News

Designing Your Own Sake with Nathaniel Hoy

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This week Chris Hughes continues our discussion of contract brewing sake with a conversation with Nathaniel Hoy. We started this series with Episode-117: A Sake of Your Own: Contract Brewing Sake: in which Sebastien Lemoine, Chris and Justin Potts shared their opinions and expertise on the trend of sake companies brewing custom sakes for clients. We recommend you listen to that episode before listening to Chris’s interview with Nathaniel.

Nathaniel describes himself as just a sake enthusiast, but he is much more than that. Aside from collecting professional sake certifications, Nate worked at Kintora Shuzo in Nagoya during the Pandemic. He still spends much of his time promoting the brewery. He is also the creator of “En” a custom-brewed sake that he made with Sekiya Brewery Ginjo Koubou. The way he went about deciding what kind of sake to make left even Chris rather surprised.

In this episode we learn more about the process of custom ordering sake. We also learn about Nate’s special relationship with Sekiya Brewery, and how that enabled him to make a fully unique sake.

If you want to know what “En” tastes like and are in Japan, you can reach out to Nate via his Instagram. His sake may also start being sold in some sake shops, as he is making more of it every year!

Of course and as always, if you have questions or comments please do share them with us at questions@sakeonair.com or head over to our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook we would love to hear from you! We’ll be back very soon with plenty more Sake On Air.

Until then, kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Craft Sake Week with Rebekah Wilson Lye

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In this week’s episode of Sake On Air Sebastien Lemoin and Cindy Bissig are talking about the World’s largest sake event, which just so happens to be a project that one of our other regular hosts; Rebekah Wilson Lye is deeply involved in. We are of course talking about Craft Sake Week in Tokyo!

Japan’s most prominent sake event, which was founded by no other than Hidetoshi Nakata in 2016 is not it its 8th installment and is promising to top everything we have seen before. With even more “extra time”, this year CSW will be over the duration of 12 days (kicking off on the 18th of April and finishing on the 29th of April 2024), showcasing 120 breweries from all around Japan bringing some of the best brews available including sake we do not often see at similar events. Accompanied by some of the best food Tokyo has to offer in a stunning space featuring Taichi Kuma’s fabulous art installations, as well as the chance to experience an electrifying lineup of DJs and performers that will elevate your evening with unforgettable entertainment.

But aside from the obvious, CSW is so much more and in this episode we are digging a little deeper than just mentioning the breweries or how to navigate it. We were lucky to have Rebekah share with us not just her extensive knowledge of the sake world per se, but also the trends she has been witnessing over almost a decade of CSW, how the industry evolved and how that is reflected in this very special festival.

We hope that this will help you enjoy this special event and of course if you are having questions or comments please do share them with us at questions@sakeonair.com or head over to our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook we would love to hear from you!


We’ll be back very soon with plenty more Sake On Air.

Until then, kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Preserving the Flavors of Sake with Coravin & Toku

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During the recording of Episode 115 “Should sake be promoted like wine?”, Sarah Stewart mentioned a research project between some members of the British Sake Association, and Coravin, the US firm selling a device aimed at preserving the flavors of wine in the bottle after indulging oneself with one glass or two. Intrigued, Sebastien Lemoine reached out to Grace Hunt, Chief Operating Officer at Toku Sake, a premium Junmai Daiginjo produced in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, for the UK market, as well Greg Lambrecht, inventor of Coravin and Chairman of the company, based in Boston.

You will hear about Coravin’s history and how the device works, in general and for sake (in effect the results of the research project launched by Toku Sake), as well as how Coravin is helping Toku Sake to open new doors at bars and restaurants. 

If you ‘d like to share what devices you are using to preserve the flavors of your favorite drink after opening a bottle, you can do so on InstagramX, or Facebook, and you can reach us all directly with your thoughts or questions at questions@sakeonair.com.

There’s more Sake On Air headed your way again in just a couple of weeks.

Until then, kampai!

Sake on Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew.

A Sake of Your Own: Contract Brewing Sake

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This week Justin Potts, Chris Hughes, and Sebastien Lemoine discuss the growing trend of sake companies making special sakes for clients and/or partners. The conversations covers the benefits to both established breweries and entrepreneurs trying out their ideas before having to create their own brewery. Their conversation also goes into the differences between partnership sakes, private brand sake, and OEM sake.

Check out Episode 41 on Link 8888 for more insight into the world of sake collaboration projects. If you have some of your own sake (or shochu) education experiences that you’d like to share with us here at Sake On Air, you can do so on Instagram, X, or Facebook, and you can reach us all directly with your thoughts or questions at questions@sakeonair.com.

There’s more Sake On Air headed your way again in just a couple of weeks.

Until then, kampai!

Sake on Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew.

Nowhere to Run: Sake Brewing and Climate Change

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Japan and its sake breweries are no strangers to natural disaster. One extreme example is the tight cluster of breweries around the famed “Miyamizu” hard water source in the historical sake brewing area of Nada (modern-day Kobe), which were destroyed by the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. Another is the breweries scattered along the east coast of Tohoku that were hit either directly by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, or indirectly through lost sales caused by the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. And of course the dozen sake breweries on the Noto Peninsula, home of the Noto Toji guild, which were devastated by a violent quake on New Year’s Day 2024. Earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan, but now a complex and potentially avoidable threat is also growing: climate change.

Abnormal weather caused by global warming is affecting sake breweries in ways both big and small. Devastating floods damaged breweries in Hiroshima in 2018 and 2021, in Saga in 2019, and in Akita in August of 2023. One brewery was unfortunate enough to have been flooded twice in the space of only four years: Fujii Shuzo in Takehara City, Hiroshima were hit by extreme rain in July 2018, leaving them unable to ship any of their sake and forcing them to dispose of over 4,000 bottles of their signature Ryusei label. The damage was so bad that fifth generation owner Yoshifumi Fujii worried it would also delay their usual October start to the brewing year. Extreme weather once again came back to haunt them in July 2021 when the brewery, their adjacent shop, and restaurant were all flooded once again when an area-wide evacuation alert was issued after six hours of the heaviest rainfall the town had ever seen. The downpour continued for another six hours and a nearby irrigation canal overflowed from the sheer amount of rainwater cascading down from the nearby mountains, leaving the ground floor of the brewery submerged in up to 90 cm (nearly 3 ft.) of floodwater. The flooding was even worse than in 2018, leaving the area with no water supply, roads made impassable due to subsidence, and damage to the town’s historical district. Even worse, although Fujii Shuzo were actively moving their stock to an external warehouse after the previous floods, they had large quantities of sake on site due to slow sales during the pandemic and were forced to dispose of another 10,000 bottles, as well as a range of products stored at their retail outlet.

Even more exposed to the weather is the agriculture industry; specifically rice farmers. Sake translator and writer Jim Rion, author of Discovering Yamaguchi Sake, is well aware of the challenges facing his local sake rice farmers. He notes that last year’s harvest was delayed due to typhoons, with high winds causing extensive damage in the fields. Ever-resourceful, the farming community has developed methods of salvaging the plants: a skillfully maneuvered combine can push the fallen stalks upright, allowing the rice to be harvested. But this takes far longer than harvesting an undamaged field, and is only possible if the heads of the rice plants have not made contact with the ground. On top of that, rice from damaged plants has to be handled separately to ensure the main harvest is not contaminated. Heavy rains delayed planting in Yamaguchi by about two weeks this year, which not only pushes the harvest date further into typhoon season but also leaves the young rice plants vulnerable to pests that have already developed. Jim fears that the same pattern will repeat again, impacting yields of sake rice and leading to predictable knock-on effects for brewing.

The effects of climate change are not limited to the warmer summer months either. Iwamura Jozo Brewery is cradled in the foothills of southern Gifu Prefecture, an area known for its previously mild climate and geological stability (there was even a brief campaign to relocate some central government functions to the area as it has a lower risk of catastrophic earthquakes than Tokyo). Set on the winding road approaching the remains of one of Japan’s finest mountain castles, the old brewery buildings merge perfectly with the rest of the preserved old town as if frozen in time since the Edo Period. But when I visited in November 2022, all was not well in these idyllic surroundings. Brewery owner Mitsuteru Watarai stepped quickly around three sake brewers cooling rice to go into the main ferment as he showed me around, and invited me to climb up to look inside one of the tanks. I did, and immediately glanced back at him in confusion. He jumped up to see what I was seeing and grimaced before explaining that they had added some of the brewing water in the form of ice cubes, as it was hotter than he would like for brewing even in November. Rising temperatures in the area also meant he could no longer secure enough of his favorite sake rice, Hidahomare, and was waiting for Gifu Prefecture to develop a new variant that grows better in higher summer temperatures.

Another Gifu Prefecture brewery has already taken more extreme measures to deal with the threat of global warming. Michizakura Shuzo was founded in 1877 in Nakatsugawa, about 25 km north-east of Iwamura towards the border with Nagano Prefecture. Faced with a crisis in the form of replacing Meiji Era facilities on top of the challenges of making sake in warmer weather, they accepted an offer in 2020 to start brewing sake in the town of Higashikawa in Hokkaido, nearly 1,500 km to the north. The average temperature in Nakatsugawa was 14.0°C, whereas in Higashikawa it was just 7.4°C. Sixth-generation owner Koji Yamada speaks clearly of the advantages: colder weather in winter means steamed rice cools faster, the brewery spends less time and power on cooling, the risk of contamination is lower and fermentation is easier to control. Lower temperatures also mean he can extend his brewing period by three months, from the previous October–March in Gifu to September–May in Hokkaido, so he can relax his brewing schedule and give the brewing team ample time off. It’s not only a more sustainable process, but also helps him retain his staff.

Yamada hopes the move will keep the brewery going for the next 100 years, but also sounds a note of caution: there is nowhere to run from climate change. The mere fact that rice can now be grown easily in Hokkaido is proof that temperatures are increasing there as well. He expects that the next generation to run the brewery will be alright, but beyond that the future is still in question.

Links

References

Photo Credit

<ahref=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2018_Western_Japan_flood_damage_Hiroshima_prefecture_P7096757_(28427786177).jpg”>khws4v1 from Hiroshima, Japan</a>, <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0″>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons

Rebroadcast: Matured Sake, Aged Sake

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This week we’re digging a classic from out of the cellar – our episode exploring the absolute magic of sake that’s been crafted to stand the test of time.

While still a relatively niche category within sake, more and more producers are leaning into clearly communicating the amount of time – and in what form – their sake spends maturing prior to release, and the wider beverage-loving community is finally taking notice.

From a production standpoint, there are tricks of the trade that allow for all variety of flavor and style creation. The one quality that really can’t be replicated, however, is the unique and special character born only through the passage of time.

We welcome you to take a step back in time with us this week, joining your hosts Marie Nagata, Sebastien Lemoine, and Justin Potts, revisiting this episode originally released back in the spring of 2021. If you’re looking to further explore the world of aged sake, I encourage you to check out the special session we hosted on the topic for the Sake Future Summit back in 2020, as well.

Thanks for tuning in this week. We’ll be back with more Sake On Air for you very soon.


Despite a rich and storied history spanning millennia, in certain terms, sake has yet to unequivocally prove its ability to stand the test of time.

If you’re in some way associated with the sale or service of sake, likely one of the most common questions you get is, “How long can I keep my sake before it starts to go bad?” or, “How long does sake stay good after it’s opened?” As a buyer, these are both logical and very important questions. As an industry, having clear and concise answers to those questions is equally important. In order to keep things simple, as well as to help assure an overwhelmingly positive experience for as many sake drinkers as possible, the general message adopted suggests that sake should be consumed within 6-12 months from purchase, refrigerated both prior to and after opening, and then consumed within several days to a week once it’s been opened. This is sound advice that’s relevant to a great majority of the sake being produced and sold both domestically and internationally.

There is, however, a paradigm that exists entirely outside of the above logic; where a greater element of time isn’t only a factor, but a necessity.

Welcome to the world of matured and aged sake.

Often referred to as koshu – literally “old sake” – often translated as “aged sake”, or jukuseishu, commonly translated as “matured sake”, bottles of sake referencing these qualities were crafted taking time into account. That amount of time can be anywhere from a few years to a few decades depending on the style of sake and the intent of the brewer, and in many cases the results are astounding.

Yet despite plenty of beautiful examples of aged or matured sake on the market and countless historical texts singing the praises of what time can do to a bottle of sake, a rather perfect storm of circumstances coalesced to nearly erase aged sake culture, production, and consumer appreciation from the collective understanding of sake for about a century.

Thankfully, a relatively small, but thoughtful, proactive and coordinated effort from a growing number of sake makers and sellers has been hard at work seeking to rebuild and redefine what time can mean (and cost) when factored into a bottle of sake. Whether it be the collective rebranding efforts of the Toki Sake Association, the Muni line from Kokuryu used in the first ever sake industry auction in 2018, the dedication to long-term aging in ceramic storage vessels by Tsuki no Katsura, or a handful of specialty bars dedicated to the unique and treasured style, awareness surrounding the magic that time can work on a bottle of the right kind of sake is slowly building.

This week, Sebastien LemoineMarie Nagata and Justin Potts gather to discuss the historical and modern context of matured and aged sake, the formal definitions (or lack thereof) in place, the typical qualities that time imparts on a bottle of sake, what maturing sake could mean from a service standpoint, and more.

For those of you that missed our special interview on the topic for Sake Future Summit 2020, Aged Sake and the Test of Time, that’s a great primer (or follow-up) to this episode. Prior to this episode Sebastien actually sat down with Nobuhiro Ueno, while Justin paid a visit to Tokubee Masuda of Tsuki no Katsura, to help us get a bit more insight into this fascinating sake category. Those interviews will see the light of day in some form a bit further down the road, but for now, we hope you’ll pour yourself a glass of sake and settle in with us for an exploration into the one thing that proves nearly impossible to attach a price tag to no matter what the context: time.

Thanks for once again tuning in to Sake On Air. You can help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or on any of your favorite services that deliver you all of your podcasting needs. Contact us at questions@sakeonair.staba.jp with any thoughts or feelings, or go ahead and follow us on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. Everything from Sake Future Summit 2020, as well as a number of other recordings, are all archived over on our YouTube channel, as well.

We’ll get into how time factors into the world of shochu and awamori in another show another day. For this week, give your sake a bit of quality time.

Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.
Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Studying Sake with Michael Tremblay

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It feels like only the very recent past when opportunities for more formal sake education and certifications were few and far between, and when they were available, they were often infrequent and hosted in only a handful of territories, which made learning from knowledgeable industry insiders and professionals relatively prohibitive for most of the world’s growing number of sake-curious. Thankfully offerings from formalized organizations and institutions expanded, and a handful of ambitious sake pioneers helped increase both the frequency and quality of these much-needed places and spaces.

This week’s guest, however, not only positioned himself on the front lines of the sake education movement as a certified instructor of the WSET sake curriculum while raising the bar for service night-in and night-out as the Beverage Director of Ki Modern Japanese + Bar in Toronto, he also established the world’s first core curriculum and certification focusing on the regional qualities of Japanese Sake with the Sake Scholar Course. His extensive travel throughout Japan and relentless dedication to furthering the depth of knowledge available to sake professionals led to him being anointed a Sake Samurai in 2018. In 2022 he (literally) wrote the book on sake, together with Nancy Matsumoto, providing the world with the James Beard Foundation Award-winning (and fantastic), Exploring Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth.

This week we’re thrilled to welcome one of the world’s leading sake educators, Michael Tremblay, as he joins Justin Potts to discuss the nature of teaching, studying, learning, and growing together with the ever-expanding sake-inspired community around the world.

If you’d like to follow along with Michael’s tireless endeavors you can catch him @mtrsake or @sakescholarcourse. If you have some of your own sake (or shochu) education experiences that you’d like to share with us here at Sake On Air, you can do so on Instagram, X, or Facebook, and you can reach us all directly with your thoughts or questions at questions@sakeonair.com.

Thanks so much for raising an ochoko with us this week. There’s more Sake On Air headed your way again in just a couple of weeks.

Until then, kampai!

Sake on Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew.

Rebroadcast: Shochu 101

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We’re getting back to basics this week in the world of shochu with one of our most popular shows from our back catalog: Shochu 101. Released back in December of 2018, Mr. Shochu himself, Christopher Pellegrini, walks us through the fundamentals that should help anyone new to the category better understand and enjoy Japan’s incredible indigenous spirit.

As to why we selected this particular episode to dig out of the archives; we’ve got a feeling that shochu’s time is close-at-hand. This past year has felt like a significant shift for shochu, with California following up New York in amending laws related to the labelling and sales of Japanese Shochu, bartenders and mixologists further gravitating toward the exceptional koji-powered spirit, and maybe more than anything, producers in Japan really getting on board with a new shift in mindset surrounding the communication and marketing of their product, resulting in the types of industry connections and communication that shochu (and sake) have long missed out on – until now.

So sit back, mix yourself a shochu cocktail (or a glass of oyuwari) and time travel a bit with the Sake On Air crew into the wonderful world of shochu.

We’ve got more sake and shochu-inspired goodness headed your way again in just a couple of weeks. Until then, kampai!


It was time to lay the groundwork for our up-and-coming explorations into the worlds of shochu and awamori. Welcome to Shochu 101 – class is in session.

After picking the brains of a few bartending alchemists on the subject, we decided to put the Shochu Pro himself, Mr. Christopher Pellegrini, in the hotseat for 60 minutes in order to break down the fundamentals of both shochu and awamori. For those unacquainted the Japan’s indigenous distillates, this is a great place to start. Hopefully by the end we’ll have your interest piqued enough to inspire a shochu-filled holiday to come!

What (can) shochu and awamori be made from? What are the 4 geographical indications for shochu and awamori and why? Is the word “honkaku” important? How did California pave the way for shochu’s market penetration in the U.S. while simultaneously setting communication around the beverage back a generation (or more)?

A HUGE thanks to our listeners for all of your support in 2018. You are what make this all worthwhile and inspire us to do better each and every time in the studio. It’s only been about three months since we really got this show off the ground. We have a lot in store and we can’t wait to share more sake excitement in the coming year.

As always, @sakeonair is where you can find us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook, and you can reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.com. Of course, a nice review is always welcome, as well.

Sake On Air is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center located in Tokyo and made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with editing by Mr. Frank Walter. Our theme is “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Should Sake be Promoted like Wine?

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This week’s episode of Sake On Air we dive further into the topic started with our post “Is wine the best way to promote sake?” last year. Arline Lyons, who wrote the post and has extensively researched the topic, takes a seat behind the mic and joins one of our regular hosts, Sebastien Lemoine to talk more about her findings. However, we thought it may not be a fair discussion without having someone join us to balance out the possible sake-heavy opinions and add some wine background to the round, which is why we invited Sarah Stewart to join us. With her extensive knowledge in both worlds – Sake and Wine, we felt she would be a perfect guest to further discuss why we should/or should not lean onto the wine world when we are trying to promote Japanese sake to new audiences.

For anyone who is not yet familiar with Sarah and what she does, originally from Canada, but now based in the UK, aside from being a board-certified veterinary specialist, among the extensive list of her projects and qualifications, she is a WSET Certified Sake Educator at West & South London Wine School. Where she teaches WSET qualifications alongside her own original classes covering a wide variety of sake, wine and food pairing topics. She is also a Wine Scholar Guild Certified Instructor on the French, Spanish and Italian Wine Scholar courses, and teaches Academy of Cheese qualifications with a focus on cheese pairing with sake and wine, as well as judges for the International Wine Challenge – Sake Division and the UK’s Great Taste Awards.

Expect an engaging discussion, as the three take an honest look at the benefits of using wine terminology promoting sake, but also the problems in doing so, offer solutions, and possibly make you question the way you looked at the topic in the first place…

If it did, then we would love to know all about it! Let us know what you think. You can find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook or you can email us questions@sakeonair.com. Of course, if you are also looking to find more sake, shochu and awamori-related information you can do so on all of these channels and don’t hesitate to share any other sake or shochu-related thoughts or questions with us. And if you like, rate us on the podcast service of your choice while you’re at it.

We’ll be back very soon with plenty more Sake On Air.
Until then, kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Noto Earthquake Support

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Many of our listeners are likely aware of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture back on New Years Day, 2024. While the most severe damage was unquestionably across the peninsula, the massive quake reverberated across neighboring prefectures as well, resulting in extensive, far-reaching damage that’s going to take a great deal of time to truly assess, not to mention recover from.

Immediately following the earthquake news outlets around the world reported this tragic turn of natural events, however the true nature of the damage and devastation to the region didn’t really come to light until the days and weeks following the quake – long after international media stopped reporting and updating on the aftermath. To be honest, from what we’ve been able to see, although the instance of the quake made the news, most outlets never got around to addressing the realities of the actual devastation.

Since January 1st there have been more than 1,000 aftershocks throughout the first week following the quake alone, with temperatures generally peaking in the 40s and dipping below freezing at night, interspersed with rain and snowfall. Along with the quake came fires and tsunami, as well, bringing with them a whole other level of devastation.

Amidst this harsh environment, a vast number of locals and residents are now without homes and proper shelter, and still without running water, electricity, gas, and other daily fundamentals required for basic health, warmth and sanitation. Severe damage to the roads and infrastructure is making support and rescue services slow and limited, as each trip into the region needs to be carefully calculated. Many locals are stranded in temporary shelters or housing, attempting to sift through the rubble in areas without running water or electricity amidst the ongoing aftershocks. As such activity is incredibly dangerous, many have had no choice but to flee to neighboring regions with family or colleagues, making occasional calculated rescue efforts back home if or when possible. Many have given up altogether.

For those of us personally and professionally involved in the world of sake, news of such extensive damage to the Noto region has been particularly devastating. Although small in terms of physical area, the impact that the Noto region, it’s brewers, breweries, craftsmanship, and wider culture has had on the sake industry is beyond significant; I’d go so far as to call it legendary.

Ishikawa Prefecture has played home to several of the most iconic toji and breweries to grace the sake stage in recent history, developing brewing techniques that have proliferated across the country and standardized a lot of brewing practices for the industry. For what the region lacks in physical size, the Noto Toji Guild more than makes up for in member numbers and influence. Toji aside, the number of brewers from the Noto region working throughout Japan are more than you could easily count. Many of the traveling brewers from Noto were away brewing sake in other regions when the quake happened, left without a means to return home to check on their family, or returned home to find everything destroyed. Many no longer have a place to go home to.

Of the 11 breweries that are considered to be part of the Noto region, none are in a position to resume production this year, and due to the extensive damage, many likely won’t be able to resume production at home for several seasons to come – if at all. Based on the latest official report from the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association, of the 33 member breweries in Ishikawa Prefecture, 24 of them reported damages, with 2 reported cases of severe damage. With the quake happening in January – peak brewing season – most, if not all in-tank product was lost, with completed, bottled stock largely destroyed. Not only are breweries unable to resume production, their short-term source of income – their sake – is also gone.

Being a program about sake, naturally the direct impact to the sake industry is going to be our area of focus. However, I feel a need to point out the greater significance of the Noto region to our listeners, as the work, craft, traditions, and resulting culture that’s deeply rooted there is something truly special in a way that’s difficult to describe in words. Personally, the people, the craftsmanship, and the landscape of the Noto region became a foundational inspiration for me early on, as it exemplified the qualities that make Japan a beautiful, special place in a way that I really haven’t found any place else. Every time I visit, I’m in awe that it’s a place that actually exists and I feel blessed to be able to know so many of the people and to have had so many rich experiences that reaffirm the intangible value of the region. When I think of the idea of an “Intangible Cultural Heritage,” Noto is – in my mind – the perfect, most iconic example to fit the definition.

In addition to contributions to the world of sake, the Noto region is home to the iconic lacquerware that is so synonymous with Japan. Noto was also the first region in Japan to be recognized as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System for its biodiverse agricultural practices and inseparable cultural components. The Kiriko Festivals in the summer are like nothing you’ll find anywhere else in Japan. The incredible contributions to food and fermented food culture that are deeply rooted in and associated specifically with the region; from ishiru, the naturally fermented fish sauce crafted from squid or mackerel, to the traditional salt-making practices that are like nothing that exists anyplace in Japan, or arguably anywhere, for that matter. (There’s an incredible documentary, “Hitonigiri no Shio”, for those interested). The financial and structural damage aside, the cultural damage is immeasurable, and it’s devastating to imagine a world where some of it may be irreparable.

In addition to the Noto Peninsula and other parts of Ishikawa prefecture, damage has been reported throughout surrounding regions, as well. Neighboring Toyama Prefecture has 3 breweries officially reporting damage as a result of the quake, Fukui reporting 2 breweries, Nagano reporting 1, and Niigata actually has 29 of its 89 member breweries reporting damage. While nothing to the extent or scale of what’s happened to the breweries in Noto, there’s sure to have been minor structural damage or lost product in some capacity as a result.

The question that I imagine – and hope – that many of you have is: “How can I help?”

There are many organization that have set up means of providing financial aid for a range of people, services and industries, however for those interested in supporting the breweries that have been devastated by this natural disaster, the two safest, most guaranteed means of support would be donating to the funds set up by the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association to support all of its member breweries that have suffered damages, or you can also donate directly to the Brewers Association of Ishikawa Prefecture – which is where the Noto Region is located – and concentrate your contribution in that region.

We’ve listed the account information for aid contributions for both of these organizations below. If you have the means to give, know that any contribution, however small, would go a long way toward preserving something of intangible value to the future of the sake industry.

I also know that many people are probably eager to try and help in other ways which aren’t only monetary. Having been in touch with individuals working in relief on the ground in the region, and based on past experiences witnessing natural disaster aid in Japan, honestly, while everyone would certainly be appreciative of additional outreach, the reality is that the logistics of organizing functional, efficient, support in such an unstable environment is incredibly challenging and is best left up to those with experience and who understand the region and its needs best. If you live in Japan and happen to have direct involvement with other organizations supplying other forms of aid, there may be an opportunity for you. However, having spoken with breweries and distilleries that suffered similar natural disasters in the past, the reality is that many don’t have the resources or bandwidth to engage in a range of activities immediately following such a disaster, and that what every brewery is going to eventually encounter once they’ve managed to sift through the rubble, figure out how they’re going to take care of their family, workers, and loved ones, and assess the magnitude of restoration – both physically and financially – they’re going to be staring down a monetary burden that’s going to feel crushing. Having some degree of financial resources ready for when that day comes is likely going to be the most helpful contribution that most any individual can make.

The other thing I could suggest – find and enjoy yourself some Noto or Ishikawa sake. As long as there are still people out there actively seeking and enjoying the incredible craft coming out of this region, that’s going to motivate those that are struggling more than anything else. Drink, enjoy, and share.

DONATION INFORMATION

Option 1: Support via the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association
Bank: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
Branch: Hibiya
SWIFT Code: SMBCJPJT (8 characters)
*If 11 characters are required, enter: SMBCJPJTXXX
Beneficiary Account Number: 8646691
Beneficiary Account Name: JAPAN SAKE AND SHOCHU MAKERS ASSOCIATION Chairman Haruhiko Okura
*Listing may be displayed in Japanese romanization, which will look like:
Nihonshuzou Kumiai Chuoukai, Gienkin-kuchi, Kaichou Okura Haruhiko
Address: 1-6-15 Nishishimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0003 JAPAN

Option 2: Support via the Ishikawa Prefecture Brewers Association
Bank: The Hokkoku Bank, Ltd.
Branch: Kanazawajyohoku
SWIFT CODE: HKOKJPJT
Beneficiary Account Number: 119-0036977
Beneficiary Account Name: ISHIKAWAKENSHUZOUKUMIAIRENGOUKAI
Address: 2-13-33 Motomachi, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa-ken 920-0842 JAPAN

Thanks so much for taking a few moments to catch up on this situation with us. We’ll do what we can to provide updates when concrete information becomes available, so please do follow along with us here at Sake On Air, whether it be on Instagram, X, or Facebook, and you can reach us all directly with your thoughts or questions at questions@sakeonair.com.

There’s more Sake on Air headed your way soon.

Until then, kampai!

Sake on Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew.

Becoming a Kuramoto with Junichi Masuda of Tsukinokatsura

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We are always thrilled to be joined by special guests here at Sake On Air, but it is rather rare that we have a chance to interview a 15th-generation kuramoto. This week we’re thrilled to share our recent interview with Junichi Masuda, newly appointed CEO of Tokubee Masuda Shoten, makers of Tsukinokatsura, a brand of which we are all collectively huge fans.

This week our regular hosts Rebekah Wilson-Lye and Sebastien Lemoine speak with Masuda-san about his sake brewery: Tokubee Masuda Shoten – a historical innovator in the industry – their brand “Tsukinokatsura”, and what changes we can expect to see with his new vision for the company. On a more personal note, we get to hear about what it’s been like to have grown up as part of such an iconic brewing family, the unique pressures, and exciting opportunities.

Of course, we also dive into Kyoto, or Fushimi to be precise, where the brewery is located, and the brewery’s connection to the sake community there. Whether it is involvement in local events, being part of the Fushimi Sake Association, or organizing rice planting and harvesting activites for the local community, the Masuda family’s dedication to the region has us excited for where Masuda-san plans to take the brewery in the years ahead.

With big events including the 60th anniversary of nigori sake (which the brewery is responsible for creating!) in 2024, as well as the brewery’s 350th anniversary in 2025, there are plenty of good reasons for Tokubee Masuda Shoten to celebrate.

As always, let us know what you think about this week’s episode of Sake On Air and of course, we do hope you go out of your way to experience Tsukinokatsura sake here in Japan or abroad! 

You can of course follow the brewery on their Instagram for all updates and some beautiful footage of the brewery. We also hope you don’t hesitate to get in touch with us in case you have any sake or shochu-related thoughts or questions via questions@sakeonair.com and rate us on the podcast service of your choice while you’re at it. At the same time, if you’re looking for updates @sakeonair, you can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

We’ll be back very soon with plenty more Sake On Air.
Until then, kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Kōji – More Than Just a Sweet Thing

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Anyone reading this has probably explained – or had explained to them – how sake is made at some point, and it usually goes something like the pithy line from the Kanpai Brewery in London: “brewed like a beer and enjoyed like a wine”. I never saw an explanation that didn’t refer to beer brewing, or more specifically malting… until recently.

The partnership between the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI) and the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS) mentioned in the previous article resulted in an educational sake tour for a group of selected wine sommeliers that took place in early 2023. Thanks to fellow wine expert Masakazu Minatomoto, General Manager of Kobe Shushinkan (Fukuju), the visitors never had to leave the comfort of their winemaking knowledge to understand sake brewing.

Minamoto’s description of the sake making process after yeast is added was the same comparison to winemaking you’ve no doubt heard many times before, but to explain what happens before that, he went even further back in the winemaking process… all the way back to the grapes on the vines.

At Kobe Shushinkan (Fukuju) with Masakazu Minatomoto, February 2023 (Photo by Hiromi Iuchi, JSS)

Like all plants, grapevines derive their energy from photosynthesis. The vine stores sugars produced in the early growing season in its trunk and roots as carbohydrates. Then comes veraison, the start of ripening, when those carbohydrates are delivered to the developing grapes and turn into sugar. The similarity to kōji’s essential role of unlocking sugar from the carbohydrates in rice for sake brewing is obvious, and although Minatomoto didn’t explore it in his presentation, the parallels between kōji and ripening can be taken even further.

For example, the phrase ichi kōji, ni moto, san tsukuri (kōji is the most important, followed by the starter, then brewing) indicates the importance of kōji to the entire sake making process, and managing how grapes ripen and the timing of harvest is critical for the same reason – these processes establish the base that the sake brewer (or winemaker) has to work with.

You might think that the parallel with kōji falters here, as ripening is a natural process and making kōji is a carefully planned and managed series of human interventions. But there is just as much intervention in vineyards while the grapes are ripening, removing bunches to concentrate nutrients and sugars in the remainder, removing leaves to slow the production of sugars or leaving them on to create shade, even leaving grapes on the vine until they become as sweet and fruity as the winemaker needs.

This careful attention in the very final stage before adding the yeast is also shared between sake brewers and winemakers. Brewers fine-tune the development of their kōji to ensure they have the base they need to produce their desired sake, beautifully illustrated by the Tsuchida 99 STUDY set, made by Tsuchida Shuzo, from kōji allowed to grow for shorter or longer periods of time. “Muro time” could be the sake version of “hang time” for grapes left on the vine until they are just right to harvest.

Koji wrapped up in cloth at Shimaoka Shuzo, Gunma Prefecture, makers of Gunmaizum

You can also look at both kōji and ripening as a process of transformation. During ripening, small, hard grapes turn into large, soft fruit with thin skin. The acids and tannins that discourage animals from taking the grapes before seeds develop break down and become mellow. Glucose and fructose increase as green chlorophyll is replaced by colorful anthocyanins in red grapes, and translucent carotenoids in white grapes. Flavor and aroma also develop, turning from vegetal to fruity, and rising sweetness is balanced by the development of bitter or astringent flavonoids and polyphenols.

Kōji also physically and chemically transforms a hard substrate with unsuitable properties to prepare it for alcoholic fermentation, creating the components that give the final product its distinctive characteristics. Amylase enzymes produced by the kōji mold turn carbohydrates into sugar and break the rice grain down physically so it can dissolve in the main ferment. Proteases and peptidases act on proteins, creating both the umami and depth that are an essential part of sake’s flavor profile, as well as the bitterness and astringency that make it complex and complete. Kōji also produces a huge range of components that are taken up by or affect microbes in kimoto-type starters and yeast during alcoholic fermentation, so its role extends far beyond just producing sweetness and umami.

Tray of completed koji at Izumibashi Shuzo, Chiba Prefecture, makers of Izumibashi:

Grapes have been described as tiny biochemical factories, and although kōji is a separate microorganism grown on rice, you can appreciate how they act in similar ways. That extends to the people managing them as well – sake brewers create the perfect environment for their key microorganisms to thrive, while guiding them towards their desired result. Winemakers do something remarkably similar, starting with the grapes in the vineyard and carrying the fruits of that labor through to fermentation in the winery.

I was interpreting for the wine sommeliers on the tour, so I left Kobe Shushinkan with them to move on to the next brewery. Minatomoto was honored that his brewery had been chosen as their first stop, and that he was asked to give them the introduction to sake that would serve as the basis upon which the rest of the tour would build. Come and visit again, he urged me. Of course, I replied.

Masakazu Minatomoto passed away on April 22, 2023, on his way to judge at the International Wine Challenge in London. The last post on his Facebook page was the classic photo through the plane window as the flight was about to take off, complete with excited caption.

So, I can never keep that promise. I can go back to the brewery, to the giant barrel on its side in the garden where we all asked more questions, laughed and took photos together, but he won’t be there to welcome me with his calm smile, his deep well of knowledge, and his warm friendship. All I can do is share the ideas he shared with me, and pay tribute to his joy and skill as a teacher.

References

Rebroadcast: Hot Sake (Kanzake) 101

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This week we’re digging up a classic from the archives that we released back in April 2020. The theme of the week is kanzake, which felt appropriate as a majority of our audience is now officially rolling into the winter months.

If you’re interested in more warm/hot sake insight, we highly encourage you to check out the special session we hosted from Sake Future Summit 2020 featuring the mission of the exceptional kanzake service team traveling France for their annual Kanzake Tour. We also did a little impromptu sake warming/sipping session for the camera back when we originally released this episode, which you can find here.

Over the next few months, in addition to our regular bi-weekly programming, we’ll be occasionally dropping rereleases of past episodes on topics that we haven’t really discussed in a number of years and that we feel deserve a little extra bit of attention. If you missed it the first time, now’s your chance to get caught up!

Thanks for loving sake and shochu. Have a happy and healthy holiday season and we’ll be back with more brand-new Sake On Air for you next week.

Until then, Kampai!


This week we’re tackling arguably one of the most misunderstood segments of the sake world:

Kanzake, often simply referred to as, Hot Sake.

For a complex web of reasons, the quality and general nature of hot (or warm) sake is still shrouded in generations of preconception and misconception. However along with an aggressive reexamination of “Why?” in relation to lost practices in food and beverage, kanzake is in the midst of a mini-resurgence, particularly in Japan. Over the past decade, not only the number, but the level of quality and creativity entrenched in dining and drinking establishments throughout Japan has grown dramatically. Even outside of traditional Japanese cuisine or izakaya dining, some of Japan (and the world’s) most lauded genre-bending restaurants have made elements of kanzake service not only a part of their beverage program, but a cornerstone to it. 

This week we have Justin Potts, Marie Nagata, Big Chris (Hughes) and Little Chris (Pellegrini) on the mics as we delve into kanzake history, experiences, terminology, service, and heating things up at home.

For the already-converted, hopefully you’ll find some hot tips (!) to add to your arsenal. For those still on the fence or for anyone that’s previously been burned (!) by less-than-positive experiences, hopefully you’ll find reason to set out on another expedition of the kanzake landscape.

Oh, and there’s a small supplement to this week’s episode over on our YouTube channel, as well!

Help more sake-lovers find the show by reviewing and rating us on Apple Podcasts. Let us know what you thought about this or any of our shows to questions@sakeonair.staba.jp, or say “Hi” to the team at @sakeonair on  Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

If you happen to undertake any kanzake experiments at home, please do share the results and photos with us!

Take care out there everyone.

And don’t forget to Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” is composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Kurabito Stay with Marika Tazawa

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With more travelers these days favoring unique experiences over a few days of leisure for their limited vacation days, Japan’s sake breweries have gradually been improving and expanding their offerings to both domestic and international visitors choosing to tick “sake journey” off their bucket list. An industry that’s largely sheltered itself from outside visitors for a significant chunk of recent history, many breweries are now for the first time figuring out how they can open themselves up to the possibility of tourism becoming a means of connecting with and growing their fanbase while developing a stable new form of reliable business.

In a climate where tastings and tours are gradually becoming standard offerings at sake breweries throughout the country, Marika Tazawa went a step further and gathered the attention of the wider sake industry when she launched Kurabito Stay back in March of 2020. Kurabito Stay was the first sake tourism business to offer regular opportunities to, as the website states: “Become a sake brewer”, to anyone with the time and means to make it to the town of Saku in Nagano for a few days. Offering a range of two and three-day programs where participants stay at the brewery and take part in the various processes of making sake, for anyone wanting to get closer to and develop a more personal and in-depth understand of sake through experience, Kurabito Stay has become a no-brainer.

Despite launching at the very beginning of one of the most challenging climates in recent history for tourism and travel, Kurabito Stay has now had over 400 participants take part in their range of sake-making programs from across the globe. Their success has demonstrated to the people and businesses of the region that there’s a unique appeal and potential in a synergistic relationship between sake and tourism for the future of rural Japan. With bookings now open for 2024 experiences, a new cycling program for visitors who want to spend a bit more time exploring the region, and a soon-to-be-announced second Kurabito Stay brewery partner prepping for their first programs (details in the show!), it seems that Kurabito Stay is indeed here to, well…stay.

This week Justin Potts sits down with Kurabito Stay owner and founder, Marika Tazawa, to discuss all of the above and more. You can stay up-to-date with what’s happening with Kurabito Stay experiences and life in the Nagano town of Saku by following along on their Instagram, or get the latest tour information and availability on their website.

Thanks for tuning in with us again this week. You can follow along with the team at Sake On Air also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and you can reach us all directly with your thoughts or questions at questions@sakeonair.com.

There’s more Sake on Air headed your way again in just a couple of weeks.
Until then, kampai!

Sake on Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew.

Sake in Brazil with Fabio Ota

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Fabio Ota joins regular host Sebastien Lemoine to talk all things sake in Brazil. Fabio, a lawyer turned sake guy, is the CEO and creator of Megasake, São Paulo’s premier sake shop and distributor. He was named a Sake Samurai earlier this year as part of the 18h cohort, and holds 13 different sake certifications.

Sebastien and Fabio get into the ins and outs of the unique nature of sake in Brazil, especially as it relates to the community of Brazilians with Japanese heritage. Although sake is made domestically in Brazil, premium nihonshu (sake made in Japan) has yet to make much of a splash. Fabio and his company are positioned to change that, especially in their work showing chefs how to add sake to their menus and how to pair sake with food. Fabio is also a masterful sake educator who has led courses on sake for over 1,800 F&B professionals and often hosts sake events in Brazil with other Japan connected organizations like the recent Festival do Sake that he held with JSS and the Japan House São Paulo.

Give Megasake a follow over on instagram, especially if you live in São Paulo! https://www.instagram.com/megasake/

As always, let us know what you think about this week’s episode and we would love to know about other people introducing sake and shochu in South America! If you’re looking for updates @sakeonair, you can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t hesitate to also share any other sake or shochu-related thoughts or questions with the hosts at questions@sakeonair.com and rate us on the podcast service of your choice while you’re at it.

We’ll be back very soon with plenty more Sake On Air.
Until then, kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is brought to you by Potts.K Productions with audio production by Frank Walter. Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.