#530 -【Gold Medal】
I am now temporarily back in Japan. Thanks to Mr. F and Mr. H, who are like demons in our brewery, my schedule is packed to the brim. I have no time to suffer from jet lag, but rather to juggle several appointments in a day. During such busy days, I received a great news from Mr. Nishida, our production manager. He reported that our sake had won a gold medal at the Japan Sake Award held by the National Tax Agency, which is held every spring.
In fact, this is the first time Asahi Shuzo has won a gold medal since I took over the brewery upon my father's death in 1984. Except for the first two years, which were a technical nightmare, we had a reasonably good toji (master brewer) in the third year and invested in good rice and equipment in order to win the gold medal, even though we were struggling. So I was puzzled as to why we couldn't win it while other companies could. Incidentally, the toji who had worked for us for 13 years left for another brewery because of the fiasco at my microbrewery restaurant, but he promptly won a gold medal at the brewery to which he moved that year. It was a sad fact that he had never been able to win a gold medal at our brewery.
After the toji was gone, the staff and I started making sake by ourselves, and we began to make DASSAI that I thought might win a gold medal. Moreover, the world began to appreciate DASSAI as Junmai Daiginjo sake, but we still couldn't win the gold medal. This was the fault of my own hesitation as the head of the brewery.
In fact, the Japan Sake Award has been a matter of debate, including the significance of its existence. There was a technical instructor who had an outstanding rate of gold medals awarded to the breweries in which he was instructing. I once visited him and was treated to lunch. At the lunch time, he recommended a completely different type of sake, saying "Gold medal-winning sake is a deformed sake. This is the kind of sake that is normally good to drink.”
This instructor had been a judge at the Japan Sake Award for many years. However, I am sure that not only this instructor, but there were a number of instructors who said, "I don't like this kind of sake.” while valuing them as judges.
Arguments were divided among the organizers and judges in this way, but the gold medal fever heated up among the breweries who were stirred up by the competitive spirit of the competition in a distorted way. Especially during the bubble era in 80’s, rumors flew around that the phone calls to the winning brewer never stopped, and the brewery's sake was sold out by the end of the day, which further increased brewer’s enthusiasm of the Gold medal.
While I was fed up with such excitement, I also believed that “competition makes brewers’ skills evolve” and “evolved skills make the quality of commercial products better,” just like cars of F1 racing, so I had no intention of denying that it was just like that. Rather, we actively talked in my brewery about my desire to win the Gold medal.
However, there were twists and turns for our brewers (including myself) in the brewery before we honestly reached the level of the sake to be sent as an entry. First of all, we have pushed through with Junmai Daiginjo, despite the fact that it is generally believed that “if you don't add alcohol, the sake will not be punchy enough to win the Gold medal.” In addition, I was thinking "I will make a sake for an entry that is unique to DASSAI. We will not make a sake for an entry that is different in quality from DASSAI on the market just to win a Gold medal." This was also a disadvantage against the general trend to “design” the quality of sake in accordance with the selection tendencies of the judges.
I think it was not very easy for our employees to follow my instruction.
Surprisingly, it might be easier for brewers and toji to win gold medals at breweries which make lower-priced sake, where their sake was packed mainly by paper cartons instead of bottles, because they might be able to tell themselves that it couldn’t be helped.
At some point in time, some of the production staff said, "Sake that has won gold medals in the world is different from the sake sold on the market. We should just make sake that is unique to DASSAI, and we don't need to win a gold medal.”
I knew this was not good, so I continued to talk about the significance to win gold medals in the brewery at every opportunity, saying, "The benefits of challenging a single limit are immeasurable”.
However, until a certain point in time, we had had so entrenched idea of sending only commercially available sake for an entry that we were only offering sake that was pressed in the same way as regular commercial sake, either by Yabuta or by centrifuge. This was like driving a four-seater sedan in an F1 race. Only DASSAI was a four-seater sedan, so there was no way to win. It was impossible to "still aim for the gold medal" in such a situation.
Finally, I woke up, or rather, I reflected on the situation properly. From five years ago, we have started to make a sake extracted in the way of hanging bag, which is common or even a must for entry sake, despite the fact that we have never given up Junmai Daiginjo using Yamada Nishiki. (When extracted in this way, we can obtain just ca. 20 liters of good sake at a time, and only a few liters are left at the end of the contest. I didn't like it because it made it impossible to sell the sake. I still haven't fully digested this point.)
The hanging-bag is an ordinary method for other sake breweries, as it is the way they always extract their sake for entry. However, for DASSAI it was a new method. We started by following their example, but it turned out to be a series of failures. The perfect Mr. M in our brewery had his sister sew the bag, but instead of using a double layer of cloth, he used a single layer of cloth, which resulted in the sake mash going through the bag without being extracted. Every time the bag got ruined, his sister sewed the bag back together and kept him cheered.
The perfect Mr. M is now in the U.S. as a member of the DASSAI Blue start-up staff, so the person who was in charge of the sake for entry to the Award was Mr. Nagao, the current crafting manager. The sake that was sent to the Award have already been bottled and sold as “DASSAI 23” in the market. Perhaps it has already been down your throat.
☆Delicacies that impressed me back in Japan
After all, it is vegetables. The tastes of cucumbers, tomatoes and more others are irreplaceable. I am deeply impressed with the taste of a regular vegetable salad.