January is continuing just as busy as the month has started, with a few unexpected surprises...
Aoki Brewery Sake Making experience (Monitor Tour)
And the Monitor Tour continued with an early morning visit to Aoki Brewery, with a chance to get an up-and-close look at the steaming and cooling down of the rice as well as their koji room, and yes we also got a chance to help. I did almost forget how hard the work is, especially as they made it look so easy.
The experience was concluded with a tour of the brewery in which we could try the moromi and really ask Chisa-san all the sake-geeky questions we ever wanted.
I am really looking forward for this to becoming part of a tour accessible to foreigners, as it was really great in what we could see and to what level we were involved with.
Farm-to-Table Sake Pairing Lunch (Monitor Tour)
Last but certainly not least, part 3 of the same Monitor Tour was a unique farm-to-table sake pairing lunch. Local dishes are prepared with local ingredients straight from their garden and paired again with Aoki's Gokeiji sake. This was not just great taste-wise but also stunning visually.
The highlight was certainly being able to eat the same rice that the bottle of sake in front of us was made with as well as a dessert tea experience in which we could all create our very own special blend of tea.
If you do feel like a special occasion make sure to check this out as it was really a wonderful experience and the guys who run it were truly amazing. Find out more here.
Visiting Itakura Shuzo in Izumo
This has been on my list for a very long time as my good friend and sake podcast partner in crime Giulia Maglio is working as a seasonal kurabito at Itakura Shuzo, makers on Tenon in Izumo. It is funny when you meet your friends in their work environment and I certainly got to see a new side of Giulia.
We got an amazing tour, including some insights into some of the more experimental sides of brewing, as well as a very special sake tasting inside the brewery. Now I already knew their sake was great, but being able to try them at the brewery and with the people who make it was really something else. It was really such a pleasure to be here.
Visiting Izumo Taisha
Aside from visiting Itakura Shuzo of course we had to stop at the magnificent Izumo Taisha. The shrine is believed to be "the birthplace of Japanese sake", and it is said that the god Ōkuninushi, who is enshrined at the shrine, was the first to brew sake in Japan. As a result, sake has played an important role in the religious and cultural ceremonies at the shrine for centuries.
It is also said that the gods gather at the shrine every October for a month-long holiday for the Kamiari Festival. According to Japanese mythology, the gods from all over Japan gather at Izumo Taisha to attend a divine assembly known as the "Izumo Grand Festival." During this assembly, the gods hold a meeting to discuss important matters and to settle disputes, but also a time when they drink a lot of sake!
Saka Shrine, (also) known as "the Birthplace of Sake"
And then due to an unexpected turn in the weather, we got stuck just a little longer to go on a bit of a crazy adventure to find another "birthplace of sake" the Saka shrine, also called Matsuo Shrine. And yes, it is a bit confusing, as according to the description of Izumo no Kuni Fudoki, it is said to be the birthplace of sake too.
They also hold a Doburoku festival every year on the 13th of October, so if that is not a great reason to come back, then I do not know what is!
Visiting Kokki Brewery in
A brewery with a legend, what a treat to visit Kokki Brewery and not just find out more about the famous story but also drink the sake that it is about.
Legend has it that an eight-headed and eight-tailed dragon “Yamata-no-Orochi” resided in Izumo and terrorized the area and nobody could defeat it until Susanoo-no-Mikoto. Who seemingly made the beast drunk with a Sake called “YASHIORI”.
The brewery decided to take up the challenge of the mythical “YASHIORI” sake and bring it back. They said after many trials and errors, they succeeded to reproduce it, however, they do say it is in their own way.
And I must say I quite loved it, especially the "Yashiori Black". Although quite sweet, it's very delicious...,
A Visit To Amabuki Shuzo in Saga
Another highlight of the month was certainly the visit to Amabuki Shuzo in Saga. For one, Saga has been on my list to visit for a long time, and second, I have been meeting the brewery at different events over the past years and really enjoy their sake.
We were treated to an amazing tour and got the chance to talk to a few people in the brewery including xxx as well as getting a very special quick demonstration in the Koji room by Yutaro Inoue, who we were told is training to be the next Toji (whenever the current Toji decided to retire).
They created a system where the temperature is continuously measured and an alert is sent when it goes too high or too low, which saves them time as they do not have to constantly manually check ⏱️🍶
Our visit concluded with a very special sake tasting and I was especially intrigued by their aged sake and by another product, a botanical, which had some very special ingredients, including Bonito...
Toki Association Aged Sake Press Conference
What an exciting evening! With some of the best breweries in Japan coming together in Tokyo for an extraordinary press conference, and thanks to Kenichi Shimazaki I was able to be there and experience it! ✨
The meeting was organized by the Toki association (aged sake), as they will be releasing two unique blends of aged sake, by master blender Seiichi Koshimizu. One will be a blend of @dewazakura_sake, @nanbubijin_sake, @kokuryu_official, and @nagaisake.inc_official, and the second one a blend of @kidoizumi.shuzou, @shimazakishuzou, and @tsukinokatsura_sake.
They also shared that they have created a unique certification seal using NFT and blockchain technology that is scannable from your mobile phone to prove the authenticity of each bottle.
And to top it all off, there was an age sake and cheese pairing. This is going to be pretty hard to beat…
The Month Ahead
February is possibly one of the busiest periods for brewers and I am looking forward to visiting a few breweries in Hokkaido, including Kamikawa Taisetsu as well as going to Otokoyama's Sake Matsuri in Asahikawa before heading back to Tohoku for some more sake-related travel and meetups. So stay tuned 😉