The eighth session of Sake Mistress Simone’s Taste with the Toji on-line sake events found us in Ishikawa at Mioya Shuzo, with Kuramoto (president) Miho Fujita, and Toji, Toshi Yokomichi. I am reasonably sure when Miho-san was explaining the story of how she became president I was the only participant in the session that completely geeked out when she said she had left her well paying job as a marketing executive for Hot Wheels to run the brewery. You see, I am an avid Hot Wheels collector, along with Takara Tomy… approximately 650 cars in total. All very specific and no silly unrealistic stuff… just good, old fashioned die-cast cool stuff. Little did I realise how fun and how out there this session was going to be.
Super Sake Boy and I have attended every one of these sessions. The excellent ISO brainchild of Simone Maynard, we can both attribute our somewhat intact mental health during prolonged lockdown to the Taste with the Toji sessions. To be able to connect with like minded people, who love sake, as we do, and have the opportunity to virtually travel, meet the incredible people who are crafting this beverage that we love so much, has been one of the things that has made this very difficult time tolerable. We are truly grateful to Simone and each and every guest, translator, sake expert and attendee. What a very awesome and unexpected silver lining this has proven to be. This session was translated by the ever articulate Yoram Ofer. Owner of the spectacular Sake Bar Yoramu in Kyoto, sake expert and ager, and incredibly knowledgable sake lover and precision translator.
Our tour of the brewery was somewhat time sensitive, as Miho-san was at the brewery alone, it was approaching nightfall, and there are black bears in Ishikawa. There was a sense of nervous anticipation and anxiety palpable, even online, when Yokomichi-san, the Toji of the brewery, who was at that time in Osaka, spoke of roaming bears. Thankfully, we did not witness any bears and the tour was very interesting, but not dangerous. The most surprising thing I found during the brewery tour was the fire engine red floors. Miho-san explained that this shows the dirt very well. It is eye-catching against all the stainless steel.
Mioya Shuzo was, previous to the arrival of Miho-san as President, a very factory like brewery, producing futsushu- table sake. It looked far more modern and industrial than some of the breweries we have visited in previous sessions. The tanks are stainless steel and the environment is quite sterile. The methods are very old school, making kimoto, an Edo period shubo (starter) but the process is not. The poles and wooden barrels are replaced with electric equipment. Ryobi power tools adjusted to mash the moto in the same fashion as the traditional method, but requiring less time and less effort. The temperature control of the brewery is connected to wifi and messages are sent to the Toji’s mobile phone. The method is modern, but the result is, essentially the same. This sake is as complex, as full of umami and as delicious as many we have tried that are mashed for hours by hand. They are not “sticklers” for old methods, and are happy to make life easier, without cutting corners.
Yokomichi-san, the Toji, is incredibly humble. He not only creates this wonderful sake, but is very much a “Jack of all trades” around the kura. He graciously suggested that because he is not good at making sake, he makes other things for the brewery, as well. He has made all the scaffolding for the tanks, he also made cooling hoses for the tanks, as the company couldn’t afford cooling jackets. Yokomichi-san is a musician and is originally from Osaka. He plays blues music to the koji and listens to jazz and soul while he is brewing. The conversation around music was very animated and during the very casual post session “party”, a few members of this lovely little community pulled out instruments. It was very cool. There are some very talented musicians in the group. Rumiko-san, the Toji from Moriki Shuzo gave us a very sweet performance on her shamisen (traditional Japanese instrument) and Dave played his guitar. We really enjoyed this event.
The working relationship between Yokomichi-san and Miho-san is obviously very respectful, and harmonious. Both being from big cities, neither knew anything about Ishikawa, a small, coastal prefecture, on the Noto Peninsular in central Honshu, where the brewery is located. The town in which the brewery is situated is called Hakui, and is apparently the UFO capital of Japan. There is a space and UFO museum and alien paraphernalia around the city. Miho-san showed us a bottle of sake with little aliens on it, which was made with UFY- unidentified flying yeast (ambient yeast).
When making the sake, Miho-san and Yokomichi-san agree that who grows the rice is more important than where the rice grows. They must be able to trust their growers. Miho-san likes to drink her sake after it has been open for a long time. It has high acidity and umami and does not go bad. The sake we tried on the night were Yuho Yamaroshi Junmai Ginjo Kimoto Nama Genshu, made with Gohyakumangoku rice, polished to 60%, 17% alcohol and #9 yeast. The other was the Yuho 55 Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu, with Miyama Nishiki and Yamada Nishiki rice, polished to 55%, 17.8% alcahol and made with #9 Yeast. Both these sake were extremely delicious. Full of flavour and umami and such balanced acidity. Brilliant sake to have with food. Possibly because Miho-san and Yokomichi-san based some of their brewing choices on what they wanted to eat with their sake. Pork was the main ingredient they were keen to pair their sake with, but also okonomiyaki, pizza, cheese, gyoza and strong tasting vegetables. These sake both stand up to stronger flavoured foods, we were enjoying ours with some very delicious and pungent cheese. We will definitely be drinking this sake as part of regular repertoire. We had not tried it prior to the session and really loved both of these sake, but we also enjoy the stories of the people making the sake. The opportunity to speak with the brewers, ask questions, hear other people’s opinions and to “put a face to the name” of the sake, including the brewery, really enhances our enjoyment of the whole sake experience. We have added Hakui and Mioya Shuzo to our list of breweries we would like to visit if and when we are ever able to travel again, and look forward to meeting Miho-san and Yokomichi-san in real life over a few drinks. Kanpai.
You can buy Mioya Shuzo sake in Australia from Black Market Sake.
For any sake related information, education, or to join these sessions, please contact Simone Maynard at Sake Mistress.