This month, we introduce three queen bees of the sake world for Female Frontrunners month: Yuri Hayashi of Aizu Chujo, Saori Kobari of Daitengu, and Akiko Hakuto of Hakuto Brewery.
Their sakes are part of the selection for Sake Gumi this month and I’m grateful that each took the time to answer some questions we had about their leadership style and outlook for the sake industry.
Akiko Hakuto of Hakuto Sake Brewery in Ishikawa Prefecture, is the director and deputy brewing manager for the brewery. She works alongside her husband Kiichi Hakuto, who is the toji (brewmaster). Their sake Hakuto Tokubetsu Junmai “Deep Faith” was featured for Level 2 Sake Gumi.
Can you describe the surroundings of Hakuto Sake Brewery? How did the brewery come to be?
There is a land mass in the central part of Japan, beyond the Noto Peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Japan. This area, which has been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site, is a region where traditional agriculture, fishing, and cultural customs remain, and was once a key point of shipping.
Our storehouse was founded as a shipping wholesaler in the early 18th century, and we started the brewing in the middle of the 19th century. My husband, Kiichi Hakuto, who is currently the 9th generation owner, serves as the toji. During the off-season for fishing, local fisherman come to work for us as kurabito (brewery workers).
Although we are a small sake brewery, our brewery is proud of our reputation for quality. Our sake has been selected as a first class sake offered by Japanese airlines.
Exterior of Hakuto Sake Brewery
How did you get into the sake industry?
My career began when I studied brewing at my university and got a job at a parent company that handles liquor, food import and wholesale retailing. This company enlisted me as a start-up staff member to open a new brewery factory for them.
What do you like most about sake-making?
I love the drink itself – a fascinating drink created by collaborating with microorganisms.
Although sake-making has been male-dominated, it seems like more women are entering the field. What has changed to allow more women to enter sake making?
There are several reasons: brewery workers can now rely on year-round vs. seasonal employment, improvement of working conditions, and general gender equality awareness in the workplace. I think that all of these changes overlapping allow more women to enter the sake industry.
What do you think is the most important step in sake-making and why?
Raw material processing (rice washing, water absorption, steaming rice). The balance between fermentation and dissolution of steamed rice is really important for koji-making.
Kurabito (brewery workers) at Hakuto Sake Brewery
What are some advantages of being a woman in sake-making?
Women notice small changes, and can provide detailed care in mash management and koji-making.
How do you encourage other women to join the industry?
I think it is necessary for the employer to prepare an ideal working environment, be open-minded, and publicize their views. I also want to emphasize that there are places where you can play an active role outside the manufacturing department.
If you are interested in the brewing industry, I urge you to have the courage to pursue it.
We’d like to learn more about Hakuto Tokubetsu Junmai, the sake we are offering to Level 2 members this month.
What is the concept behind this sake?
A refreshing aroma and taste that you can keep going back to. We also hope this sake let’s you have a little more fun.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the sake originated?
This sake was created the year that my husband became the toji. He wanted to create something different from our flagship junmai ginjo. This tokubetsu junmai uses daiginjo grade rice, so it is quite luxurious.
Kiichi and Akiko Hakuto work as a husband-and-wife team at the brewery
Can you tell us about the label?
Chrysanthemum flowers are arranged in the shape of the Noto Peninsula. The kanji spells out the name of the shop "Shirakabeya" at the time of its founding. The color is meant to evoke the calm heat during pasteurization.
A bottle of Hakuto Tokubetsu Junmai
What are some aromas and tasting notes you have for this sake?
On the nose, this sake expresses maple syrup and winter spice. On the palate, it is clean, delicate, and pretty.
What are your favorite pairings with this sake?
Grilled mackerel, avocado salad, corn and bacon pizza. Please enjoy it at any temperature from chilled to slightly warm.
When we can travel again, we would love to visit your brewery. Is your brewery open to visitors?
Yes, you can. Although it is small, there is a shop and tasting space, so please feel free to drop by.
What are some plans you have for 2022 and beyond? Anything new or exciting?
I am planning to repair the kioke (traditional wooden sake barrel) that’s been hidden away in the attic for some time now. We’d love to resurrect the kioke to look toward making kimoto.
Thank you Hakuto-san for taking the time to answer our questions. We hope that we can meet you soon in the Noto Penninsula and drink your kimoto. Kanpai!
All photos courtesy of the brewery