Without sounding insensitive - I will forgo the human tragedy aspect of these disasters and focus on the effects on the sake industry in particular.

Over a decade ago there was a massive earthquake in Kobe that reeked havoc on several breweries including one that I visited several years later (Take no Koi). Of course the destruction hurts in all capacities but what "hurt" them the most was the loss of history - the history of the flavor of their sake. In their particular case they lost all of their proprietary yeasts that they had been saving/cultivating for decades. Gone. Not to be replaced - ever! They also lost their koji room, which is also a massive loss in that they lost the flavor component and consistency of the "taste" of that room. A new koji room - with new wood - produces a different flavored koji rice and consequently a different flavored sake. This was and still is to this day a huge loss for this brewery.

Fast forward to Niigata Prefecture several years ago, when another major quake did serious damage to many local kuras. One in particular - the quite famous Asahi Shuzo kura makers of Kubota - lost a ton of sake that had already been made and was waiting for release. For those who love Manju, this quake destroyed roughly 70% of their inventory of this Dai Ginjo and as a result they raised the price on the remaining stock. I had to increase the price of Manju at True Sake until they produced more.

Niigata Sake GroupWell now let's fast forward again to last month when Japan had yet another roller, which epicentered near Niigata once again. At first thought I said to myself "Oh no not again" and I sent out several emails to some of my brewers and importers to get an assessment of damages. One reply I received immediately was that of Ataru Kobayashi of the Niigata Sake Group who said the following:

Hello Beau-san,As you may have heard, the Niigata Prefecture was hard hit by a big earthquake last Monday.I wanted to let you know that none of our eleven "Niigata Sake Selections" suppliers have been damaged and no owner families and no employees have been injured by the earthquake.

I do not expect it will cause any shortage or supply problems.

Most of 98 sake breweries in Niigata are currently operating as usual without having major damages by the earthquake. It is reported, however, that Hara Shuzo (Koshino Homare) in Kashiwazaki City and Yoyogiku in Kakizaki were badly damaged. It appears that a couple of other breweries in the Kashiwazaki area have had minor damages as well. I just pray for their quick recoveries.



Ataru Kobayashi
SENA New York, Inc. *Niigata Sake Selections*

I breathed a sigh of relief for their safety and then I re-read the email. And that is when the name Koshino Homare jumped out at me. Hey, we sell one of their brews! Indeed we do - a seasonal Nama Junmai that is quite popular! So I fired off an email to them to see if all was well. Herewith is their website that shows some of the destruction. Luckily nobody was hurt and most of the damage was to a storage facility. Miwa - True Sake's Manager - also noted that they were trying to salvage the sake that was stored in this part of the brewery and you can see the yellow cases stacked with sake.

The good news is that life goes on. They are rebuilding as we speak and life continues. It will be interesting to see if we get more Koshino Homare next spring. Keep your fingers crossed. I made a call to the importer of this sake and asked if we could purchase the damaged inventory - as in dirty bottles, ripped labels etc to help support their efforts from our end. I have yet to hear back, but if we could move 10 or 15 cases of their sake this would send a brotherly signal to the makers back in Japan. I will keep you posted.

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