The Dassai brewery experience By Richard M. Eriksson Part-2
The following week was my last week at the Dassai brewery for the time being. After an intense first week, I had a bit more sporadic second week. But with plenty of time for learning.
Day 6 - 7, Monday and Tuesday
The following two days I was hard at work making Koji-rice. This koji-rice is one of the main ingredients of sake making. Fermenting rice to create a yeast to allow the starch in the rice to become sugar, which will later be turned into alcohol by the shubo.
After the rice-washing this was one of the hardest parts of making sake in my experience. Whilst it wasn’t as intensive as the rice-washing, it was nevertheless tiresome and most of all hot! The rice itself wasn’t too hot, it was the room itself in which I was working in. Since I am from Sweden I am used to colder climates. But in my 5 years of living in Japan, I have acclimated somewhat to a tropical climate now. However this koji-room was on a different level of hot. Averaging around 36 to 38° Celcius with a very high humidity, it is safe to say just standing in the room will make you sweat. So spending hours working here required a lot of water and a few extra t-shirts.
In this koji-room I was taking the steamed rice and spreading it out on long tables covered by a cloth. Airing, kneading, turning the rice many times without squashing it to make sure it is in the best condition before applying the koji-yeast. When it finally was time to apply the koji-yeast, I was fortunate to do it as well. The reason is that applying the koji-yeast is very important and if it isn't done properly it may render the batch useless. So the pressure was on! Many times it looks almost religious watching the process. Walking around the large tables shaking the container with yeast whilst keeping rhythm with everyone makes this a special moment in this process.
The work wasn’t quite finished by just applying the koji-yeast to the rice. Afterward it had to be monitored for a long period of time. Meaning I had to stay the night at the brewery. Taking this night shift wasn’t actually as hard as I thought. Being a new father myself, I have experiences of waking up in the night for caretaking. So the night shift was almost like tending a newborn baby, going alert every 3 hours to check on it, but with way less crying of course.
Day 8, Wednesday
Since I had taken the night shift the day before, this was the shortest day. Earning some rest after a long night.
I started at the Koji-room again, to see the end of the process. The fruits of my labor sort of speak. When the koji-rice is in the right condition it will be bagged and stored in a refrigerator to be used later in the mixing of sake.
After the final work at the koji-room I had a quick change and went to the rice-polishing facility. Since the rice-polishing is mostly automated, there wasn’t much work for me to do here. So instead I got a thorough guide around the facility and got really into details about the rice and the different regions it grows in. Whilst I was there, they were expanding the facility adding even more machines making it the biggest rice-polishing facility in Japan, once it is set up and running.
Day 9, Thursday
The fermentation of rice to make sake takes about a month. However it still needs to go through a pressing process to get clear clean sake.
Here I get more familiar with the pressing methods and how messy it can to clean up after the pressing. Because after the sake mash has gone through the pressing machine to filter out the clean sake, there will be a leftover product called sake lees. This lees had to be peeled off from the machine by hand. So dressed up in full a waterproof suit and an apron I started by cleaning the pressing machine. The thing is that in the machine there are 150 separate filters and each had to be cleaned, so this took quite some time.
I also got to see the inside of the unique centrifugal machine that the Dassai brewery pioneered in. It is surprisingly small but quite a complex system. Used only to make the very best of Dassai’s sake, for example, the Dassai Beyond.
Without a doubt, the best part of the pressing process is to be able to try the freshly pressed sake. It is as raw as it gets, undiluted and unpasteurized sake is truly something unique.
Day 10, Friday
The last day for me at the Dassai brewery for the time being. Even though it was the last day there was still time for learning.
Start as always with the morning meeting, like all the days before. Then heading to the last part of the sake making process. The bottling and pasteurizing of the sake. Unfortunately this day there were some issues and the line wasn't moving in the main brewery. Which led me to visit the smaller 2nd brewery down the road. This was a slightly older brewery which they had been using when the new one was under construction. Now it's the designated brewery for producing, bottling and pasteurizing the large 1,8L bottles.
At the bottling and pasteurization line it was a lot going on but mostly automated. New bottles first get sterilized and filled with sake. Then each bottle was "scanned" by hand, a woman at the time was checking all the bottles coming through and I have to say she was fast and precise. Anything she deemed suspicious she took them off the line for further inspection.
After the bottles had gone through the pasteurizing and 2 more scans by computers they got loaded into boxed and sent to the warehouse.
After a lunch at a nice pizzeria, recommended by a co-worker from the office, located in what seems to be out in nowhere. I had a last tour at the designated warehouse.
Besides being a warehouse for the sake, there were some other productions going on as well. Walking inside the huge refrigerated warehouse behind a small door they were making another alcohol beverage called shochu. Shochu is a distilled alcohol which they are making from the leftover sake lees. When I walked inside it felt like I had stumbled inside their secret moonshine factory. In reality, it was located here because it is not part of the main production for Dassai, but still a good side product they make.
Lastly from this warehouse all Dassi sake is sent to stores and restaurants all over the world. For all people to enjoy a little bit of refined Japanese liquor.
These 2 weeks were a great and important experience for me. I learned a lot and it cleared a lot of questions I had about sake making. I feel I have grown more with this experience and I will do my best to share more of this knowledge in the future. Most of all I hope I get more chances to make sake in the future. To further expand my knowledge and there is a certain gratification in making a product such as Dassai sake that is enjoyed by people both new and experience to sake.