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Japan 2008 Sake Summit, Act I: Wakatake

wakatake.jpgMy next day in Japan was too full to fit into one blog post, so here is Act I! Of course, I’m referring to the 2008 Sake Blogger’s Summit held this year in beautiful Shizuoka Prefecture. Forget the G8, we’re talking about the Sake 4: Etsuko from Tokyo Foodcast, Melinda from Tokyo Through the Drinking Glass, our Sake Summit host, Robert-Gilles of Shizuoka Sake, and yours truly.

wakatake_bottling.jpgEtsuko, Melinda and I all met in Tokyo and took the Shinkansen to Shizuoka. Robert Gilles met us on the platform and we jumped into the local train and headed off to our first stop of an action packed day: Oomura Brewery, the makers of the well regarded Wakatake brand. Arriving at Oomuraya brewery, we met the 6th Generation President, Mr. Matsunaga and the Brewmaster, Mr. Hibino. Hibino-san then started us out with a tour of the brewery facility.

We were first shown the rice milling area – Oomuraya Brewery takes great pride in the milling of their own rice as this allows them to be meticulous about quality. All the buildings at this facility were historical and I could just picture sake being made here for centuries.

In addition to the milling facility, we saw the areas for yeast starter, steaming, pressing brewing and storing sake. One interesting little room with lace curtains was off the main brewing area. hibino.jpg Much to my surprise, I was told by Hibino-san that this small room is used for sleeping! Brewery workers must monitor the koji making process overnight and need to bunk down in the brewery regularly!

After the fantastic brewery tour, we were invited back for a tasting. This was a unique opportunity to taste all the major Oomuraya sakes side by side. It’s a beautiful lot and here is what we tasted:

I was ecstatic to try this line up as I have had a few of these that made it to New York, but I was in Japan now! The Junmai Daiginjo is a sake I know well and it was as clean and easy drinking as ever. The Honjozo Genshu and Junmai Genshu side by side was quite an experience. I found the Junmai to have wonderful balance and a clean taste. The Honjozo conveyed a nice sense of umami on the palate with a mild aroma. * “Sake Rock” was a full-bore full-alcohol genshu that had the coolest label ever! I would drink this one on the rocks, but we can’t get it in the states.

Mr. Matsunaga was incredibly gracious and welcoming. I came away understanding more deeply than ever before that for Mr. Matsunaga and everyone at Oomuraya, brewing sake is more than just making a beverage but it is continuing an ancient Japanese cultural tradition. Also, it was clear that as they reach to export their sake to the US and elsewhere, they still remain a local brewery and cherish the local community. The trip to Oomuraya was fun and exciting and… at this point in the day it was barely Noon! More from Shizuoka in the 2008 Sake Bloggers Summit Act II…