A rare and ex­clu­sive ac­cess to one of the best sake brew­eries in Ja­pan

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

For sake afi­ciona­dos, the rare op­por­tu­nity to work at Fuku­gen Brew­ery, a top ar­ti­sanal sake maker in Ja­pan, was just too good to pass up. Mah Swee Keong packed his bags to Nagano and shared his ex­pe­ri­ence with epi­cure.

It was a cold win­try day in late Fe­bru­ary when I ar­rived at Azu­mino in Nagano. The air was still ex­tremely chilly in the Azu­mino coun­try­side, but the harsh weather could not dampen my ex­cite­ment for what lay ahead for me over the next few days – the long-awaited dream of work­ing in a sak­agura (sake brew­ery). A moun­tain­ous pre­fec­ture lo­cated in Hon­shu, Nagano boasts the sec­ond largest num­ber of brew­eries in Ja­pan. The pu­rity of crys­tal clear waters flow­ing down from the Kita Alps (the North­ern Alps) pro­vides the per­fect level of soft­ness and min­er­als to make the most re­fined sakes. Azu­mino is a quiet, unas­sum­ing but pic­turesque coun­try­side with breath­tak­ing views of the ma­jes­tic Kita Alps, and an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar hol­i­day home des­ti­na­tion among af­flu­ent city folks.

The sak­agura where I was ac­corded the rare priv­i­lege of work­ing as a kura­bito (brew­ery helper) is Fuku­gen Brew­ery, a tra­di­tional, fam­ily-owned brew­ery founded in 1758 dur­ing the Edo pe­riod. At­suro Hirabayashi, 92, is the 17th-gen­er­a­tion owner of the brew­ery and will be suc­ceeded by his 52-year-old daugh­ter, Seiko. Since es­tab­lish­ing the brew­ery, the Hirabayashi fam­ily has con­trib­uted ex­ten­sively to the com­mu­nity and de­vel­op­ment of the Azu­mino ward.

Com­pared to large na­tional brand com­pa­nies that em­ploy com­puter-con­trolled fac­to­ries to mass-pro­duce sake all year round, Fuku­gen com­mits to tra­di­tional meth­ods for sake brew­ing, based on care­fully pre­served recipes and tech­niques passed down the gen­er­a­tions. The brew­ery only hires farm­ers in the area who can work dur­ing the win­ter months and re­turn to agri­cul­ture dur­ing the other sea­sons, en­trust­ing the brew­ery pro­duc­tion to the peo­ple who not only have a pas­sion for sake but also an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the land. Un­like many brew­eries that com­monly source sake rice from whole­sale sup­pli­ers across the coun­try, Fuku­gen ob­tains their grains from its own as well as neigh­bour­ing farms. There is a strong em­pha­sis on or­ganic farm­ing prac­tices, which are also preva­lent in the other farms where its sake rice is sourced from. Fuku­gen only pro­duces around 35,000 bot­tles of sake an­nu­ally.

As fam­ily-owned brew­eries are typ­i­cally guarded and not eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by out­siders, I was elated to be in­vited by Seikosan to work as a kura­bito un­der the di­rect su­per­vi­sion of the Toji (master brewer) him­self. Af­ter a brief in­tro­duc­tion to the Toji, Tat­suya Suzuki, I was shown to my room in the liv­ing quar­ters just next to the brew­ery. The room was sparsely fur­nished but

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.