#17 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
“Crafting sake year-round: a stable quality”
One day a customer asked my head of production when would we do our “Koshiki Taoshi”, he came and ask me what it meant (i.e.: to knock over our rice steaming vats for cleaning, and not using it until next season). The fact is our sakagura does not make sake only in winter (“Kanzukuri” style), but we make sake throughout the year, so we don’t have a “Koshiki Taoshi”. We don't even have the concept of “Hiya-oroshi” anymore, where the sake is crafted in winter, heated (heat-sterilized) in spring, and matured over the summer. Then when the summer is over and the weather is cooler, sake is supposed to be tastier. Hiya-oroshi sake sells well because of it has a seasonality charm to it. But we make sake regardless of the season, so we could not make it even if we wanted to. One day, I suggested to my staff that we should call the sake we sell during fall "Aki-bare", but everyone scolded saying that was basically the same thing anyway.
I'm actually not quite sure when we precisely became a year-round sakagura. But it was inevitable: the toji had left us and we had started making sake ourselves. If you take Saturdays and Sundays off the usual sake-producing season, the production volume drops by half. So we have no choice but to make up for it by crafting sake a little bit throughout the year. Crafting sake year-round is partly thanks to the river in front of our sakagura, the Higashikawa river. In the morning I would often walk along this river and feel the cold air. Thanks to this cold, chilled air helped us to have a prolonged period of sake production, with an earlier start during autumn and a late finish during spring. In the meantime, we gradually set up an air conditioning system. Eventually, we decided to try and make one tank of sake during summer. As we managed to do it, we decided to continue to make sake year-round, without interruption around 2006 or 2007. The big companies were already doing it, but I think it was quite rare for small producers like us to do it back then.
The big producers who produce year-round usually keep their fermenting room at room temperature and only control the tank temperature. It's easier for the workers that way. However, we decided to have our fermenting room with the same temperature you would get in the middle of winter, to have the same methods of seasonal producers. Big producers lower the fermenting sake temperature by running cold water around the tanks. As the temperature drops down, the water stops running and when it goes back up, the water starts running again automatically. Because of the thermostat control, the temperature inevitably goes up and down. This method is quite alright if you're making a huge amount of ordinary “Futsu-shu” sake. But you can't use such methods if you want to craft a Junmai Daiginjo sake. It was way better for us to keep the room at a constant temperature. After we implemented this constant cold temperature of the room, there were accidents in the mornings, when we would wake up and find the fermenting sake was getting too cold.
Most of our rooms along the sake making process are equipped to have the same cold temperature you get during winter, apart from one: the koji making room which is at 38°C. Picture having a greenhouse in your refrigerator, to have an idea of our electricity costs. Still, year-round sake making is by far the best method. Especially because we can make a little bit of sake every day, so even if we make a mistake, we can make up for it the following day. Producers who only make a large quantity of sake in the winter, can’t correct any of their mistakes. Even if they notice their mistakes in the middle of production, it is too late: and this year's sake is no good.
Currently, we craft about 3000 tanks of sake a year, fermenting 4 at a time. So if we make a mistake on these four, we just need to adjust on the next four. This allows us to get a great overall, stable quality.
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