Archive for March, 2009

The Brewers



Under his white cap, Ryosuke Uei’s floppy black hair falls thickly over his ears. He has the tiny wrinkles around his eyes of a young man who laughs a lot. As kashira, the brew master’s right-hand man, he oversees the daily activities around the brewery and performs tests to check the progress of the moromi. This job carries a great deal of responsibility – particularly for a 26 year old – but Uei-san has proven himself to be more than capable.

“Do you ever feel…lonely, being the youngest on staff?” I asked one day. He’d told me earlier that the other brewers were 61, 65, and 75 – quite a big difference.

“Never,” he said. “We have a good time together. Everyone is so fun, Makine-san especially. He’s a cool older guy. And the boss, too.”

Daimon-san had confessed to me that, initially, he’d been hesitant to hire someone in his twenties for such an important position.

“But I felt very strongly something special about him,” he said, “so I said, ‘Okay, let’s try it.’”

It certainly seems that he made the right decision.


Before the last day, Makine-san half-jokingly challenged me to a drink-off.

I found this very cute, and considered taking him up on it. Upon second thought, however, I declined. Based on what he’d told Greg and me during the week, I knew that the man could put it away.

Makine-san is one of those people (like my good friend Tamami, another serious drinker) that I refer to as sasori, or scorpion – small but deadly.


Arai-san has been practicing his English all week. He’s actually rather good, considering that the last time he studied it was in high school. It turns out that he can speak a little Chinese as well.

He tried hard to explain even the most difficult things in English, until at last something caught him completely off guard. While washing the rice one day, we noticed Oskari chomping a mouthful of uncooked rice.

Arai-san’s eyes flew open as rushed over.

“You don’t…” he started, shaking his head and waving his hands repeatedly, “eat rice.”

Then, he turned to me and spoke in Japanese.

“Osakari, he says that if you eat the rice raw like that, you’ll get really bad diarrhea.”

Funny hand motions were made, and the point was taken.


Daimon-san, who is in charge of the polishing machine, is active and surprisingly strong for a septuagenarian.

“I went to pick takenoko this morning,” Daimon-san told me.

“Oh, really?” I asked, “Where does is grow?”

“On the hill nearby,” he answered, “they’re really coming up now.”

He grinned and made a teepee with his hands, pantomiming the pointy heads of bamboo shoots breaking through the ground.

“We’re going to use them at the Mukune-tei restaurant this April.” He grinned again; the gap from two missing bottom teeth made his smile even more endearing.

Later, he showed me a bag of flowers that he’d just picked.

“Peach blossoms,” he said.

Each little pink flower was perfectly intact, with drops of moisture clinging its delicate petals.

“Peach blossoms,” he repeated, cupping one in his extended right hand.

I smiled.


Well, it’s time to get back to real life. No more lifting 10kg bags of rice or making koji. Of course, I’m happy to be back in noisy, crazy Tokyo, with Hubby and the cat, but I will miss these guys. Thank you all so much!


Sake Making Internship “Graduation” 2009

Well it’s been weeks of experience and the time here is sadly coming to a close. Many interesting days filled with learning every aspect and procedures of the sake’ brewing craft. As small list of subject covered were: choosing the proper yeast and rice strains, proper polishing, washing and steaming of rice. The most interesting topic for me was understanding Koji rice and what it takes to turn the starches of the grains into fermentable sugars. Temperatures and humidity monitoring, and overall chemistry involved to make great sake’.

In all I filled 2 note books of written information, tasting notes and hastily sketched diagrams.  Shot 14 tapes of raw video footage to be reviewed and edited. Still I’m sure the full enormity of this experience will not fully come to light for some time. One thing I do know right now is that Sake’ will always be in my future to share what I’ve learned with others.

The big question I have is how do I learn more as I live so far away from these experts? I posed this dilemma and Melinda and she provided to me the name of John Gauntner a sake’ professional who teaches intensive classes on sake’ in the States.  So my two part plan of action; 1) Contact Mr. Gauntner to see what he is offering as far as education. 2) Retrofit my beer home brew room to accommodate for the new needed equipment for production of sake’ on the small scale so I can continually advance in the sake craft.

For “graduation” Diamon-san took us out to a number of izakaya, to experience a great Japanese meal and to taste a great variety of local sake’ brands. Although, I have to say my favorite bottle of sake is the one presented to the interns by Diamon-san. To me it represents a fine blend of experience of the mentor, imparted with the green brashness of the apprentice. Diamon-san said many sake should be enjoyed young but I think with the proper nurturing over time, this bottle will mature into a whole new evolution of sake.

I now understand what Diamon-san said from the the beginning of the internship is unquestionably true, “to understand sake’, one must make sake’ “.

Many thanks to Yasutaka Diamon and Beau Timken for affording us seekers of knowledge and a place to learn the skills needed to truly understand sake and how to brew sake.

Thanks to all the Kurabito for your patience and understanding during the daily mentoring process.


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Last day

The week has come and gone so quickly, but much has been learned (and eaten and drank!).  It was a fantastic week, as simple as that.  I thought I would make one last post to share a few more photos, and also to leave behind a Vinod (session 2)-inspired and requested haiku.

The summer’s rice crop

Feeds winters fermentation

In spring, celebrate

Rikyubai, growing in the front garden, and the name of Daimon brewery's sake in Japan

Rikyubai, growing in the front garden, and the name of Daimon brewery's sake in Japan

Koji mold, aka Aspergillus oryzae

Koji mold, aka Aspergillus oryzae

Fish eggs, green bean and radish, one of the many delicious dishes of our last meal, prepared by the Chef of Mukune-tei restaurant here at the brewery

Fish eggs, green beans and radishes, one of the many delicious dishes of our last meal, prepared by the Chef of Mukune-tei restaurant here at the brewery

Some last advice for future interns or visitors to Daimon brewery:  be sure to enter through the front gates, the garden is absolutely beautiful and peaceful, and lets you know you are somewhere special.

I also have a wordpress blog dedicated to sake.  Thank you.


Sake and Media Riches
Media rich, that’s been this week.

__cherry pontocho

An afternoon in Kyoto and the evening in Pontocho, where the cherry blossoms drape poetically over the waterways.

An afternoon in Kyoto and the evening in Pontocho, where the cherry blossoms drape poetically over the waterways.

My new tiny laptop, an Asus Eee PC for fingers held close typing. Worked fine. Downloaded all my photos. Oscari took almost 1,000.

__daimon stirs moromi

Every morning, first thing, stirring the moromi vats.

Wireless in the kitchen and dinning room worked flawlessly. I still had to connect my little laptop to the wall because of low batteries.

__koji rice with daimon and greg

Daimon with Greg at the koji "cracking" cedar tabel. A very warm experience.

Daimon with Greg at the koji "cracking" cedar tabel. A very warm experience.

Of course, all the Tokyo people had keitais. Harris called his wife and publishers in New York a lot. Rich’s cell did not work even though folks in America promised him they would. He brought two. Neither worked.

__Kiyoshi Uea’s hat style

Kiyoshi Uea's hat style: the beekeeper.

Kiyoshi Uea's hat style: the beekeeper.

Oscari and Daimon sport iPhones. I am soooo jealous.

__kiyomi tamaki, works in the bottling and shipping warehouse. Gave me all the labels.

Kiyomi Tamaki gave me every label in stock and has beautifully lush hair.

Kiyomi Tamaki gave me every label in stock and has beautifully lush hair.

Between working in the shuzo, we had breaks. Everyone came back, sat down, and dived into their technology…and blogged baby blogged. Hope you all enjoyed the posts and photos. People would have long conversations but never look at each other…just their screens, typing away.

__sake label otaku

The Sake Label Otaku. Utsunomiya, on the left, has hers in spiral notebooks with tons of notes.

The Sake Label Otaku. Utsunomiya, on the left, has hers in spiral notebooks with tons of notes.

Thanks to the great support of Daimon, his wife, the office ladies, the restaurant Utsunomiya chef and former accountant, her crew of blue-clad ladies, and the fine shuzo crew.

__the sake crew.

The morning meeting. Assignments made, team for the day set.
The morning meeting. Assignments made, team for the day set.

My hands are gorgeous thanks to working with rice all week. Melinda was a great koji table partner, working the hot rice into little bits. Harris is a blast of New York City cheek. Rich was an unflappable New Englander. Oscari is a mad Finn and in love. I am returning to my academics and Ryogoku, the sumo center.And, thanks to Greg, we will always have Hanford.

Daimon's Bamboo Forest

Daimon's Bamboo Forest

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Saturday Wrap-up and Advice

The work is done. We’re all wrapping it up here. I’ve given my meishi to the three kurobito: Arai, Daimon (the other one), Makine, and “Kashira” Uea. The women who run the Mukune Tei restaurant are setting up our farewell dinner in the next room. Even the sumo bashoo is in its final momentum, and finishes tomorrow. Sake and Sumo, a great combo to many afternoons. Righth now a variety of sake people have drifted into the kitchen to watch.…I suppose we are all ready to return to our respective S.O.s, pets, etc. but what I lot we’ve learned and experienced. 


I’m shipping home three bottles of Daimon sake  (perhaps I slapped the on one of them) and three little bags of the KASU, or sake lees (perhaps I peeled them off the canvas earlier this week).


Advice to the next crew:

1)       Bring heavy felt liners to put in the cute and spiffy rubber boots. I brought mine and my feet were warm and comfortable with them.

2)       2) Bring a power strip for your laptop and various electronics. Your room will sport exactly one outlet with two plugs.

3)       For shuzo work, I brought two pair of white gi pants, heavy canvas. Long-johns for warmth under them. One pair thick woolen socks and a thinner over pair. A crew neck vest made a lot of difference. VEST: A thin vest from Uniglo worked for Harris and Daimon-san.

4)       One set of canvas black sports pants for evenings and a long white cotton shirt made the evening rounds of izakaya and dinners just fine. SO, not many sets of clothes needed. There’s an excellent washer and DRIER here.

5)   Write your blogs/posts in MS Word separately, then add them to your WordPress notes. Then add photos. It’s easier. (Greg’s suggestion.)


Here’s the gang when we first started…(photo by Oscari, the mad Finn)

 First Dinner



Izakayas and dinners always featured whatever Daimon san brought us, and I really enjoyed the blind tastings. I was alway way off the mark, but may have learned a bit more. Really enjoyed it, as you can see here. (photo by Oscari, the wild Finn).




Tomorrow morning we go our separate ways, to Tokyo, and Rich to Connecticut. Everyone has been more than kind, generous, and patient with us. I hope to return again later…I certainly don’t feel this is the end, but more the beginning of a long and fruitful, adventurous, and truly remarkable relationship. I cant begin to thank Daimon-san for his vision and Beau Timken for going for it. I wonder what innovations will come about and what happen in the future of sake.


Nigori on this hand, and on the other...?

Nigori on this hand, and on the other...?

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Make it, taste it, love it

dsc_0068The work is done, at least for us interns. Today we added koji and rice to the patch for the third time, and left it to slowly ferment over the next 5 weeks. We pressed an earlier patch, tasted fresh sake from Yabuta (press) and finally packed deliciously bitter sake kasu (lees). Now it’s time to take off our rubber boots and white hats, and enjoy the farewell dinner here in brewery’s own sake restaurant, Mukune tei.

dsc_1000During these days we have followed Daimon-san’s excellent education method; to learn about sake, drink it, make it, love it. I actually feel that we have gained more that the sake lore that we came here for. For me the Mukune Way has been an amazing insight to the Japanese culture. The history, the locality, the Japanese quality mind that permeates every corner of brewery production, the kurabito who work with dedication, kata and kaizen (continuous improvement) mind…dsc_0776

I feel that for one week I was living the future of Japan. Here in Mukune history is alive with the promise of continuously improving future. I love how Daimon-san carries the valuable learnings from the history, while embracing change with open mind. He educates his countrymen about the joys of premium sake in his restaurant and he extends his message of the ‘betterment of sake’ also to us funny foreigners. A true father figure for all sake ambassadors!

Time to continue our education… let us start an evening of ‘drink sake, love sake’!

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_How to Recognize Mukune’s Back Entrance_

NEW INTERNS: Mukune has two entrances. Here is how to get to the  URAMON or TSUYOUMON, which is really for business visitors and cargo delivery. When you first arrive though, the SEIMON, or official entrance, is the most beautiful and aesthetic, especially for your first impression of the shuzo. If you arrive at the Kawachi-Iwafuni station please ask the taxi driver to take you there. Another posting is being made now that will show the way to the SEIMON…

It is a bit complicated, but the SEIMON post will make it easy to find.

To Find the Back Gate, or the URAMON:

When you are walking up the road that leads uphill straight uphill to Mukune, how can you recognize the entrance? There isn’t exactly an obvious English sign. Here is your first indicator…the purple flags on poles.

Purple Flags

There is a sign on the wall by the flags where you will see “Mukune” in English. That is all for English.

Mukune Sign

There is a thin sign all in Japanese, informing visitors that the office is just ahead.

Visitors Sign

Go up the small road that branches off the main road and heads uphill to the rusting metal barred gate.

Road Uphill

The office is on your left. The entrance to the shuzo is on your right, just pas the large, “can’t miss it” chimney. Welcome to Mukune. Mukune o yookoso…..Hope this helps all the new people to come.

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Getting a Feel for Rice

I’ve come to understand what my fellow intern Harris Salat meant when he said that he’s enjoying the feeling of working with rice. The tactile range is tremendous, from the cool silkiness of just-washed sakamai to the prickly hardness of rice straight from the cooling machine.

After a couple of days of working with the koji rice, I’m starting to appreciate some of its nuances.

“It’s too moist,” I said.

“I think so, too,” Patricia agreed. A tinge of worry flitted across her brow as she examined a handful.

Uei-san confirmed our suspicions, “There’s still too much moisture. We’ll have to wait 20 minutes or so before tane-kiri.

“Oh, no,” I thought, feeling responsible.

“It’s not you,” Daimon-san consoled me. “This is caused by the rice steaming. Each time is different, so we must adjust.”

“Yes,” I said, “I think I’m starting to get  a feel for it.”

“That’s  good,” he laughed. “Now you can be  koji sensei!”


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Sake Flats

Looking around the shuzo, at first it seems cold and a little sterile. Closer inspection shows eerie shapes, spooky shadows, and amusing juxtapositions that can only come from layers of use ande living in a space. The flats used by Daimon Ni-ban, a specialist in rice polishing and also the mover of flats…
Outdoors, rows of bottles sit awaiting their next round of use white-bottles-end
Eerie view of blue bottles in yellow cases. blue-bottles-yellowcase

Inside the shuzo, the afternoon sun comes in and shines through this giant butterfly wing, actually one of the circular heavy nets we cast over the wide barrel of steamed rice.


and the arrangement of things is quite pleasing. Here, two wooden shovels used in the koji room.


and finally, before we run off to the local izakaya to end this long and wonderful Friday, an arrangement of electrical wires of some antiquity.


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SHORT videos-bottle labeling


 I love sake labels, so I was thrilled to join Makine-san out in the back shed to actually help apply them.__(1) Makine-Starts
A 30-year old machine clanks and bangs along as Makine-san pops the bottle into the beginning of the short convery belt. The roll of front labels unwinds to join it’s partner for the Label Dance. A Date Stamper__ (2) Date Stamper  beats the time. The small bottles twirl down the line and into the round corral__(3) Moving Along

 where Harris and I place them in their new homes, cartons, which will be off to the USA in a few days.

Front labels complete, Makine-san has to recalibrate the machine for the different size and placement. Quite a few back labels meet their fate in the trash can for failed test runs. In a few moments, though, he has it. The dance begins again.__(4) Moving Along, Singing a Song

1-Makine Starts the Bottle Conga. Watch from start to finish.
2-Date Stamping. Close up of the stamper with today’s date.
3-Label Line Dancing.
4-Longer Label Line Dancing

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