Taste with the Toji- an online, lockdown, sake experience like no other…

My friend Simone, the Sake Mistress, is a clever and creative being. She was on a trajectory when COVID-19 hit and we were on our way to sip much sake and tour breweries together when international travel was pulled from current reality. She is a sake educator, but also has a hospitality background, and hosts excellent sake events, which Super Sake Boy and I try to frequent as often as we can. Her passion for sake is infectious and she is well liked and respected in the sake industry in both Australia and Japan.

When she realised she would be unable to hold any of her upcoming sake events, she put her thinking hat on and dreamed up the most excellent isolation solution. Reaching out to her contacts at breweries and in many different areas of the industry, as well as amateur sake lovers like Super Sake Boy and myself, she asked people if they would be interested to do an online tasting session with a Toji, or in fact, if people would like to do a series of these meetings. Of course, the resounding response to the question was YES!!!

The first Toji that we would have the pleasure of drinking sake with, while being able to ask questions and hear about the process of the making was Miho Imada. Imada-san is a bit of a rockstar in the sake world. She was one of the first ever female Toji in Japan, at her brewery Imada Shuzo in Akitsu, in Hiroshima. She has a reputation for making some of the best sake in the world, from heirloom rice that is not used by any other brewers. When we were in New York we visited an excellent sake bar, called Decibel Sake, and they had a picture of Imada-san on the wall. During the event she was accompanied by one of her “kurabito” (brewers), to both interpret and join the conversation Andrew Russell, a lovely Scotsman, who discovered sake through a love of Japanese history and culture and ended up working in breweries.

Simone’s excellent event management skills were called upon in order for everyone in Australia and Japan, to be able to access the sake we would be tasting. She personally called around to ensure everyone was ordering the same thing and that we would all have it in time for the event. The Imada Fukucho Genkei Nama and Henpei Nama are made with rice polished using new techniques and resulting in two sakes, brewed side by side, using the same rice variety and brewing methods, and resulting in very different tasting products. We were able to access the namazake (unpasteurised) version in Australia, however the participants in Japan were not, as it had sold out. They had the hiire (pasteurised) version.

Without going into too much technical detail, I will say both of these sakes were very delicious, and that there are several points of difference with these innovative brews. Imada-san does some brewing with Hattan-so rice, an heirloom variety, that is not used by any other brewers, that is difficult to grow and difficult to work with. The Henpei, which means “flat” polishing, uses rice polished by a technique that polishes the grains flat, rather than the uniform polishing of regular rice milling. The Genkei, which means “original form” is polished more like the original shape of the rice. Both these methods remove more of the protein, but less of the entirety than the regular polishing method, which means you retain more rice with less protein, which results in fewer amino acids in the sake. This is important in sake brewing, as premium sake is graded upon the ratio of polishing, however Imada-san’s sake is polished only to 60% but has a similar protein (amino acid) content as a sake made from rice polished to 40%. (The polishing rate reflects the percentage left after polishing, by weight).

Taste with the Toji was a lot of fun. It was excellent to hear everyone’s questions, to connect with other sake lovers and sake professionals and to drink sake on a Monday night, with people in other parts of the world, that we are sadly missing visiting. We are really looking forward to the next session. The brewer for the next session is someone we have met in person and Super Sake Boy had a very funny experience and story with, which you will have to wait until the next time to hear.

I have utmost respect for Simone and am so grateful for her time, her friendship and the fact that we get to enjoy sharing a passion together. The fact that she was able to facilitate this to happen in the current world situation speaks volumes to who she is and how driven she is by her love of sake. The fact so many other people have become involved and are giving up their time and knowledge to join these sessions is testament to the fact that everyone finds her enthusiasm and love of sake contagious. Find Simone at https://sakemistress.com

Miho Imada remains in my “rockstar, I am not worthy” category of sake brewers, and I feel extremely privileged to have experienced sitting in a chat room with her. It is our goal to visit her brewery one day, and I hope Andy is still working there, as I have fan-girled over his blog for some time. If you are interested in reading more about these sakes, please visit Andy’s blog here.

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