Female Frontrunners (March 2023)
Hiroko Yokozawa (L), toji at Tsukinowa Shuzo and Nobuko Inaba (R), toji at Inaba Shuzo
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It's March which means it's Female Frontrunner's month! Coinciding with International Women's Day and Girl's Day in Japan, we celebrate women makers every year here at Umami Mart. This month we are featuring sakes from Inaba Shuzo, where Nobuko Inaba is the toji, and Tsukinowa Shuzo, where Hiroko Yokozawa is the toji.
I am especially excited to offer a bottle from Inaba Shuzo at each level after visiting the brewery in September 2022. The Minanogawa Junmai Ginjo is featured at Level 1 and the Stella Junmai Daiginjo at Level 2. These bottles were special ordered last year after my visit.
As with many breweries these days, Nobuko-san took over the family brewery because there were no sons in the family. In other scenarios like at Kita Shuzo (who makes our Umami Mart Junmai), the daughter might take over the family business after the son chooses another career path. With less of an expectation for a male heir to take over family businesses these days, we are seeing more and more women toji and kuramoto in the industry.
It is also worth noting the mukoyoshi tradition in Japan, where the husband marries into a family and takes the wife's last name. This is most common when the daughter is from a family that has a well-established business. It is a boon to both the business and for the husband marrying into the family, who will take on the responsibilities and royalties of the business. This is the case for both women we are featuring this month. Nobuko-san, the toji of Inaba Shuzo, married her husband Yoshitaka-san, who took her last name and is now the CEO of Inaba Shuzo. While Takayuki Yokozawa of Tsukinowa Shuzo took his wife Hiroko Yokozawa's name when he married into the family and became CEO. Both women have taken on the role of brewer, while their partners run the office.
In these mukoyoshi instances, it's nice to flip the script of the famous saying from "behind every successful man there stands a woman" to "behind every successful woman there stands a man."
Yoko, Co-Founder + Sake Director
Minanogawa Muroka Junmai Ginjo Sake
Inaba Shuzo (Ibaraki, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Hitachi Nishiki 55%, SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.6
This sake is named after Minanogawa (Man-Woman River) that runs off of Mt. Tsukuba, located behind the brewery. This junmai ginjo has notes of muscat grapes and lime soda. Enjoy slightly chilled in a white wine glass or warm in a ceramic cup with crab, shrimp, and oysters! As the sixth generation owner of the brewer Nobuko Inaba incorporates traditional techniques handed down through her ancestors including shizuku (filtering by hand using bags and gravity instead of by machine) and working with local waters and rice.
Daisekkei Muroka Nama
Genshu Tokubetsu Junmai
Daisekkei Shuzo (Nagano, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Hitogokochi 59%, SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.8
I am making an exception for this fresh nama and going off-theme because I'd love for members to have a super fresh bottle of nama right now! This light yellow brew and boasts flavors of peach, green apple, and orange juice. You'll see that it's alive with its fizzy effervescence! I really feel like I'm taking in the beginning of spring with every sip as it's fruity flavors turn into a crisp ending with a pleasant citrusy bitterness. Enjoy chilled with roasted beets or brussels sprouts!
Stella Muroka Junmai Daiginjo Sake
Inaba Shuzo (Ibaraki, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 50%, SMV: +1, Acidity: 1.3
Stella is a newer sake that the current husband and wife team (Yoshitaka and Nobuko Inaba-san) created. Because they spent many night hours making the sake, they named it Stella (celestial star in Latin). It is also a play on words as Mr. Inaba's former surname was hoshi (star). Stella is made using the shizuku process, meaning that the clear sake drains out of the bag with the gentle pull of gravity, as opposed to being pressed in a machine. This results in a gentle and clean texture with vibrant flavors of mango and peach. Pair this sake chilled or at room temperature with roasted root vegetables like parsnips and carrots or roasted chicken.
Tsukinowa "Moon Ring" Tokubetsu Junmai
Tsukinowa Shuzoten (Iwate, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Iwate Gin Otome 55%, SMV: +3, Acidity: 1.8
Yuko Yokozawa was born into the family business. Says Yokozawa, "Even though I think that it’s challenging for the general public to enter the industry, there is less resistance for women (who are part of the kura’s family) to become sake-makers. Currently, my husband is in charge of management and I am in charge of manufacturing." Enjoy this golden-hued sake with aromas of porridge and flavors of caramel and rum with foods high in umami. I loved it at room temperature with miso black cod or a creamy brie cheese.