April 2010

Sake & Miwa - Snapshots from Kanazawa

Posted by Stephen King in 2010, April, Newsletter, Sake & Miwa
This is the newest addition to the True Sake Newsletter! Did you know the word "Miwa" was an ancient name for sake? You do now! So please enjoy "Sake Thoughts" from Miwa the manager and new Partner of True Sake.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to visit Mr. Imura Shinjiro in the city of Kanazawa, Japan. Imura-san is a second generation organic farmer who is dedicated to creating organic and sustainable farming methods that can be handed down to future generations. The family farm grows organic rice, soybeans, wheat, barley and vegetables; and his company called Kanazawa Daichi 10 produces organic food products using these crops. His operation is known to be one of the biggest in Japan. www.k-daichi.com

During this trip I learned a lot about the people, the sake, and the land, all of which touched my heart. Unfortunately, my camera broke on me the first day, and I have almost no pictures to show. So, I decided to offer some "conceptual" snapshots of my adventure.


Working with a local sake brewery, Nakamura Shuzo (www.nakamura-shuzou.co.jp), Imura-san's latest endeavor has been to create organic sake called Akira, named after his father. Akira is Junma-shu (sake), brewed with certified organic rice called "Mitsuhikari". This rice is an eating rice variety (not sake rice) created from Koshihikari and Hitomebore varieties. The sake has a rich grain and earthy tones and drinks well close to room temperature. Every sip of this sake conjures up the spirits of the farmers and the taste of rice they grow. The sake is yet to be exported, but I hope the sake debuts in the U.S. in near future.


Imura-san was making tofu when I and two other guests (Timothy Sullivan of Urban Sake, and Eli Forbyn from Rainbow Grocery) arrived at Kanazawa Daichi. We had the opportunity taste fresh tofu along with three different types of soy sauce made from his organic soybeans and wheat. In addition to tofu, the company also makes miso. As we hung out and chatted about miso, Imura-san brought two different types of white and yellow koji (mold) used in making their miso.

Koji, as you now, is a key agent in sake making as well. I've seen koji mold itself and tasted koji rice (rice propagated with the mold), but I have never tasted the mold itself! This was a perfect chance. As I approached an opened bag of white koji, I asked, "Do you mind if I taste it?" Imura-san replied with his warm smile, "Dozo."

I poured a small amount of the koji mold onto my palm and examined the texture. It resembled the look of kosher salt rather than the fine, dust-like particles that I was familiar with. I then licked it and chewed. "Crunch, crunch" was the subtle sound of my teeth crushing koji echoing in my head. The taste reminded me of some dry herbs with a hint of citrus. I liked it. (I thought this koji, served on top of ice cream, like crushed nuts or coco-nibs, might be good.)


After tasting the tofu (and koji), we sat around a table in a room next to the tofu making area. I brought a few things from California as "omiage" (gifts). One of them was organic rice from Sacramento. I thought it would be interesting for Imura-san to "contrast and compare", so to speak. I, then, learn that he is a licensed rice certification officer. He is trained to examine and grade rice. (These things happen for a reason.) He got up and brought a round black tray and another one in white. He showed us how to spot inferior grains. If you have three pieces of grain with brown spots per given amount, the rice will not be qualified as top grade, etc. Well, his rice was so much more beautiful than the one I brought. I learned a good rice lesson.


On the second day, we visited Nakamura Shuzo (sake brewery). Although brewing for this year had ended, we had a tour of the facility. As we stood next to a Yabuta-style sake pressing machine, Eli asked "What do you do with the leftovers from the pressing?" The rice solid left over after clear sake has been pressed is called "kasu", which many of you have had or know about. Sake kasu is usually sold to other businesses that utilize or sell it for a variety of uses. What I did not know was that some kasu is put back into a small tank and undergoes a second fermentation. After 4 months of aging, the kasu liquefies and becomes a perfect ingredient for pickle makers. There is no waste in sake making, and the power of fermentation never ends!


After we left the brewery, we headed to a local green grocery for lunch. The first floor sold many natural, organic products and the second floor had a cute little kitchen serving homemade vegetarian lunches. As we were roaming around the store, Tim spotted some sake in a small fridge in a corner of the store. I looked to see what it was. To my surprise it was the funkiest sake I had ever tasted in my life, and I had not seen it for 4 years. This sake comes from a brewery in Chiba made with Bodai-moto (starter). The Bodai method was developed by monks at Bodaisen Shoraku Temple in Nara about 600 years ago. It starts with uncooked rice instead of steamed rice. (For more on Bodai- moto in Japanese: www.hanatomoe.com/story/bodaimoto_story.html.)

That evening, our last dinner was at a cozy vegetarian restaurant. On their sake menu was the same bodai-moto sake. "Destiny," I thought and ordered it for everyone to try. As I said before, the sake is "funky" in an unexplainable way. It tastes sour, sweet, raw, and yeasty, and it feels bubbly. I got the impression the only ones at the dinner who did not mind the flavor were I and Imura-san. He kept saying, "It tastes very much like my doboroku!", his home-made brew. He ended up bringing back this un-finished bottle of sake to his father, Akira- san.


Ishikawa Prefecture is known for Noto toji guild (a sort of brewmaster trade union), and sake there is brewed in their tradition. For a list of breweries in Ishikawa, check here. If you have any questions, feel free to visit me at the store. I had never been to Kanazawa before this trip, but I found the people to be warm and the city to be very welcoming and familiar. I will definitely go back.

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