Sake Budget - How to Buy Sake Cheaper!
How best can we lower the price of sake? Easy! Make it locally! And that is what Masa Shiroki from Vancouver did when he noticed that imported sake was selling for roughly 30% more than the same bottles in Japan! We don't have it as rough as they do in Canada - but still we have to buy the exact sakes that they sell in Japan for at least 20% higher prices. OUCH! But that is the nature of the beast, with international shipping and our three-tier importer/distributor/retailer tax system.
Masa was an importer - still is - of several breweries' sakes in Japan, but became so discouraged by the pricing that he decided to try his hand at making sake locally. He left Japan - Fukui - at the ripe age of 22 and landed in Vancouver, and has been there since. Masa worked in the banking world and "most everything else," during his 25 years in Vancouver, but finally found his true passion in making sake. He had no technical background in sake production, but his sake heart was pure.
I wrote about Masa's brewery and store last year, and have tasted several of his efforts (yes my good readers hand-carried down samples!) but I had never met the man until he stopped in at True Sake unexpectedly in early September. The sake passionate can quickly spot their fellow sake souls and we had a great conversation about all things rice and water. His business card reads "Artisan Sake Maker." As my memory chip in my brain is becoming more infected I wrote down several of Masa's answers to my probing questions. This year's sake production represents Masa's 14th batch of brew. The first batch was brewed in October 2006. He quickly pointed out that he sells every drop! And yes I get emails lamenting that he sells out of everything. (Ahhh the perfect sake scenario.) Perhaps this is why Masa added a second 1,000L brewing vat this season. As mentioned he had no formal toji guild training and never worked in a brewery, but chooses to say that he is learning with passion.
I asked some basic questions about his raw materials and he was quick to point out that he uses all Japanese-grown rice and Japanese-grown yeast - the water however is his and he said (this surprised me) that he has soft water! (Some argue that soft water is better because you can brew for a longer period). He does not have a brewing team - kurabito, but uses a "volunteer" workforce. Currently he has 5 volunteers. He then said, "Making sake is hard work, my back is killing me, and I need stronger younger people to help me out!" I pledged right there and then that I would love to go and work a tour of duty at his brewery!
Masa said that he prefers to make fuller sakes - larger in scope and feel! He produces lots of nama sake and chooses to make most of his brews genshu (undiluted). Masa uses the age-old method of extracting the fermented sake at different levels of the vat - a sort of natural filtration technique. He also has a stainless steel fune - press.
The artisan sake maker from Granville Island in Vancouver has one female sales person who sits at their "Sake Counter" and sells freshly produced sake by the bottle right at the brewery! As Masa said "she does not know much about sake, so when people ask her questions I tell her to say 'trust me.'" In Masa we trust!