Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Toji (Chief Sake Brewer)
We’ll introduce you to 2 people who are involved in “sake”. One is a female toji (杜氏, Chief Sake Brewer), another is a “Sake Samurai” from Australia. First of all, let us share the stories of Maho Otsuka, a chief sake brewer of a 370 year-old brewery called “Shotoku Shuzo (招德酒造)”.
Otsuka has been working at the brewery in Fushimi, a sake brewery town in Kyoto, as a toji since 2005. In March 2015, she worked for “Japan Brand Public Diplomacy Program” as a sake expert. The program was implemented by MOFA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, to promote a variety of distinct charms of Japan. She held a seminar on climate, culture and brewing technology of sake in Australia.
Then, an Australian man who was impressed with her skills as a brewer organized a meeting with Otsuka whilst she was visiting Melbourne, Australia. They soon discovered they shared a similar “sake philosophy” and subsequently a plan was made to experience making sake firsthand at the brewery in Kyoto. The internship started in December 2015 for three months.
Andre Bishop, a renown sake expert in Australia, who has been educating Australians about sake for over 16 years is also an owner of Japanese restaurants and bars in Melbourne. For his service to sake he was awarded the title of “Sake Samurai” from Japan Sake Brewers Association Junior Council in 2013.
We met them in Kyoto and heard their opinions on “Promoting sake around the world”.
*Interview at Shotoku Shuzo (Fushimi-ku, Kyoto)
*Interview with Andre Bishop: Click!
What should a brewer tell people about?
I’m honored to have been chosen as a sake expert for “Japan Brand Public Diplomacy Program”. I didn’t expect that at all, so I thought, “Perhaps they confused me with someone else.” Actually there are some people who promote sake overseas. Also kuramoto (蔵元), owner of sake brewery, usually works for promotions. So I have never imagined that I would be like a PR person.
I was the least sure of my English skills (*Actually her language skills are high enough to give Andre guidance in sake brewery). But I thought an interpreter would help me at my sake seminar in Australia so I said OK to MOFA.
However it takes 2 times longer than usual if I give a lecture in Japanese and someone interprets it into English. So I decided to do that in English and prepared some English documents by myself. I thought, “I will tell people about the charms of sake from a brewer’s point of view”.
I believe my thought got to Andre’s heart and he came all the way to Kyoto from Australia. We focus on sake drunk during the meal, which means dishes taste much better with our sake. He also loves our concept. I felt happy to hear that.
Physical strength and sensibility
I was familiar with other alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer, but my favorite is sake. I was always attracted by its long and rich history. So to me, sake is a special beverage.
Sake brewery has been mechanized, but it still requires heavy lifting. But it’s OK for me because I was a judoist when I was in high school so I was confident in my physical strength. I didn’t hesitate to enter the brewery at all.
Recently, breweries value data as well as other industries and the systems that enable you to get data easily have been developed. But I think the sake flavor must be determined with brewers’ sensibility. Of course data analysis enables stable fermentation, but flavor is determined with our sensibility eventually. That’s the fun of brewing sake.
Things that are necessary for overseas market development
Of course we’ll try to develop our market in Australia. But our bottleneck is labeling. We put Japanese labels on our products that are distributed and sold in Japan. If we distribute and sell our products in Australia, labels should be written in English.
We can use machines for labeling if we can import substantial amount of bottles. If we import small batches, we put labels on bottles by hand. But it’s difficult for us to put explanations about the differences in sake beverages on a small label, so I’d like Andre to tell people about each type of sake.
We have no brewing during the summer so I design some bottles. But I think labeling is much more important than bottle designing for overseas market development.
Very simple, but very deep – it’s sake
Today (Dec 22, 2015) a week has passed since the Andre’s sake work experience started. But I feel as if we’ve worked together for a long time. He learns tasks very fast and asks us a lot of questions so he gets used to the brewery work really fast. I feel his passion about learning about sake.
I’d like him not only to learn but also to give us ideas. Actually it’s impossible for him to make his own sake during the 3-month work experience, but he can work for the each process of sake brewing then sake will be made.
We’ll start making kimoto (生酛, an original sake in which lactic acid is not added) and daiginjo (大吟醸, made with even more highly polished rice from which at least 50% of the outer layer of the grain has been removed). Those are very troublesome tasks. If Andre joins them, he can say, “I made them!” eventually.
The process of sake brewery is to steam rice, make koji rice (米麹), ferment by mixing steamed rice and koji rice – that’s it. Very simple. But we usually make many different types of sake such as Junmai-shu (純米酒), Junmai-ginjo (純米吟醸), Junmai-daiginjo (純米大吟醸), in one season, so we have to change or contrive ways to brew. I’d like him to learn not only the process of brewing, but also the recipe of each sake. For example, you have to change the way to wash grains of rice depending on the percentage of rice polishing. I’d like him to experience those kinds of things as well.
I’ll be really happy if he loves our sake much more after the 3-month work experience and I’d like him to tell Australians not only about the charms of sake that we make and sake itself, but also its story – there are a lot of processes and brewery workers get caught up on the details at each process.
What is sake to you?
Something that connects me with our forefathers.
They have developed the sake making technology gradually for a long time. They tried various measures through a trial and error process. Then we carry on the torch, which means we are connected with those people, who made sake 200 or 300 years ago, by a chain so I feel very satisfied when I do brewery work.
What we have to do is to enhance the technology we’ve inherited from our forerunners and hand it down to the next generation. We must not make it obsolete.
Click here to read the interview article of Andre Bishop!