Museum of Sake Journal Summer 2015 - Page 47

A CHARMING LIFE Work started early, at 7am (not nearly as early as some breweries but Hayashi-san firmly believes a good work/life balance is important for her employees). Coffee or tea accompanied the morning’s briefing where Sakai-san would run through the order of the day: making/tending to koji, rice washing, rice steaming, additions into various tanks, and so on. The complexity of all this is bewildering and it brought into focus just how much preparation and planning goes into sake making well before the first grain is polished. When I first learnt about sake making I learnt about a relatively linear process, one step following on from another, sequentially: you steam the rice, take about 20%, make koji , then recombine with the other 80%, etc. It’s not like that at all. There are many, many tanks of fermenting sake all at different stages of their life-cycle, each requiring something different to happen to them that day. You might have five different batches of koji on the go, you might be steaming rice for this tank’s first addition or that tank’s third addition, fetching water from a storage tank kept at a specific temperature for another addition, or prepping rice for a new shubo. Managing all this requires meticulous planning on the part of the Master Brewer and careful execution on the part of his team. Making sake is as much to do with planning, communication and teamwork as it is chemistry. Brewing sake is a chilly affair. Sake production is always conducted in cold environs, even if you brew all-year-round you still crank up the AC. When I arrived in Gifu in late January it was not as cold as it had been but the brewery was at a pretty steady 9°C. There were, however, two other rooms that were kept at wildly different temperatures: the koji room, at a balmy 35°C, and the fermentation/pressing room, which was kept at 4°C. Work necessitated you dipping in and out of these rooms throughout the day and one of the many unforeseen aspects of brewery life was dealing with these radical temperature changes. One minute you’re layered up to the eyeballs in thermals as you’re cleaning a machine in 4°C, the next you’re sweating, with a towel wrapped round your head, tending to koji in 35°C! And you know what else is hot? Steamed rice. Really hot. You get used to it after a while, and develop/ copy techniques to avoid burning your hands when you are spreading it out to cool, but at first you’re thinking, “Holy sake, that’s hot!” MUSEUM OF SAKE JOURNAL 47