Archive for March, 2009

Rinse and Repeat

It’s 2:30 and I’m watching the bottom of the 10th inning, Japan 5 – Korea 3. Ichiro just banged a perfect hit to get Japan ahead. OH, and I pulled off many sheets of kasu from between the canvas pressers. Kasu sheets about 4 feet high and 3 feet wide. Texture of perfect pie crust, like my grandmother used to make. Rich and I under Arai-san’s congenial watch. Before that, all of us were washing rice with the kurabito. Washing is not quite right. More like watching the seconds on the clock to coordinate thowing the bag of rice into the hopper, where it is spun like a top, then flushed out. YAYYY.Oh sorry, Japan just won. Everyone is really jumping now. OK, then the wet rice is thrown nt a gauze bag. I pull it left, right up and washing in the blue bag pulling up 120 on the right, 120 times on the left. My back really hurt from that one. Wearing the spiffy white boots, I remembered to add my wool foot inserts and that really saved my feet. Also, I threw my soaked gi pants into the dryer on the break, and wore my second set, so I wasnt wet and cold all morning. Well,time to see if we can help out with another task.


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A gracious welcoming by Daimon-san

After reading the previous interns’ posts, I was really eager to meet Daimon-san and see his brewery with my own eyes.  I arrived at the brewery after dark, and as I approached the main gate it felt like I was looking into a mystical gardern.  The brewery has an absolutely beautiful courtyard that is lit with tiny spotlights and has a very peaceful feeling (the picture below does not do it justice).

The Mukune courtyard

The Mukune courtyard

After I long train ride from Tokyo, I couldn’t help but feel more relaxed as I walked towards the main door.  Very quickly, I was greeted by Daimon-san and couldn’t have felt more welcomed.  He is a genuinely nice individual and his enthusiasm for this program is tangible.  As I was the last intern to arrive, minutes before the first scheduled meeting at 7pm, we assembled in the dining area of the brewery.  After introductions and a speech by Daimon-san about his hopes and desires for this program, it was off to a local izakaya for our first group dinner.  In summary, the food was excellent, and the 3 bottles of Mukune nihonshu that Daimon-san shared- a nama, lightly cloudy sake (うすにごり生酒), a daiginjo, and a special production junmaishu (特別純米酒)- were also excellent.

Daimon-san sharing his sake

Daimon-san sharing his sake

Special production junmaishu

Special production junmaishu

a lightly cloudy, nama sake

a lightly cloudy, nama sake

a lightly seared bonito salad

a lightly seared bonito salad

All in all, it was a great start to the week.   We are just getting are feet wet, literally, in the brewery today.  In fact, it is time to go back now!


Sake Making Interns at Mukune: Session 3

A quick run to town for some shopping with Patricia, she graciously explains the foods that I have not seen before. Then back to the kura to meet the other participants who are selected for this epic program. One by one they began to arrive from areas around the globe.

By early afternoon all 6-future sake’ brewing interns have safely arrived at the kura.  Including myself, here is the lineup of future sake’ ambassadors.

Oskari Hamalainen- From Finland,works for Bridgestone Tire living in India (Oskari the picture taker in session 3)

Malinda Joe -is a long-time writer for The JapanTimelife, she originates from the US but now living in Tokyo.

Greg Newton– From Canada. Greg is an aspiring sake’ brewer. He is currently living locally. He mentioned he would like to bring sake’ back to Canada. A Special thanks to Gregg who has agreed to assist me in videotaping the sake’ internship process and experience. He also will help with the interview with Diamon-san as that time arrives.

Harris Salat –From NYC, he is a foodie and blogger as well as author of Japanese cuisine. Harris mentioned he was going to cook us a hot pot recipe from his book he co- authored. I’m Looking forward to this for sure.

Patricia Yarrow– An educator with many Japanese cultural interests outside of her sake interest. (the most fascinating is her interest in drain covers of Japan that were decorated as fine art). Unknowingly Patricia has served as my cultural educator during this past 24 hours and I will likely relie on her cultural knowledge for the remainder of the internship.

Richard Gummoe Boy Meets Still Productions,

All the interns gathered for our first official meeting with Diamon-san, his staff of kurabito, to discuss sake’ and the process of making sake’, and our goals for the program. Diamon-san explained his reasons for bringing us all together, for the “betterment of Sake”. He then brought out several aged bottles of sake for us to taste, some were aged close to two decades. They both were fantastic in taste and other qualities that I cannot explain as I do not have the experience to do so. However, I do believe that this internship (a.k.a. Mukune sake boot camp) will provide all of us with much more experience to more fully describe the subtleties in flavor and sensory nuances.


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Calm before the Storm

Rick and I are sitting at the kitchen table getting used to the Dashboard. I’m watching sumo on the large tv that will be our video monitor soon. Daimon san drove into town…an embarrassingly straight shot down the road. We knocked around the Kansai Supa . On the way back, we reaized Rick had been maybe 20 feet from the shuzo back entrance before he gave up the dark last night. His taxi driver had refufsed to give him the ride, as the station was closing around 1 a.m., saying, (Rick thinks) “It’s only 300 meters, dude!” I was more fortunate last evening in the pouring rain,but the driver took a circuitous route to the beautiful front garden gate. Warming, future Mukunites, the route straight up from the station has no English sign saying “Mukune, this way”. On your right there is a asphalt path splitting uphill alongside the road. It IS marked by several lavendar long banners with kanji on them. A small sign on the wall says Mukune but is hard to spot. There is a rusted barred gate and you will walk into the bottle storage area. The entrance is on your right justpast the tall concrete chimney. Now we are awaiting the arrival of the rest of TeaMUKU3 and the evenings festivities before we get to work tomorrow. In the shuzo! Hands on!

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和醸良酒-or-Happy Brewing Session 3!

One night during Session 2, Daimon-san brought us all to a nearby restaurant for a very nice dinner. It was actually our second visit there, and this time we sat down in the tatami room in the back. From where I was sitting, I could look up and see the framed calligraphy in the photograph below. The last character on the left especially caught my eye.


I’m pretty sure those kanji are read Wajyouryoushu. But, what does that mean? Probably something important for all of us who join the kurabito for our short stay on the MISBP. If I had to really hack the translation kanji by kanji, it might go something like this:

和 [wa] Harmony
醸 [jyou] Brewing
良 [ryou] Good
酒 [shu] Sake

There must be a much more elegant way to phrase this, but how about “Good sake from happy brewers”? I think it goes well beyond just happy though. Beau and others have already commented on the flow in the kura. And translating wa as “happiness” just isn’t right. “Contented” feels good but reminds me of a certain California dairy campaign that just isn’t dignified. “Peaceful” belies the amount of hard work involved.

If the MISBP motto is “The Best Way To Learn Sake Is To Make Sake” then maybe we can turn it around to also say that “The best way to make good sake is to know good sake”? “Love good sake”? I’m grasping at straws here, so I’ll leave it to the next crew to ask Daimon-san how he can best explain those kanji for you. Have fun, happy brewing, and wish I was back!


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Learn To Make Sake: Interns Travel to Mukune Brewery

Yes, it’s true I was able to make to the Kura last evening or this morning. The flights and layover went without a hitch all the way into KIX Osaka Kansai International. Although from the airport things started to go a little haywire, as I was unfamiliar the language and purchasing machines for train tickets. Once on to the train there was some relief of anxiety as the station stops were announced in Japanese and English.  Even though I was exhausted from the 12 -14-hour flight, the excitement was really beginning to build as the train sped to my destination.

I took a moment, drifted back a few months when I received the email from Beau Timken who informed me that I would be one of few lucky people chosen for this sake’ making adventure at Sakahan Brewery. Thrilled to say the least, as I only filled out an online application on a whim. The application consisted of 4 questions: first name, last name, email address and a comment section.

In the comment section I included my experience on the Boy Meets Still cable television show I have been producing for past two years in New England. A program that highlights the recent, rapid growth in the micro-distillery movement occurring in the US. Now Boy Meets Still is going to learn sake’ in Japan. How fortunate to be afforded this honor and opportunity to bring the sake’ process and knowledge back to America through hands on experience and video programming.

I am not in any way a sake’ expert, as I was only introduced to sake the the summer few months ago, but I do remember that moment well. From my first taste, I knew my love affair for the grain home brewing of beer was over for good. My new mysterious mistress is this refined delicate beverage of polished steamed rice and mold (koji).

I was snapped back to the present as my stop was announced at Kawachi Iwafune Station, off the train and stepping out of the station into the still, dark and quiet early morning streets in Katano-she. In moments a taxi pulled up and I showed him the map that I was provided, to Diamon shuzo and he pointed up the hill, “300 meters” he said, as he slammed his door of the taxi and sped off.

300 meters, how far is that anyway, 1 mile or maybe 2 miles?  So, with 50lbs video cameras and sound equipment, I started to walk up the dimly lit hill for what seemed like 30 minutes in the darkness. Not seeing any signs or any entrances that resembled the pictures of the beautiful gardens I viewed on the Mukune website. I returned to the now closed train station. A phone call to Diamon-san and rescue arrived in minutes.

One of his first questions he asked, after proper introductions and us loading the gear into the mini truck; “Do you have any food aversions?” Although, sleep and jet lag were foremost occupying my thoughts, I let him know I had no food aversion. My change in thoughts wondered to what might be on the menu for this Sake’ making excursion… baluga or fugu? Yup… I’m game for eating anything as I want to fully immerse myself in the kurabito culture, so that I may learn all the skills needed to make fine sake’. I’m guessing this will take place under careful watchful eye of Yasutaka Daimon a true Sake’ Master of this centuries old brewery, but first it’s time for much needed sleep.

-More to come.


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session 3 kicks off

Arrived yesterday 5pm in torrential rain.
Rick arrived 2 am last night after 3 planes and 3 trains. He’s revived now and we are drinking Key coffee. Daimon san will show us around a bit but today is a day off. The rest of the Session 3 crew blows in tonight.Great accomodations and room and shower. No knives or forks in the kitchen, but 100s of chopsticks. More soon. Looks and smells incredible.

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MISBP Alumni Facebook group page

I set up an “alumni” page on Facebook – please join, will be a convenient way to organise efforts and, hopefully, alumni events!


Meetup anybody?

Near the end of the week at the brewery, Daimon-san asked about the Tokyo Sake Meetup. I don’t mean to be too self-promotional here, but since we just announced our next event, I thought I’d explain a little bit. Meetup is a website that makes it easy to coordinate events and announce them. It works like many social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn, but has the added advantage of a good RSVP system that makes it worth the small monthly charge.


Et-chan and I had been attending many nihonshu events, classes, and tastings in Japanese, but there were few opportunities for newbies or people who preferred their sake intake in English. So, Et-chan (I just help out as much as I can) decided to create the Tokyo Sake Meetup to take everything we’ve learned and try to share the enjoyment of nihonshu with people in or around Tokyo in a bilingual setting. Since 2007, we’ve held 16 events for lots of old and new sake fans. It is just a lot of fun to turn people on to the many, many ways to enjoy sake. There are more than 100 people on our membership list but we usually have a small turnout of 8-20 people for an event. One nice point is that there is always a fun mix of people from Japan and those from around the world living in or near Tokyo. Slowly, but surely, we’re spreading the word about our favorite beverage.

Please sign up and you’ll get all of the sake information and events we put out there. I know most of you aren’t in Tokyo, but you never know when you might want to visit, right? We love to have people from out of town. Can’t make it to Tokyo? There are also Sake Meetups in Chicago, New York, the Twin Cities, and Vancouver. I hope we’ll see some new ones in California, Philly, and Singapore soon. Hint! Hint! A Kansai Sake Meetup seems to be a must. If you know someone who can get it started, I think we all know a brewery they could visit.

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Things the MISBP interns need–or, not

Since we seem to be in a list mode here on the blog lately, I guess I’ll try to tie together a few thoughts for future Interns. I’m sure I have forgotten something, so I might come back with a reflexive comment to myself. Please, add your own thoughts and pretty soon we’ll have a regular FAQ list for next year’s group.

Things I was very glad I brought with me

  • A multi-plug: I got a tiny little AC power splitter that came in very handy. I could charge my camera, video camera, iPhone, and computer all at the same time in my room. Very handy. With everyone carrying lots of gear, there are never enough plugs.
  • Long underwear: I brought one pair of cheapy Uniqlo ski-wear. I wish I’d brought another. When you spend a whole day washing rice and doing stuff in the kura building it gets cold, especially the feet. They kept me warm without having to pile up so many layers of jackets. For anyone with the dreaded lower-back pain, keeping that area warm is a good idea.
  • Flip MinoHD: These are great little cameras. I love mine. I now have hours of video to edit and post to this blog, but someday soon…
  • Things I didn’t really need after all

  • Tripod: I never had time to stand still and set it up. No good place to leave anything anyway.
  • So many socks: I missed the memo about the washing machine.
  • Coffee: After various travels around Japan I have found myself coffee-deprived on enough early mornings that I usually bring a Mon Cafe or a Melitta with me. No need here!
  • Things I wish I had brought

  • Notes: I forgot to bring all of my notes, such as they are, about sake. The evening discussion often turned to other sake (surprise, surprise), and I was sometimes caught trying to remember something I’d had ages ago or something I had learned but forgotten.
  • A tiny voice recorder: I was often way to busy to make notes and there is so much water around that notebooks might not always hold up well. I wish I’d had a little clip-on voice recorder. I tried to make do with my phone now and then, but it wasn’t the same.
  • Camera straps: This is a big one. I was always fishing my Ricoh or my Flip out of one pocket or another. The around-the-neck camera strap is clunky and can be uncomfortable, but I missed shots because I didn’t have the camera handy. You will always have some work you should be doing with your hands, so you can’t just hold the camera all day. Also, we sometimes passed cameras to each other or wanted to get pics of what was happening in the tanks. I was sure I was going to drop my camera in the moromi and then be instantly ejected from the kura. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but it very easily could. Put a strap on that camera and you can relax.
  • Storage: We all took a ton of pictures. I wish I’d cleared out my laptop hard drive before I came so I had more room. Extra memory cards are not a bad idea either. If you use SD, you can get an extra 1GB at the Family Mart down the road for about ¥2,000.
  • What did you forget? What did I forget? What should the next session bring along? I know there is something. Fire away with your comments.