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.
Saori Kobari of Daitengu Sake Brewery in Fukushima Prefecture is the fifth generation toji (brewmaster) of the brewery. The brewery's Daitengu Junmai was featured for Level 1 Sake Gumi.
Kayoko and I have been to Fukushima and love it. Can you describe it for us?
Our brewery is located in the center of Fukushima prefecture, which is the gateway to Tohoku district. The town is blessed with the optimum environment from sake brewing. Water is abundant and rice grows healthily.
What are some unique characteristics of your brewery?
We brew only in a small lots per session and manually brew in almost all the processes. We employ the funashibori method (squeezing of unrefined sake in sake casks) in which uniform pressure is applied to the entire surface and it takes three days.
How did you get into the sake industry?
We are a family-owned brewery. Although I never helped when I was a kid at the brewery, I would watch adults drinking Daitengu sake at local festivals. I didn't want that experience to disappear in the future.
What do you like most about sake-making?
Koji preparation – because it is so rewarding. I also love drinking the sake I make.
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?
I think that the spirit of gender equality has permeated socially. In terms of manual labor, I think that mechanization has reduced the amount of hard work.
What do you think is the most important step in sake-making and why?
Rice washing and immersion (soaking), because it affects all the processes that come after it.
We wash approximately four kilograms of rice per bag. The water absorbed by the rice is measured carefully. The time is adjusted according to the rice polishing ratio and type of rice.
Sake brewing rice at Daitengu Sake Brewery
What are some advantages of being a woman in sake-making?
Women have a sense of kinship and feel free to share information with other female toji and breweries.
How do you encourage other women to join the industry?
There are many companies that are looking for women's ideas – to meet the needs of women. I think women can take on these challenges in a positive way.
We’d like to learn more about Daitengu Junmai, the sake we are offering to members this month. Can you tell us what the concept behind this sake is?
It is an excellent sake to drink with a meal to bring out the flavors of food. With either Japanese or American foods, this is a delightful bottle of sake that works well as an aperitif or during a meal.
A bottle of Daitengu Junmai
Is there anything unusual to note about the production of this sake?
It is made in small lots, the taste will change a little depending on the year and tank, like wine. This sake is interesting even when aged, and has a caramel-like aroma and umami.
Please tell us about the label? Who designed the label?
The designer was my friend Biondy Chopper. We had many meetings with Suzuki Marketing (the distributor for this sake in the U.S.) about the design of the Daitengu for sale in the U.S. We incorporated the logo design on the label in hopes that people will remember Daitengu. The design is depicting a tengu watching from the sky of Mt. Adatara.
I love the aromas of uncooked rice, and nuts and flavors of caramel, honey, with a hint of konbu, and dry ending of this sake. What are some aromas and tasting notes you have for this sake?
Acidity, umami, sharp taste, and a mild creamy aroma.
What are your favorite pairings with this sake?
This sake goes well with chicken, fish, and cheese.
What temperature do you recommend having this sake?
My recommendation is around 15°C (59°F) degrees. At that temperature, the aroma is moderate and the taste is mellow.
What type of rice and water do you use for this sake?
We use Fukushima prefecture’s own Yume No Kaori rice, mainly grown by JGAP certified producers in Motomiya City. We use mineral-rich medium-hard underground water from Mt. Adatara.
When we can travel again, we would love to visit your brewery. Is your brewery open to visitors?
Yes, we do tours and tastings! Our brewery is easy to visit, and a great place for sightseeing. Located in the central part of Fukushima Prefecture, It takes about an hour and a half from Tokyo and a 1-minute walk from JR Motomiya Station, using a JR East ticket.
What are some plans you have for 2022 and beyond? Anything new or exciting?
2023 is year of the rabbit in Japanese calendar, I was thinking of making a new label and goods for the Usake (our seasonal sake line). And I also want to go to U.S.!
Tanks fermenting winter Usake
Yes, please come to the U.S. and visit us at Umami Mart next year! In the meantime, thank you for your delicious sake. Kanpai!
All photos courtesy of the brewery