Female Frontrunners in Sake (May 2020)
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In a time when nothing seems to be moving forward and we can’t see into the future, I’m pleased to feature four breweries with innovative women at the helm. From the legendary Rumiko Moriki of Moriki Shuzo (known as the first female toji, head brewmaster, with a manga dedicated to her life), to new-comer Eriko Terada of Asahi Brewery, we are taking all the positive energy and inspiration we can from these trailblazers.
Perhaps the most refreshing sentiment that all of these women expressed to me about sake-making was that women are on the rise in the sake world. Technological advances that alleviate some of the heavy-lifting in sake-making has opened up opportunities to women and people of all ages. “Because of these advancements, I think that the percentage of women who make sake is on the rise,” says Moriki-san. Sons of old timers are also not taking over many of the breweries, leaving a chance for previously marginalized people to carry on the tradition - including women, foreigners, and younger generations.
Women are especially valuable in sake-brewing for their alternative approaches. Aiyu Brewery President Rikako Kanehira told us that, “Having women involved in sake-making brightens up the mood of the brewery. Everybody imagines sake-making as grueling, hard work relegated to men. I want to change that impression and show that sake-making is fun, stylish, and fashionable for all genders and ages.” In addition to changing the energy of a brewery, Moriki spoke of how women bring unique ideas to the table, “Women were excluded for a long time, so they weren’t boxed into certain methods and ideas and are more free to express unconventional ideas.” Terada echoed that sentiment by adding, “Since women are not locked into stereotypes in the sake-making world, they are likely to confront new challenges.”
As much as sake-making is physical, it’s also very mental, requiring the creative mark of the toji. Miho Imada of Imada Shuzo adds that it’s important for brewers to come from all types of backgrounds because sake-making is all about, “Expressing individuality through their sake – and the fact that there are so many different expressions of sake – is part of the enjoyment of this beverage.”
Finally, I wanted to ask the brewers how they are faring during the pandemic. The situation is especially dire for sake breweries who rely on summer festivals in addition to local restaurants and sake shops. Terada says, “Rice has already been planted, but there is a possibility that there will not be enough tanks to stock the winter with rice harvested in autumn. I'm worried that I will not be able to ask kurabito (brewery workers) to make sake in the fall.” Kanehira is trying to keep spirits up saying, “We are unsure of the impact of this crisis, but it’s a good opportunity to figure out what is important and what is not after this crisis.” Of these times, Imada adds, “I can’t wait to restart.” Us too.
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To read the interviews in their entirety, please follow this link.
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Fukucho “Moon on the Water” Junmai Ginjo
Imada Brewery (Hiroshima, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 55%, SMV: +3
“I learned that being a good girl is boring,” says toji Miho Imada who is a Pippi Longstocking fan. Alas, her sakes would never bore the drinker - revealing layer upon layer of delicious complexity. This junmai ginjo is no exception. Although this sake starts elegantly with aroma of pineapples, it delivers a long, bold finish full of pepper and spice. Try this champagne-hued sake chilled with aged, hard cheeses like Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano or minerally seafoods like crawfish and scallops.
Tomoju Junmai Daiginjo
Aiyu Shuzo (Ibaraki, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyaku Mangoku 50%, SMV: +2
Rikako Kanehira became the president of Aiyu Shuzo when her mom retired after 40 years as head of the brewery. Inspired by her mom’s strong work ethic, and the sacrifices that her grandmother made for herself and her mother, Kanehira strives to make sakes from the heart. This well-balanced, medium dry sake has a slight tart and fruity flavor of melon and muscat grapes. Have this junmai daiginjo chilled with lighter fare like California rolls or grain salads.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Tae no Hana “Sublime Beauty” Arabashiri Kimoto Muroka Nama Genshu
Moriki Shuzo (Mie, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 90%, SMV: +5
When asked about inspirational women, Rumiko Moriki replied, “Lady Nou, wife of Lord Oda Nobunaga, author Ayako Miura, and female tojis Kuniko Mukai, Shigeri Shiraki, and Rie Toyomoto” - for their boldness and bravery. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this sake is as bold and unique as these individuals. Full-bodied umami hits you first, then ends with crisp apple and acidity. This Extreme Junmai is arabashiri (gravity pressed), kimoto (original yeast starter method) muroka (no charcoal filtration) nama (unpasteurised) and genshu (undiluted). Enjoy at room temperature with mapo tofu or grilled meats and vegetables.
Kairyo Omachi Junmai Genshu
Asahi Brewery (Shiga, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Kairyo Omachi 70%, SMV: +11
“Being flexibile with ideas is important to bring out the fun and possibilities of fermentation,” says toji Eriko Terada. This flexibility results in mind-blowing brews that boast high acidity, and dry finishes that improve with age. This sake is complex like an aged whisky, and rustic, best at room temperature or warm with rich Italian flavors like pesto and Parmagiano-Reggiano.