Meet the Maker Q&A
Shiragiku Shuzo owner Shuzo-san and CIBI sit down for a chat
CIBI How long has Shiragiku Shuzo been producing sake in Okayama?
Shuzo-san It started in 1886, Meiji era 19.
CIBI Why is the Okayama landscape important in the making of Shiragiku Sake?
Shuzo-san The most important elements for sake making are rice, water and Toji (sake master brewer). Firstly, both of the major types of rice used to make quality sake are Yamada Nishiki and Omachi; both of which are harvested in Okayama. Over 90% of Omachi rice in Japan is produced in this region.
Okayama is also blessed with quality water, with three large rivers flowing from north to south. Most of the water source in the northern part of the prefecture is a limestone plateau, and the water that flows through it is rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Being able to fully use well-balanced water is a great advantage for us.
Lastly, regarding the skills of the Toji, there has long been a group of sake brewers in Okayama known as the Bicchu Toji. In 1907, the 1st National Sake Competition was held, and Okayama Sake won the top prize, making Okayama famous throughout the country. The skills and techniques have since been handed down from generation to generation to the present day.
CIBI What ingredients are used to make sake?
Shuzo-san Rice, water and Koji!
CIBI What is the difference between table-eating rice and sake rice can they both be used to make sake?
Shuzo-san Although sake can be brewed with any kind of rice, there are some differences between food rice and sake rice.
For example, sake rice has larger grains that contain more starch with less protein and fat than edible rice. When eating rice, protein and fat are important factors that lead to umami, but in the case of sake brewing, if they are included excessively and it can cause off-taste. Sake is sometimes made with edible rice, but most of it is made with sake rice that is suitable for sake brewing.
CIBI Who is in charge of the sake-making process, what is their job title and job description?
Shuzo-san The person in charge of sake brewing is called the Toji, the master brewer.
With the chief brewer at the top, a team is formed to handle sake brewing. This includes the head who assists the chief brewer, the koji master who is in charge of making koji (the fermentation culture that makes the whole process possible), and the person in charge of preparation.
CIBI How long does it take to make sake from beginning to end?
Shuzo-san It takes about half a year from the time the new rice is grown until the sake is made.
Some sake tastes better when fresh, and some are better when aged. If you drink new sake, it takes about 4 months after the rice is ready. The rice is harvested around the end of August, so you can enjoy freshly-squeezed delicious new sake in Autumn.
CIBI In Australia, wine is very popular and often cellared to mature, is sake cellared to mature or should it best be enjoyed straight away?
Shuzo-san Depending on the quality of the sake, some should be enjoyed as soon as possible, while others should be aged. Aging is usually six months to two years. There is also a way to enjoy it by aging it for 4 or 5 years. I hope you will enjoy the change in taste.
CIBI How do you feel knowing our Melbourne community enjoys your Shiragiku Sake?
Shuzo-san It makes me very happy that people overseas can enjoy local Okayama sake and food regardless of climate.
CIBI Can you recommend a favourite Japanese dish to enjoy with Shiragiku sake?
Shuzo-san I think the best match is local Okayama cuisine. The Seto Inland Sea coast of Okayama has a thriving fishing industry, mainly for small fish. Our sake goes great with Japanese mackerel and mamagari paired with local vegetables. When it comes to dashi stock (Japanese soup stock), we use iriko (dried anchovies). I think Shiragiku's sake goes well with local Okayama's seasonal foods.
Our 'local' sake brewery, Shiragiku Shuzo