Sake Bummer November 2007
This month's "Sake Bummer" focuses in on a climate issue that has affected several brewing regions in Japan. (No I will not get into the "Global Warming Hot Potato Game" because most brewers call this an event that happens once in a while and not a trend.)
As I was sitting across the dinner table from one of the more important sake brewery owners in Japan he received a phone call. (They always take calls during brewing season.) Answering his cell, I noticed that a look of frustration crossed his face when he heard the voice on the other end of the line. Several umm's and hmmm's later he hung up and informed me that they had "run out" of brewing rice for this brewing year.
"Run out"? I asked what this meant. And he informed me that in his region of Japan they have had a very hot summer, which kept the brewing rice from growing full and fat. In fact it made the rice the opposite, tight, hard and thin with a very small "shinpaku" (The airy starchy part of the inside of each grain of brewing rice that is very important for the introduction with koji mold). Thus the yields of good brewing rice in this area were lower than usual this year, and the result was that he blew through his supply faster than normal. (I asked about obtaining more rice from elsewhere, and he said that it would be expensive and the quality may be inferior and it would have to be rice that worked with his yeasts. In other words a hard match that was doable, but still a pain.)
I spoke to other owners of kuras in this prefecture and they told me the summer was indeed hot but their rice rebounded because the temperatures came down later in the rice's lifecycle and balanced things out. They did acknowledge the elevated temperatures, but stated that in most instances the rice would take care of itself. Not so for my friend's supply. He would later confide in me that his rice supply has suffered for the past three years, and that this has taken its toll on the quality of his brews. (Something that we have noticed to a degree.) But, as he would later say, this happens every once in a while, and it is up to his toji - head brewer - to work harder to make their "style and quality" of sake.
We wish him and his brewers the best of luck!
For more on this topic please see the "Ask Beau" section at the end of this Newsletter.