A couple of weekends ago, Super Sake Boy and I spent the day pouring sake for sake enthusiasts at the second Melbourne Sake Matsuri. A festival organised by Revel, in a very funky space in Collingwood, Sake Matsuri offers people the opportunity to try over 90 different sakes in one place, with the added benefit of access to knowledge of sake experts, brewers from Japan, importers and people like us, sake lovers.
Our lovely, and very knowledgeable friend, Simone, The Sake Mistress, asked if we were interested in pouring for Super Sake, a Perth based importer, who coincidentally imports some of our favourite sake. We would be paid in sake. Of course we said yes.
Although it was not 100% necessary, we had been wanting to do the WSET Level 3 Award in Sake, an internationally recognised qualification for sake sommeliers, and decided that Matsuri was a good excuse to spur us into action. Being able to talk with some level of confidence about what we were pouring was an attractive prospect. Our enthusiasm for sake would have been sufficient, but we were certainly more confident speaking to people with a very concise understanding of the process.
I worked in hospitality, both front and back-of-house, for 25 years, so this was like putting on an old pair of jeans that fit well and are comfortable. Super Sake Boy works in IT management, and worked on rural farms in Manitoba as a kid, so this was a very new experience for him. I am also prone to talk to absolutely anyone who will listen and have a habit of making friends wherever I go, but SSB is a little more reserved and not quite as extraverted. He was a tiny bit nervous, but I think felt comfortable pretty quickly.
In the week leading up to Matsuri, we caught up with the Sake Mistress at an awesome sake paired dinner at Ocha in Kew, which was a great opportunity for us to taste some of the sake we would be serving, (and to eat some beautiful and inspired Japanese cooking). She told us that two of the brewers from Japan would be coming to pour sake with us and talk about their products to the guests at Matsuri. We were a little star-struck and when she asked if we would like to join them all for dinner after the event, we accepted without hesitation.
We arrived at the venue and helped to set up. We met Maiko-san, from Tsuji Honten Brewery, in Okayama. Of 1250 sake breweries in Japan, around 20 of them have female toji, or head brewers. Traditionally a male only profession, more women in Japan are becoming involved in the industry and some are leading their teams to make very interesting and amazing sake. Maiko-san definitely fits this description. She makes sake using the bodaimoto starter method for her fermentation, an ancient method from the 12th century. She also uses Omachi rice, the local rice in Okayama, which is large grained, and difficult to polish, but produces a wonderfully rich, umami driven flavour. I was honoured to meet her, and a bit excited that I got to wear one of her kurabito hapi jackets for the day. Maiko-san is so skilled and passionate about her family business and her wonderful sake, and we felt very privileged to meet and work with her.
We then met Cody, an American, originally from Utah, who works at Watanabe Brewery in Hida Takayama, a beautiful spot in the Japanese Alps. Cody (whose full name is Darryl Cody Brailsford) has lived in Japan for many years and has worked at the brewery for 15 years. Wanting to eventually become a toji himself, Cody has been instrumental in encouraging and promoting sake into the American market. After 10 years of brewing, Cody approached Watanabe about brewing a sake specifically for the US market. Called “Cody’s Sake”, the sake won a gold medal at the US National Sake Appraisal in 2016. A really lovely guy with an American exterior but, clearly a Japanese soul, who is humble and passionate, it was a real pleasure to work with him on the day.
The day was a wonderful gathering of like minded people, well organised and executed and a lot of fun. The food for the day was provided by three restaurants owned or affiliated to my wonderful friend, Tomoya-san. Wabi Sabi Salon (my favourite Japanese restaurant in Melbourne), Chotto-Motto, and Neko-Neko. The food was, as always, totally delicious and it is always nice to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar setting.
We are so appreciative to Simone for the opportunity of the experience that we enjoyed so much. Also to Tika and Brett, of Super Sake, for taking on a couple of novices, with no tangible experience in sake. And, finally, to Leigh Hudson, our teacher at SakeShop, for teaching us all the sake things…