“Four amateurs crafting sake“

When our local beer restaurant failed spectacularly, rumors began to circulate saying that we went bankrupt which led to our toji running away. If the toji do not come, then the workers working under him wouldn't come either. We had only three months until the sake fermentation season starts. I didn't know what to do, if I could find a replacement toji, or not.

I had no choice, nothing I could do. But all things considered, I wasn't happy with the sake made by our former toji anyway. After thinking about it for a few days, I decided that I would make sake by myself, a sake made my way. Back then, there were four full-time employees in charge of bottling and delivery, but they were complete amateurs at sake-making. Including me, there were five of us, and we all had to start to do everything from crafting to bottling. I originally tried to ask our former toji to craft sake “by the book” and stick to the basics, but he had some inherent quirks that were hard to fix. To make a Junmai Daiginjo sake, rice is brought into a room and separated by hand until the grains are not sticky and moist anymore. Once it has reached the required level of moisture, we proceed to sprinkle koji spores over the rice. The toji, however, never bothered about the rice condition. He would sprinkle the spores quickly and let the rice to rest. Another thing is the fermenting mash: the temperature of the fermenting mash should be raised by 0.5 degree Celsius every day, but the toji never really cared so much and always eyeballed it.

1999 was the first time we made sake by ourselves. I wanted to make it by the book, and stick to the basics. The employees were amateurs, so they did as they were told. And by doing it this way, aromas that are characteristic of Junmai Daiginjo sake -which we had never been able to get with the toji – had finally came out. For me, it was like the sun suddenly came out of the clouds. I visited a research center in sake-making in Hiroshima and other places to ask a lot of questions. It was to cross-check the existing literature of sake-making and to make sure that the method was correct. I also had to create a planning for my staff, a graph showing 24 hours a day, with who would be doing what from what time until when. We had to have serious discussions with each other to see if we could really make it.

By chance, because we had a lot of last year’s inventory we reduced manufacturing to about a tenth of the previous year's volume. It would have been impossible if we had to produce the same amount as the previous year. So we were able to craft the sake slowly, so much so that we were able to make it work. The problem was, we broke most of the tools the workers had been using up until now. For example, tools to open the tank's pipes and other things unique to our company. We broke them because we just did not know how much force to apply to them. But in the end, it had given me a lot of confidence. I did not feel like recruiting a new toji anymore. From there on, our sales increased by about 20% every year.

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