Punks Not Dead… And Nor Is Sake

Last Sunday night we had the pleasure of virtually visiting an extraordinary sake brewery in Japan that is definitely the rebellious teenager of the sake world. Miyoshikiku Shuzo is situated in Tokushima, in Shikoku, and the sake is as charismatic as the Toji, Ryoichiro Mamiya. This event was the 6th in the Taste with the Toji series, currently being hosted by the ever delighful Sake Mistress, Simone Maynard-Catchlove. Each of these events has been completely unique and very driven by the personality of the brewer’s themselves. This event was no exception, as Mamiya-san’s love of music is infused into his sake and intertwined in a magical way that results in a very funky, modern and off-beat product that breaks the rules, but satisfies the senses…

Miyoshikiku Shuzo has been brewing sake since 1891, and Mamiya-san has been the Toji (head brewer) for around 20 years. Prior to making sake, Mamiya-san was in the music industry, including playing in a Velvet Underground/David Bowie cover band. He has an eclectic taste in music, including a lot of excellent Australian music, and the way he packages his sake is potentially more likened to how most people would design an album cover than a sake label. Mamiya-san gets the artists (he has four who do the artwork for him) to taste the sake and, as nearly all of his sake is named for songs, he plays the music. He then asks that the design be based on the song as well as the sake, and so you end up with a label that is a beautiful reflection of what the bottle holds within. The sake names are very rock’n’roll. Nihonshu Not Dead- named for the Exploited’s album Punks Not Dead. Walk On The Wild Side- Lou Reed. Fade Into You- with a stunning label that captures the Mazzy Star song, and is very beautiful.

Mamiya-san did not formally train to be a Toji. He makes his sake in his own way. He is not overly interested in making sake in the Old Skool methods, and wants to make sake for the new world. He sites that giving his sake unconventional labels dissuades “old skool” drinkers from purchasing it, using manga and punk and very little Kanji. Nearly all the labels are in Katakana and English, and are a far cry from a traditional label. This was my own observation, not something he spoke about, but I can imagine that this might ruffle feathers with the sake “establishment”. In fact, one of his sakes is called You Can Not Kill Me, and he did say that this sake is named as a bit of a “middle finger” to his critics.

Miyoshikiku sake pairs incredibly well with Western food, due to its high acidity. The flavours are strong and stand up well to cheese and things like pizza. Part of the reason for the high acidity is the amount of koji that Mamiya-san is using in his sake. Julian Houseman, the extremely adept and lovely translator for the evening, relayed a story of watching Mamiya-san shaking the koji onto the rice with wild abandon, while laughing. A little Willy Wonker like… He is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Toji. He brews outside of the usual brewing period, he doesn’t enter any competitions, anymore. (He did enter one when he was first brewing and received quite a lot of criticism, prompting him to screw the feedback sheet up, throw it away and never enter another competition again). He has two kurabito (brewery staff) working with him, so it is a small operation. He also has an incredibly impressive set of mixing desks and a huge vinyl collection, with an enormous set of speakers set up in the brewery. Miyoshikiku Shuzo looks like an excellent place to throw a party. He did say, however, that he plays the music for himself, not the sake and at the beginning of the season, he cranks up Iggy Pop to get his “engine running”.

Nihonshu Not Dead was one of the first sakes that Super Sake Boy and I tried together. It appealed to me, being an ex-Exploited fan, and it remains our favourite sake on the list at our favourite ramen joint. Its wonderful savouriness goes exceptionally well with the char-shu pork and the rich broth. I look forward to making our way through the rest of the available sakes from this brewery, and collecting the very cool kanpai cups. Mamiya-san was joined on this Zoom session by his wife and all three of his lovely daughters, none of whom are interested in taking on the family business. I also noticed that none of his daughters seemed to notice how cool their dad is.

Miyoshikiku Shuzo sake can be ordered online with Super Sake. The Taste with the Toji sessions are the concept of, and facilitated by Simone Maynard-Catchlove, the wonderful Sake Mistress, who has ensured that sake and Japan fans in Australia have not been left hanging during this strange time of COVID-19. Contact her for any of your sake related matters, events and questions. She’s both a wealth of information and completely lovely to boot.

NB. Please excuse the terrible quality of the photos. It was actually our terrible internet connection, rather than a lack of photographic skills…

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