A Technical Path To Sekai-Shu (World Sake)

Written by Shoya Imai
Translated by Saki Kimura

I have marshaled my vision to realize nihon-shu (Japanese sake) to become sekai-shu (World sake) from a technical perspective as below:


 1. Botanical & Mineral
 2. Hard Water Brewing Method
 3. Crown Evolution

* * *

1. Botanical & Mineral

At the beginning of 2019, WAKAZE’s Sangenjaya Brewery brewed a botanical sake (*) called FONIA SALT Prototype “Hana-moto” Recipe No.015. Though this product is already sold out, I still like to talk about hints of the challenge for the global sake-brewing through the design of this sake.

FONIA SALT Prototype
“Hana-moto” Recipe No.015

This product is made to achieve a harmony with “Mineral,” one of Linnaueus’s three kingdoms. The motif is hana-moto and Gose. We introduce hana-moto, the folk brewing method of doburoku (a completely unfiltered sake) in Iwate prefecture appearing as “Shokoku Doburoku Hoten [The Collection of Doburoku in Various Countries” and use hops to produce sake mash. Fermentation by four kinds of sea salt from Okinawa and seaweed salt from Shonai (Yamagata) brings out umami and richness. Chokai Plateau’s yogurt and dried fruits control the aroma and flavor. We finished this brewing with dry hopping. This is a fusion of sake and Gose (a style of beer using salt and lactic acid for its fermentation). This sake is not charcoal filtered after pressing, so it has a sediment left from the ingredients. Experience the wonders of salt to the phenomena of life.

Brewery Year: BY2018
Date of Production: February 22, 2019
(Brewing Period: From January 17 to February 18, Pressing: From February 19 to 21)
Rice Variety: Dewasansan (Yamagata Pref.), Tsuyahime (Yamagata Pref.)
Rice Polishing Ratio: Koji Rice 70%, Kake Rice 70%
Auxiliary Ingredients: Hops, salt (sea salt from Okinawa, seaweed salt from Shonai), yogurt, dried fruits (Pione, Shine Muscat, Plum)
Yeast: Kyokai Yeast No.6
Brewing Method: Hanamoto-Shiokoji-Tennen Shio (natural salt) Nidan Jikomi (two-step preparation for fermentation mash)/Botanical/Non-Filtered
ABV: 14%

Most people, including sake experts who have learned its history and techniques, are unlikely to be familiar with the word hana-moto. Actually, this word doesn’t come up even if you google it. This is one of the brewing methods of doburoku that appears in Shokoku Doburoku Hoten ([The Dobroku Treasure Book of Nations], Nosan Hyoson Bunka Kyokai, 1989),” a book of the collection of folklore brewing techniques throughout Japan. It might be regarded as a forbidden book in the current Japan, where homebrewing is defined as illicit under The Liquor Tax Law. My second elder brother purchased this book in Tokyo when he was a student of the Department of Fermentation Science at Tokyo University of Agriculture: I found it at home in Gunma and brought it to Tokyo again when WAKAZE’s Sangenjaya Brewery was established (*Editor’s note: The book was reissued in March 2020).

This technique manages to make delicious doburoku using karahanaso (Japanese mountain hop cone) stock. WAKAZE’s Sangenjaya Brewery adopts a wide variety of botanical materials for fermentation. This technique piqued our curiosity and we decided to make the recipe because it requires botanical ingredients in an early stage of its fermentation: similarly, we created an original technique kurocha-moto beforehand, using the stock of kurocha (lactic acid fermented black tea) to produce sake mash. 

As karahanaso is difficult to obtain, we substituted it with Western karahanaso (common hops used for beer brewing). When it came to Gose, a German beer style that ferments salt and lactic acid together, we established the concept as a botanical sake that integrates the different contexts between hana-moto and Gose.

I remember that, in 2018, we officially released the first-ever botanical sake FONIA and established WAKAZE’s Sangenjaya Brewery in summer. It defined my personal theme as a fermenter in 2018 “Botanical.” After that, I pondered what should come next to the outlook of “BB/AB” (Before Botanical)/(After Botanical) *See next article, I picked “Mineral” as the theme in 2019.

Mineral means salt. Reading on the topic, I’ve found salt’s diversity between countries and its history of forced industrialized reminiscent of the situation of sake. (E.g., the monopoly system to raise national expenditure; abolition of salt manufacture by salt drying under the special measures law for modernization of the salt industry; the adoption of a mass production method using the ion exchange, resin method for the manufacture, etc.) In the name of rationalization, the “irrational” cultures of salt manufacture in the world from ancient times were destroyed, just like those of sake.
Also, from a perspective known as Natural history to interpret the natural world, the oldest classification of nature falls into three kingdoms: animals, plants and minerals. The modern academic classification and definition has been updated many times along with discoveries of microorganisms and so on; however, from the viewpoint of human beings at the time, it was natural and reasonable to divide nature into these three classes.

Dwelling on my thoughts as above, I feel the following way: if a series of FONIA with a meaning of “harmony” purposes the harmony between nature and microorganisms, “Botanical” is the way to accomplish this harmony with plants as one of the three kingdoms. On the other hand, approaching “Mineral” means understanding another kingdom of minerals. Because of this, showing its different mechanism of fermentation, I have created a new product, FONIA SALT, drawing a clear line between this and the existing FONIA, using Japanese botanical or tea leaves from the world.

When it comes to the product design itself, it is already a demanding undertaking to step into unknown territory like hana-moto or Gose. (In fact, hana-moto could be only a matter of imagination without any precedent study; Gose required us to put in yogurt, a prohibited move for sake brewing.) In addition, for a particularly big challenge when for Mineral, we dissolved four kinds of salt in shikomi-sui (water for sake making), including sea salt from Okinawa with abundant minerals, such as snow salt from Miyakojima Island.
The point is, I tried to accumulate experience for a technical training of fermentation mechanism under the condition with hard water for the sake brewing in the world. (There are several themes related to Mineral other than this, “Saltiness as one of the five tastes,” “Salt offered on the home shrine,” “Osmotic pressure against a human’s body”: I would like to speak of these another time.

*A kind of sake made with mainly rice, koji, and botanical ingredients as auxiliary raw materials)

* * *

2. Hard Water Brewing Method

The basis of modern Japanese brewing techniques over the last 100 years or so has been deeply related to a fermentation system called “soft water brewing method“. And since Japan is a soft-water country, there is a modern understanding that sake can only be made with soft water.

However, if you look back in history, you can see that it was only in the middle of the Meiji era (1868-1912) when a great engineer from Hiroshima named Senzaburo Miura pioneered the “soft water brewing method” and systematized it (Kaijo-ho-jissen-roku published in 1898) and, thanks to the achievements of the brewery, it was able to spread throughout Japan.
Prior to this time, in the Edo period, sake made from “Miyamizu in Nada”, which is more like hard water, was considered to be the best. It was known as kudari-zake” (a sake worth traveling from Kamigata to Edo: Kamigata is the old name for Kansai region and means ‘the upper side’ in Japanese. Because of this, people described going to Edo as ‘kudari [going down]’), and was loved by people for its strong quality that could be aged and transported by sea. All the other sake was regarded rather as “kudara-nai” (not going down = not worth traveling for, insignificant) and rarely distributed in a big way as an unstable sake in the countryside.

Against the backdrop of Hiroshima’s historic challenges, the “soft water brewing method” revolutionized that power structure through the power of technology. Uhei Sato, 5th generation of Aramasa Brewery (his contemporary is Masataka Taketsuru of “Masssan”), the generation of the son of Senzaburo Miura, discovered Kyokai No.6 Yeast (original yeast for sake brewing with a unique fermentation ability) in Akita Prefecture in 1930, This made it possible for the entire country to produce sake of excellent quality even in soft water and low temperature regions. In Japan, where soft water is dominantly found in most of the regions, this change in the balance of power gave rise to the new view that “sake can only be made with soft water and not with hard water.” This series of events caused a paradigm shift from “common sense of hard water preparation” to “common sense of soft water preparation”.

Technological innovation led to the “expansion” of the famous brewery area – we’re going to turn this upside down again.

WAKAZE’s vision of what sake will look like when it becomes “world sake” is not only that sake will be drunk all over the world, but also be made all over the world.
The most challenging part of this is the so-called ‘common sense’ that “you can’t make good sake with hard water”. Brewers can only make sake in soft water areas, or by filtering hard water through a large scale filter to soften it. (The prerequisite, of course, is that the water is clean). By turning this common sense upside down and compiling a fermentation system/recipe that proves that it is possible to make sake even with hard water, the “hard water brewing method” as a breakthrough, we will expand the number of master breweries around the world in regions where sake has not been made until now. I believe that this is the “technical path” for nihonshu (Japanese sake) to become sekaishu (world sake).

Sake is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from rice as a “grain”. One property of grains that is overwhelmingly superior to fruit is their transportability. If you look at a larger comparison across genres, you’ll see I believe that the true value of the basic framework of sake will be demonstrated when “locality (diversity of microorganisms necessary for minerals, yeast starter, etc.)” of water is combined with the “transportability (selection within the scope of identity)” of grain. At WAKAZE Sangen-jaya Brewery in Tokyo, we continue to devise unique recipes with a framework based on “local spring water” and “Yamagata rice”.

As a symbol of this historical turning point, I can’t think of a more fitting place than Paris, France, the food capital of the world. Most importantly, our predecessors have already proven a brewing method that can work with hard water. Miyamizu and kudari-zake in the Edo period, and the respected breweries that brew sake with ultra-hard water brewing in modern Japan – I don’t see it as too difficult compared to the challenges of these predecessors.

3. Crown Evolution

Today, Japan has an environment that restricts new brewers and even new recipes (the liquor licensing system that has lasted since the Meiji era, etc.). In the meantime, WAKAZE is refining new approaches such as barrel-aged “ORBIA” and botanical SAKE “FONIA” to achieve diversity, and is aiming to brew a global sake that transcends the seas.

In terms of diversity, the 4.6 billion year history of the Earth and the evolution of life is helpful as a model. According to “The Whole History of the Earth and Life (A series of films on the latest research hypotheses on the birth of life and evolution by National Institute of Genetics and Tokyo Institute of Technology)”, biological evolution is considered to be “coevolution with the earth” and can be divided into the following three patterns (References: The Cambrian Explosion and others):

 1. A “mass extinction” that wipes out the organisms that had previously thrived
 2. “Stem evolution”, which promotes genetic mutations in continental division
 3. “Crown evolution”, which creates diversity through the collision of continents

In other words, that which can withstand the severe environmental changes that could destroy everything, will foster subsequent diversity and each species, split into two regions by continental movements, will evolve on its own there will be an “explosion of diversity” when they reassemble.
If we take this framework as an indication of the “Grand design of diversity,” diversity can be argued to be brought about by seemingly inferior environmental changes and intercontinental levels of separation and gathering and exchange. The environment surrounding sake and the efforts of WAKAZE could be said to be at Stage 2.

Sake should be made across the ocean.
And now, in reality, it is an unstoppable trend. Various other brewers besides WAKAZE are passionate about sake brewing outside of Japan (starting with the oldest overseas brewery, Honolulu Brewing Company in Hawaii, founded in 1908).

WAKAZE is currently crowdfunding for the founding of a brewery in Paris, France (until 12.8.2019 / *This article was originally written on July 23, 2019). Thanks to the support of many people, we have greatly exceeded our initial goal. Once again, the high expectations for our sake brewing in France make me stand up straight. Thank you for your support.
This overseas brewing challenge is a dream that Inagawa and his team have had since the eve of WAKAZE’s founding. Also, it is the first step in repaying the many breweries that have accepted my training, when I had no idea whether or not I would be able to realize this project. Like the nearly four years itself from the dream to this point, this year, 2019, we’re on the road to founding a brewery at a particularly dizzying pace.

The future of the sake we make in Paris, the sake made in hard water regions around the world, like in the days of the “Taru-kaisen (a kind of cargo vessel)” when they brought “kudari-zake” to Edo, may have an advantage over soft water sake due to its strong quality that withstands aging and transportation, and be the next generation of “kudari-zake” to take the world by storm.

Sake as “a brewed alcoholic beverage crafted by artisans”, which responded to the changing seasons and local conditions through recipes, techniques and observation, will have to prove itself as the world’s freest brewed alcoholic beverage, that can be made in anywhere, regardless of the country or environment. This flexible attitude of the artisans is the only way to ensure that sake continues to thrive as a culture of thousands of years, rather than being ruffled by 100 years of history.
I believe that the diversity of sake nurtured on technology will be an “explosive evolution” across the globe as it transcends the categories of brewed and distilled alcohol and integrates with the cultural exchange and food scene, and as the technology exchanges again across the continent, then disengages and gathers together. We’d love your support!