It has been two years since I received my wine accreditation and became a little more familiar with the world of wine. And it has been a year since I began importing wine and rum into Japan. My company is better at finding items to import than to export right now, but as a trading company, I've always wanted to introduce Japanese liquors and our state-of-the-art fine crafted items abroad.
そんな私の気持ちに呼応するかのように、今年日本ソムリエ協会ではSake Diploma（酒ディプロマ） という資格を新たに設けました。元々利き酒師という資格がありますが、これはどちらかというと日本人のためのもの。和食がユネスコの無形文化遺産に登録されたり、何かと注目を集めている中、当然食のお供である日本酒にも注目が集まっているということで、海外でお酒をサーブするソムリエさんたちや、2020年のオリンピックに向けて益々増えて行くだろう海外からくる外国人にも日本酒の香りや味わいを理解してもらえるような共通言語を確立していこうということでできた認定試験になります。
And so, as if to read my mind, this Spring (2017), The Japan Sommelier Association announced that they would devise a new accreditation called a Sake Diploma. The current accreditation in Japan for sake expertise is called Kikizakeshi but the phrases and expressions used to earn this accreditation are not made for foreigners to understand. In 2013 Japanese Food was registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the lead up to the 2020 Summer Olympic Games is expected to see the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan to increase dramatically. For these reasons and many more, it became necessary to establish common English expressions to describe sake. After all, those who serve sake abroad are most likely Sommeliers.
So, I'm going to take the exam for the Sake Diploma. I swore to myself that I'd never take another accreditation after I went through the challenges and the struggles with the Wine Expert course. But this will be the first time that this exam will be administered for this accreditation in the history of Japan and since my company will be exporting sake as soon as we get the thumbs up from the TTB, I said to myself, why not!
We plan to export black shochu from the Amami islands and sake from Nagano Prefecture, specifically from Daishinshu Brewery. Let me blog about Daishinshu Brewery which I visited about a year ago.
It was a lovely sunny morning in May 2016 when we visited the Brewery. In February 2015, my boss and I had visited their Matsumoto City shop, but this time, we were invited to their brewery in Toyono, Nagano Prefecture, to learn about how they make sake.
We were planning to take a taxi from Obuse station but I changed my mind when I saw a rental bicycle service at the station. It was way too lovely a day to be in a car! Let's go cycling!
The way to the brewery on the map looked pretty flat but the actual road was a long slope downward. Geez, I am going to get soaked in sweat on my way back for sure...
People at the brewery seemed a bit startled when they saw us ride up on bicycles. That was when I realized that a bicycle was not a proper transportation method when you are visiting potential business partners. Oh well. We had a short business meeting and the owner took us on a brewery tour.
The first thing the owner of Daishinshu showed us was their rice mill. Polishing brown rice takes considerable time. For example, it takes 50 hours to polish 600kg of rice up to 50% polished. Rice has many nutritious elements which are good for eating but affect the flavor when making sake. So sake rice needs to be polished more than food rice. Milling rice for sake will cut protein and some of the minerals like iron which affect the aroma and flavor of sake. Many sake breweries outsource the milling process but Daishinshu spends the time and labor to mill the rice on site because they think that rice oxidizes (like grapes) and they want to maintain control over the timing of the milling in order to control the rate of oxidation and make a better sake.
Daishinshu takes the same steps and care with each grade of sake they make, no matter which grade they make. The differences in prices merely come from the grade of ingredients, the quantities, the polishing rate, the size of the tank being used, and which parts of the sake in the tank get bottled. Just like whisky, sake has three parts: the head, the heart and the tail. The head, called ARABASHIRI is clear, fresh and smooth, the middle part or heart is called NAKADARE and usually has the best flavor and taste; the tail is called SEME and tends to have an unfavorable flavor produced from squeezing the mash.
Because the nature of their work is craft work and they take considerable time and effort making their sake it is not possible for these products to be mass produce.
At the end of the tour, the owner told us that "Sake reflects the culture, the climate and the terroir of Japan. Historically, sake has been a part of religious ceremonies. Since rice is a crop, we play only a part in creating something that has been influenced by nature and there is only so much a human can do with it. To feel that power of nature and to have the opportunity to create something from it seems an honorable and proud thing to do. I feel really lucky to be in this job." And I, Cecile, feel honored that he allow us to handle his sake.
This visit we made last year helps me a lot now that I am beginning to learning about sake. I've actually seen all of the equipment and tools for making sake which make the text book a lot easier to understand, at least it's easier than trying to visualize it all from just the book. Maybe this year I should visit them when they are making sake.