Saturday, October 4, 2014

In Shiga, Making Jizake

Last winter I spent a few days in Shiga, Japan, helping make a batch of sake with friends. Jean Marc Brignot, a winemaker from France who now lives in Japan, joined us for the fun and to infuse his wine wisdom to this little project. The two of us were the only non-Japanese in the brewery and both of us had no experience in sake making.

After three days working alongside the brewery workers, I can say that sake making is unimaginably complicated and physically demanding! You wake up each morning at five o'clock in the 40 degree F chill, then start work an hour later through the rest of the day, interrupted by a two-hour mid-day break for lunch and a short nap. For six months straight every year, brewery workers live like this. It's a brutal schedule that, by comparison, makes winemaking, which is tough work, seems like a walk in the park.

My friend, Kei, the brewery's young toji. He's standing next to the special batch of sake we're about help finish. It's never been done, sake brewed and fermented in an amphora-like clay vessel.

The outcome and reward for all these efforts is jizake--artisanal, local, manually produced, small batch sake. It's the stuff of sake dreams. Jean Marc came up with a cool name for this jizake we made: Umami Blue.

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