Sake By The Sea

On the 1st June our Taste with the Toji Session 5, hosted by the lovely Sake Mistress, Simone, took us to the idyllic seaside town of Ine, in the north of Kyoto Prefecture, to a wonderful quirky brewery as unique and as lovely as the Toji who makes the sake there. Mukai Shuzo has been occupying both sides of the road, butting right up to the Sea of Japan, in the picturesque fishing village since 1754. The Toji, Kuniko Mukai, is the 14th generation in the family run business. Her younger brother, Takahito, is the Kuramoto (brewery owner). Kuniko has been the Toji for 20 years. She is a wonderfully warm and friendly person, who we were lucky to meet at a sake event in Melbourne last year. Despite our dodgy Japanese and her lack of English, she is funny and sweet and her sense of humour and infectious happiness certainly transcended language. However, for the purpose of gaining knowledge, it was fortunate Yoram Ofer, of Sake Bar Yoramu in Kyoto, was in attendance to translate. Yoram knows the brewery and the brewer well, and his incredible knowledge, paired with his respectful and humble manner, made this event another to enjoy immensely and remember fondly.

The evening began with Takahito-san and Kuniko-san taking us on a tour of the brewery. The water literally laps at the brewery doors, and there is a dock, or boardwalk, attached to the building. The brewery was one of the most interesting buildings I have ever seen. It appears to have organically and dynamically grown within the available space, and the vertical, multi-level set-up somehow reminded me of Donkey Kong. The ladders, the シューター (shooters- hoses for moving rice around the brewery) and the hose that runs under the road to the other part of the brewery, which is, actually, across the street, all make for a very interesting configuration. There is a tree in the front courtyard of the brewery that is 350 years old and that Kuniko-san was able to extract wild yeast from to add to her sake. Not for the first time I was able to see that the character and personality of the brewer can be seen in the sake and the kura (brewery). Kuniko-san did at one point bring our attention to an umbrella sitting in the rafters of the ceiling of the office. Apparently no-one had touched this umbrella since the Meiji period (1868-1912).

One of the sakes that we were tasting was the Ine Mankai Junmai Genshu, made with an ancient red rice strain called Murasaki. It is very unusual for red rice to be used to make sake. Kuniko-san attended Tokyo University of Agriculture before becoming Toji at her family’s brewery. While she was there, she began working on this red rice sake as her final thesis. She was not able to complete the experiment, but had another student in the year level below her to continue with it. She says the first attempt tasted like the water you squeeze out of a cloth when you’re cleaning. She spoke to her professor on the phone, explaining the colour was good but the taste was awful. He yelled down the phone “バカ” (baka idiot) and told her that was her job, to make it taste good… Another early batch, she claims, tasted like eating your own lipstick. Determined to make something unique she worked on perfecting the taste for 20 years. Ine Mankai is high in sugar and she uses around 1.7 times the regular amount of koji. The flavour is delicious. When we had the pleasure to taste the Ine Mankai with Kuniko-san, she heated it to 68℃, which is very hot for sake, and probably something we would not have thought to do ourselves, it was spectacular. Kuniko-san says that 68℃ is her favourite serving temperature for this sake. We were at the wonderful Tamura Sake Bar in Melbourne, at a Black Market Sake event with Sake Mistress Simone, and this delightful sweet, yet savoury sake really opens up with the warming. The acidity, balanced with the sweetness also allows this sake to be paired with sweet or savoury food.

The other sake we tasted on the night was Masurao Junmai Yamahai Genshu. This sake is made with local Iwai rice and has a lot of flavour, with a clean finish. Kuniko-san says it works really well with Korean BBQ, and when heated to a temperature of 55℃, it melts the fat of the meat, improving the flavour of the meat. She also recommended trying this sake poured over ice-cream. I would love to say we tried this, but our bottle did not last long enough to do so. I have it on good authority, from the Sake Mistress herself, that this is indeed an excellent pairing.

Mukai Shuzo sake is available in Melbourne through Black Market Sake. For any sake related information, including joining these events, please contact Simone at Sake Mistress. If you are in Japan, or intend to visit at some stage, I highly recommend visiting Sake Bar Yoramu, in Kyoto, for a unique sake experience.

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