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Understanding Umeshu with Todd Van Horne

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Umeshu might be one of the most universally pleasing drink categories on the planet. Its characteristic sweet and spunky qualities can be served up any myriad of ways and seem to tickle just about everyone’s taste buds no matter how you spin it.

However, while the style may seem relatively straightforward, the category is anything but.

The content of this show tends to stick very close to the core categories of its namesake: sake and shochu. However, when it comes to umeshu, in order to fully understand the depth and breadth of what’s out there, we have to open up the conversation to the wider world of drinks and spirits.

To help us unravel its nuance and mysteries, this week we’ve recruited Todd Van Horne. Having a long history in Japan, focusing primarily on food and fermentation, he’s found himself smack in the heart of Japan’s “ume country” – Wakayama – where he wound up working with an ume producer creating, blending and transporting umeshu to the global market. The number of non-Japanese taking up roles as sake brewers here and there is on the rise, but in the world of ume and umeshu-dedicated individuals, Todd is indeed an outlier.

From the significance of ume in the Japanese diet, to the beverage’s historical position as a do-it-yourself creation, this week your hosts Rebekah Wilson-Lye, Christopher Pellegrini, and Justin Potts join forces with our special guest to try and cover all you’ll need to know to start discerning what questions to ask about that next bottle of umeshu that you encounter in the wild.

Please help new listeners discover Sake On Air by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you depend upon for your podcast enjoyment. Reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts, feelings or kind words about the show. You can follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook as well, and if you’d be so kind, don’t forget to subscribe to us over on YouTube.

Thanks for listening this week, and thanks for choosing sake and shochu.

Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Sake Future Summit 2020 Revisited (Part 1)

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Since hosting Sake Future Summit 2020 back at the end of November, we’ve since gone and spliced up that nearly 30 hours of dialogue and nearly as many programs into individual videos to help make topics, speakers and conversations easier to find and enjoy.

Having been conducted with a visual component, viewing these on the official Sake On Air YouTube channel is arguably the best way to take in a lot of these discussions, however there are a lot of great ideas and conversations that we felt ought to translate just as well to an audio-only format. That’s why this week we’ve decided to weave together segments from some of those sessions into a podcast.

For our listeners that have already exhausted everything from the actual Summit, this will likely be revisiting familiar territory. But for those that missed out on a lot of the programming, hopefully this will serve as a meaty digest of the depth and breadth explored, as well as prompt you to go back and visit or revisit the great conversations that are all archived over on our YouTube channel.

It’s worth noting, however, that a little more than half of the programming for the Sake Future Summit was comprised of interviews, tours, presentations and discussions conducted with individuals entrenched in the Japanese side of the industry, and as a result, were conducted in Japanese. On YouTube, all of those discussions have been translated, subtitled and made available and accessible. However, due to their nature, that means that roughly half of the programming is still tethered to YouTube. If you’re so inclined, we highly recommend checking those out, as well. It’s material that we feel uniquely privileged to have been able to organize and deliver, and offers a great deal of insight into the topics and conversations permeating the Japanese sake and shochu industries.

In this episode you’ll hear from hear:
– A convincing argument for selecting sake over wine with local Taiwanese cuisine with Wolfgang Angyal (President & CEO of Riedel Japan Co. Ltd.) and Michael Ou (Owner/chef of Hanabi Izakaya; President of Ho-Wei Sake Imports in Taiwan).
– How dedication to the craft of imo (sweet potato) shochu rises above all with Stephen Lyman (Author and Shochu Specialist), Tekkan Wakamatsu (Master Brewer-Distiller at Yamato Zakura Shuzo), and Maya Aley (Shochu Expert).
– About the true motivations behind saving a sake brewery through unprecedented partnerships with Marcus Consolini and Yasutaka Daimon of Daimon Brewery.
– Tips for getting the most out of Imo, Kome, and Mugi shochu with your food, both at the bar with Shingo Gokan (Founder of SG Group) and Joshin Atone (Brand Manager for SG Shochu), as well as at home.
– Why the future expansion of koji outside of Japan is potentially more exciting and dynamic than here in the homeland, with Jeremy Umansky (Chef/owner of Larder Delicatessen and Bakery; Author) and Koichi Higuchi (Director of Higuchi Matsunosuke Shoten Co., Ltd.)
– How music legend Richie Hawtin took what he’s built through ENTER.Sake and brought a new vision to life in the midst of a global pandemic with Sake 36.
– About ways to interpret and untangle the increasingly confusing relationship between mugi (barley) shochu and Japanese whiskey with renowned author and journalist, Brian Ashcraft.

With the Sake Future Summit, we recognize that we tried to thread the needle a bit, by hosting a mix of rather industry-centric discussion, alongside a good deal of more light-hearted entertainment focusing on the simple enjoyment of sake and shochu. Our thought was that, the people, places, processes and activities surrounding these amazing drinks are just inherently. Our hope then is that, whether you’re just getting to know what sake and shochu have to offer, or have long been committed to these koji-born beverages, you’ll agree.

If you enjoy Sake On Air, help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you depend upon for your podcast enjoyment. You can contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts, feelings or kind words about the show. Go ahead and follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook as well, if you’d be so kind, and don’t forget to subscribe to us over on YouTube.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for choosing sake and shochu.
Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Fushimi Sake with Ayuko Yamaguchi

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Anyone who has heard of a little country by the name of “Japan” has probably heard of “Kyoto”. Anyone who has sat through a formal sake education program has probably heard of “Fushimi”, the small region of Kyoto often touted as one of the historically defining regions of the entire category. Nine times out of ten, when referring to Kyoto in the context of sake, that person is probably commenting on the historical role and influence of Fushimi in some form or another.

Here at Sake On Air we’ve yet to dedicate an entire episode to any specific sake-producing region: until now.

While we could have started with any one of hundreds of the unique and fascination regions across Japan, kicking off this new experiment with Fushimi came about for two reasons. The first, it’s a region that gets emphasized more than just about any other (aside from maybe Nada, in Hyogo Prefecture), but also seems to get glossed over rather quickly. The region’s “significance” is praised, but the examination into what that significance is often leaves a bit to be desired.

The second reason is that we were able to connect with a well-qualified individual that was up to the challenge. This week we welcome a very special guest, sake educator, writer and researcher, Ayuko Yamaguchi. Being a resident of Kyoto, Ms. Yamaguchi’s commitment to doubling-down on the sake stories close-to-home has led her on an endless journey scouring Fushimi’s contributions to the world of sake, both historically, as well as in the present.

Joined by Christopher Hughes, Sebastien Lemoine, and Justin Potts, this week the team takes a deep dive into what’s largely considered to be one of the industry’s most influential sake-producing regions and ask the question: Does it live up to the hype?

If you enjoy Sake On Air, you can help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you depend upon for your podcast enjoyment. You can contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts, feelings or kind words about the show. Go ahead and follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook as well, if you’d be so kind, and don’t forget to subscribe to us over on YouTube.

We that hope everyone’s 2021 is off to a sake and shochu-fueled happy and healthy start. Japan is still under a State of Emergency as of the recording and release of this episode, which means that we’ll be continuing to conduct our recordings at a distance, with “on the road” updates kept to a minimum. That being said, we’re going to continue to do what we can to keep all of our listeners updated and in-the-loop. If there’s a topic you’re keen to hear us explore amidst the current climate, do let us know. While we can’t make any promises, we like to do what we can to deliver.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for choosing sake and shochu.
Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Amazake with Shoko Baba of Hakkaisan

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How many of our listeners are familiar with amazake? Despite having clear progenitor qualities to this show’s favorite beverage, this non-alcoholic, koji-fermented drink hasn’t quite amassed the international mindshare of its intoxicating cousin – yet.

Although the core principle and function in preparing and making amazake shares a great deal with the early stages of sake-making, probably one of the biggest reasons it has taken a while to reach the global stage is the fact that Japan more or less forgot about it themselves. For a number of reasons (discussed in the show), over the past few generations amazake in Japan has largely come to be equated with a sake-kasu-based drink pumped with sugar and served warm for a small handful of ceremonial or celebratory occasions. While plenty delicious in its own right, it’s also entirely different from “traditional” koji-fermented amazake of the kind that has reclaimed space across Japan’s supermarket shelves just in the past decade.

The producer largely credited with helping to re-create and prove the viability of the incredibly delicious, yet largely-forgotten amazake market, is Hakkaisan.

Regular listeners and those hovering in the sake sphere will most likely be familiar with Hakkaisan brand sake. Despite being one of Japan’s largest sake producers, their dedication to small-batch production, high-quality in their most affordable lines (futsushu, honjozo), along with truly exceptional ginjo-styles, has made them a mainstay both in Japan, as well as in countless markets across the globe.

What many of our listeners may not know is that Hakkaisan also has separate operations (known as, Sennen Koujiya) that create all sorts of fermented food and beverage products of incredibly high quality emphasizing local jobs and ingredients. The merging of the craftmanship and competencies from across these multiple endeavors came at a perfect time, resulting in a venture into amazake production that was transformative both for the company, as well as national mindshare surrounding this traditionally and culturally significant beverage.

For this week’s show we’re joined by Shoko Baba, who is the International Marketing & Sales Section Chief with the team at Hakkaisan based in Japan. Both a teacher and a student of the wide world of Japan’s fermented foods and beverages, her role at Hakkaisan extends far beyond sake or any one specific market. With a hand in the many ambitious frontiers of both Hakkaisan’s international and domestic project development, along with being a relentless advocate of Japan’s culture of fermentation, Shoko has seen Hakkaisan’s amazake frenzy at its peak and is gearing up for its future in new markets outside of Japan.

This week Marie and Justin join our fantastic guest to discuss the cultural and functional relevance of amazake in Japan, its evolution over time, its perceived health benefits, relationship to sake, popular uses, and the process through which Hakkaisan made Japan a believer in the importance of this incredible beverage all over again.

You can help more listeners discover Sake On Air by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts. Feel free to also contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any questions, comments, or insights. You can follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, or subscribe to us over on YouTube.

We’ve got a lot in the works for 2021 that we can’t wait to share with you all. Here’s to a great deal more sake and shochu love in the year ahead.

Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.

Kura Master with Xavier Thuizat

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Any of our listeners that tuned into Sake Future Summit 2020 will likely already be familiar with the brilliant work of this week’s guest, Hotel de Crillion Chef Sommelier, Xavier Thuizat. In that session, together with Marco Pelletier (of Vantre), we looked at what it will take to insert sake into the upper echelon of the French dining experience.

One crucial topic we didn’t touch upon, however, is the unprecedented sake competition Xavier established which thrust him into the sake industry limelight. That competition, as likely many of our listeners are familiar, is Kura Master.

Having been wooed by the world of sake, and then for years worked painstakingly in order to integrate it into some of the world’s most illustrious wine programs, in order to further raise the bar and expand the reach of the category he saw a need to create a standard that spoke to the individuals at the front lines of the French dining experience–sommeliers–thus gathering mindshare for sake on France’s strictest stage: the dining table.

For this episode, our eloquent and thoughtful in-house Frenchman Sebastien Lemoine takes the reigns, while Chris Hughes and Justin Potts co-pilot a fascinating conversation exploring what it takes to create a world class beverage competition from the ground up, along with the decisions and reasoning that led to Kura Master taking the form that is has today, and what we can expect in the years to come.

You can find our previous interview with Xavier from Sake Future Summit 2020 inside the event’s playlist on our official YouTube channel, along with an additional 30 hours of sake and shochu-inspired exploration. Whether you’re settling in for a long, quiet holiday, or cracking a celebratory bottle of sake to ring in the New Year, you should be able to find something amidst that sake marathon to enhance your appreciation of what went into that special bottle of koji-inspired alchemy.

If you find a moment this holiday, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. We’d also love to have you reach out to us at questions@sakeonair.com to share with us what you thought of the show in 2020. You can follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, or subscribe to us over on YouTube.

Wherever you may call home, the wildness that defined 2020 surely touched all of our listeners in some capacity. With eyes on the year to come, we’re going to keep seeking out and creating ways to help make sake and shochu a more meaningful and enjoyable element to define good times ahead.

Thanks so much for all of our listeners and supporters for sticking with us – and with sake – throughout this turbulent year. We can’t wait to do our part in boosting the number of reasons to “Kampai!” in 2021.

Here’s wishing you all a very Happy and Healthy New Year from the team at Sake On Air.

Kampai!

Sake On Air is made possible with the generous support of the Japan Sake & Shochu Makers Association and is broadcast from the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center in Tokyo. The show is a co-production between Export Japan and Potts.K Productions, with audio production by Frank Walter.

Our theme, “Younger Today Than Tomorrow” was composed by forSomethingNew for Sake On Air.