Another exceptional sake experience…Taste with the Toji- with manga and a frog

From the moment we heard that Simone, the Sake Mistress, was hosting another Taste the Toji session, this time with Rumiko Moriki of Moriki Shuzo, we were excited. Super Sake Boy and I had met Rumiko-san and her husband, Hideki-san, at an excellent afternoon at Tamura Sake Bar in Melbourne. Hosted by Black Market Sake, we were able to”Meet the Toji” from Akishika Shuzo, Mukai Shuzo and Moriki Shuzo. We met Simone at the event and had a very funny, and enjoyable, sake filled afternoon. More about that, with incriminating evidence later.

This event was very different from the last Taste with the Toji, two weeks earlier, and I think that is because the personality of the Toji permeates and influences the direction of the conversation and the interest. We started with a tour of the Kura (brewery) which is more than 500 years old. Situated in Iga, in Mie Prefecture, which is famous for being the home to the most famous ninja clan, the building is rustic and beautiful and the very exceptional sake brewed here is made completely by hand. Rumiko-san is not a large person and the amount of mashing and carrying and physical work she does is quite extraordinary. All of her sake reflects this hard work and dedication. It is as exceptional as the woman who makes it.

Rumiko-san began brewing in 1988 when her father became ill. She is the 5th generation brewer in her family. She was not sure it was the path for her, she knew it was going to be difficult. The brewery had lost a large brewing contract and the business was in decline. Rumiko-san would walk around selling sake to local bars and restaurants. Around this time she read a manga series called Natsuko No Sake. It was about a female sake maker. It is still quite rare in Japan for women to be Toji (head brewers) and Rumiko-san felt a connection with Natsuko, the woman in the manga. So much so that once she had finished reading the manga, very late at night one evening, (and with a sense of following her fate, as she had found out she and Natsuko share the same birthday), she wrote to the mangaka (manga artist) and told him her story. He responded quickly and ended up drawing Rumiko for the label of her first ever junmai she brewed, Rumiko No Sake. Rumiko-san says he was the company’s saviour.

Following the brewery tour we had an opportunity to taste the Moriki Shuzo sake and ask questions. This opportunity to personally ask questions of the brewers is one of the things that makes the events so unprecedented. Not only are we able to ask the brewers our own questions, we also hear the questions of the many very knowledgable and educated attendees, many of whom are sake professionals themselves, brewers, sake bar owners, educators, writers, distributors, a veritable fountain of knowledge and experience.

This tasting choice was left to individuals. We chose three sakes. The Suppin Rumiko No Sake, as we had tried this before and really like it. (Truth be told we ordered a 1.8 litre bottle that was sadly damaged in transit, so ended up with 3 x 720ml bottles). This sake is a Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu, , meaning no added alcohol, polished to 60%, no charcoal filtering, not pasteurised and not diluted with water. We had first tried this sake at a restaurant in Melbourne, and had chosen it entirely on the label, which I love. Our next experience of this sake was in Kyoto, at Bar Yoramu. Yoram, who owns the bar was actually attending the event, so it was lovely to hear his experience of ageing these sakes. We had tried it both fresh and aged at the bar and it was an excellent opportunity to see the complexity and the possibility of ageing namezake. We also had the Hanabusa Junmai Yamahai Muroka Nama Genshu and the Tae no Hana Challenge 90 Junmai Kimoto Muroka Nama Genshu. Super Sake Boy was pointing out the irony of the fact that the more titles in the name of the sake, the less that has been added, done to it and the less it has been processed.

We again loved the Suppin, and the Hanabusa was very delicious, fresh and beautifully balanced. The Challenge 90 packed a punch that we particularly enjoyed. It is made with rice grown at the brewery, which is organic, and the minimal polishing allows the flavour of the rice, the rich, umami, savoury flavour to shine. The starter for this sake is made by the Kimoto method, mashed completely by hand, and Rumiko-san’s description of making the starter was eye-opening. The amount of effort, the dedication of time and the shear hard work result in an amazing sake, which we managed to stretch over three days, as we didn’t want to finish it, we savoured every mouthful. The opportunity to see the brewery and talk to the Morikis while drinking their sublime sake was wonderful. And now, quickly, to the incriminating story….

During the event at Tamura Sake Bar, and after several tastings (and some magnificent food from Fumi and Takako Tamura) we struck up a conversation in our limited Japanese with Hideki-san and Rumiko-san. Hideki-san was wearing a t-shirt with the graphic from the Rumiko no Sake bottle label. Super Sake Boy was quite taken with the t-shirt. We had only recently been drinking this sake in Kyoto, at Yoramu, and having met the lovely lady herself, Super Sake Boy was keen to purchase a shirt for posterity. However, the t-shirt was not available for purchasing, and it was the only one they had bought to Australia. Hideki-san was quite open to the idea of swapping t-shirts. In what became a very hilarious exchange, Super Sake Boy and Hideki-san swapped t-shirts while sitting in the bar, much to the amusement of everyone else there. Imagine our surprise when we saw Hideki-san on-line wearing Super Sake Boy’s Ben Sherman t-shirt. It was very funny and it was amazing to be able to say hello, talk about the day we met them, and to enquire about the possibility of visiting this beautiful brewery when the COVID restrictions are lifted and we can, once again, travel to our beloved Japan. This exchange was the icing on the cake of an incredibly enjoyable, informative and fun evening. Another amazing event organised by the very wonderful Simone, the Sake Mistress, who you can find out more about here. You can learn more about Moriki Shuzo and order their sake here.

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