May 2016

“Ask Beau” – “What was your favorite thing you did for the IWC?”

Posted by Beau Timken in 2016, Ask Beau, IWC, May, Newsletter

Well guess what? I asked this question, because the answer is so good! My favorite moment from this year’s IWC in Kobe Japan came when we spent the day going deep into the rice growing region in the heart of Hyogo Prefecture. I’ve heard about this area because it is known for producing some of the best Yamada Nishiki brewing rice in Japan. And I got to plant rice!


I’ve planted rice before in Yamagata Prefecture. But the rice paddy was relatively dry and it was more popping the tall shoots into mud, which was cool but it was missing the flooded field feel. We didn’t miss that in Hyogo! Our rice paddy was under a foot and half of water and the mud was about a foot deep too! We were warned about leeches and we expected the worst! Nothing happened however! Nothing but planting awesome Yamada Nishiki.


The farmers we were with invented a moveable rectangle that acted like a guide for making perfect rows of rice stalks. The shoots we were planting were about a month under aged so they were sort of small – about the size of a small hotel pen. We had bundles of rice shoots in one hand and planted in the other. On the ingenious rectangle boards were little dots that marked the space where you should plant a shoot. So we did! Again and again and again. It was laborious but very satisfying as we were at ground zero for making sake, rather than being on the end of the cycle drinking sake.

So we planted the shoots and then flipped over the rectangle moving backwards. Planted the shoots and moved the rectangle stepping backwards. Over and over. And after a few minutes our line of shoots emerged in a “row” and looked somewhat like a paddy filled with rice stalks. It almost looked professional. Almost. Because what took us about 25 minutes to do rows across a whole paddy took a machine about 60 seconds. Not kidding. It was almost demoralizing. We had bent and planted, bent and planted, and it hurt the back and the row wasn’t that straight. Then the rice-planting machine went flying by in a lower paddy making perfect rows in seconds and we simply quit! Nah! Our job had ended in any case.


The goods news is that it reminded me how laborious making sake was and continues to be. It’s hard work. And that is just a simple part of the sake making process. It always amazes me to think about all the effort that goes into a bottle of sake. The rice planting is no exception. When all was said and done we were told that our paddy would produce 225 isshobin bottles of sake! That was too much for such a large paddy and all of the work!


The best part of the project was that they said that the Yamada Nishiki rice we planted would be used for a special sake that will be given to us next year at the IWC. The mind boggles! Who will make it? How will it taste? It’s so darn exciting, even though I sell the stuff day in and day out!


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