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North American Sake Rice & Agriculture with Isbell Farms Part 2

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This week we continue our conversation with the multi-generation family of rice (and sake rice!) farmers at Isbell Farms in the heart of Arkansas. For those of you just now joining, we highly recommend you make time to give Part 1 of this conversation a listen before diving in, as it provides a great deal of context for this week’s discussion, is referenced occasionally throughout the show, and more than anything, it introduces you to this inspiring family.

This week the family kicks things off by talking about the transition from their early work with Takara Sake USA to connecting with Blake Richardson of Moto-I and Minnesota Rice & Milling via Norway, which lead to further expansion into a range of sake-specific rice varieties in support of North America’s craft sake breweries, along with the recent development of their own sake rice variety, known as Somai.

From there we get into the creation of sake rice sample kits (and post office shenanigans!), the experience of opening up and sharing family life on the farm through YouTube, tackling sustainability and conservation issues surrounding rice farming while selling carbon credits to Microsoft in the process, and a great deal more.

We hope that this pair of episodes not only contributed to our listeners’ appreciation of sake and the hard work and passion involved in bringing that magnificent beverage to life, but also helped to further your interest in the world of agriculture in North America – and anywhere, for that matter. All of our futures hinge upon the people and means through which we grow food. If that food being grown contributes to beautiful sake, and if that beautiful sake contributes to a healthy and sustainable future, all the better. In that capacity, we here at Sake On Air can’t wait to see where the Isbell Family takes us next.

For more about Isbell Farms:
Website
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube

Thanks for once again tuning in to Sake On Air. You can help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or on whatever service delivers you all of your podcasting needs. Contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts about this week’s show, and feel free to follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. Everything from Sake Future Summit 2020, as well as a number of other recordings, are all archived over on our YouTube channel, as well.

We’ll be back in two weeks with a bit more Sake (and Shochu!) on Air.
Until next time.

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.

North American Sake Rice & Agriculture with Isbell Farms Part 1

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When it comes to producing sake outside of Japan, still one of the most significant hurdles to crafting the sake of a brew-master’s dreams is access to the ideal resources needed in order to realize the vision, and included in those resources are the raw materials.

Sake specific rice varieties from Japan are in high demand from sake makers across the globe–and for good reason–but there’s also something to be said for being able to craft an incredible beverage from the resources available close to home.

While consistent access to a good number of sake brewing tools and resources still remains rather elusive for a significant number of international sake breweries, when it comes to sake rice in the U.S., the family at Isbell Farms is on a mission to make Japanese rice and sake rice varieties an accessible, quality, and viable option for a new world of sake breweries.

After a successful foray into the production of koshihikari, a Japanese staple table rice variety that put the family’s rice (and faces) on televisions and convenience store shelves across Japan in the 80s, demand from the rapidly growing number of Japanese restaurants across the U.S., along with a handful of major sake breweries setting up operations on North American shores led to opportunities to double-down on a then relatively niche market. Since then, they’ve grown and evolved to become a go-to supplier of established sake rice varieties, including yamada nishiki and gohyakumangoku, amongst others, to breweries large and small across the U.S.

This week (and next) we speak with the Isbell family as we explore the origins of cultivating Japanese rice varieties in the heart of Arkansas, the expansion to sake rice varieties, and just what it means to be a grower in the U.S. today.

We’ll be back with Part 2 of this special look at sake and rice growing in the U.S. next week, as we join the family at Isbell Farms once again to more closely examine the nature of sake specific rice varieties, as well as the future of rice farming and agriculture in the U.S. Stay tuned.

For those of you interested in following the work of the Isbell family online:
Website
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube

Thanks for once again tuning in to Sake On Air. You can help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or on whatever service delivers you all of your podcasting needs. Contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts about this week’s show, and feel free to follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. Everything from Sake Future Summit 2020, as well as a number of other recordings, are all archived over on our YouTube channel, as well.

Wishing all of our listeners happiness and health in a (hopefully) sake-infused week ahead. Take care out there.

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.

Matured Sake, Aged Sake

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Despite a rich and storied history spanning millennia, in certain terms, sake has yet to unequivocally prove its ability to stand the test of time.

If you’re in some way associated with the sale or service of sake, likely one of the most common questions you get is, “How long can I keep my sake before it starts to go bad?” or, “How long does sake stay good after it’s opened?” As a buyer, these are both logical and very important questions. As an industry, having clear and concise answers to those questions is equally important. In order to keep things simple, as well as to help assure an overwhelmingly positive experience for as many sake drinkers as possible, the general message adopted suggests that sake should be consumed within 6-12 months from purchase, refrigerated both prior to and after opening, and then consumed within several days to a week once it’s been opened. This is sound advice that’s relevant to a great majority of the sake being produced and sold both domestically and internationally.

There is, however, a paradigm that exists entirely outside of the above logic; where a greater element of time isn’t only a factor, but a necessity.

Welcome to the world of matured and aged sake.

Often referred to as koshu – literally “old sake” – often translated as “aged sake”, or jukuseishu, commonly translated as “matured sake”, bottles of sake referencing these qualities were crafted taking time into account. That amount of time can be anywhere from a few years to a few decades depending on the style of sake and the intent of the brewer, and in many cases the results are astounding.

Yet despite plenty of beautiful examples of aged or matured sake on the market and countless historical texts singing the praises of what time can do to a bottle of sake, a rather perfect storm of circumstances coalesced to nearly erase aged sake culture, production, and consumer appreciation from the collective understanding of sake for about a century.

Thankfully, a relatively small, but thoughtful, proactive and coordinated effort from a growing number of sake makers and sellers has been hard at work seeking to rebuild and redefine what time can mean (and cost) when factored into a bottle of sake. Whether it be the collective rebranding efforts of the Toki Sake Association, the Muni line from Kokuryu used in the first ever sake industry auction in 2018, the dedication to long-term aging in ceramic storage vessels by Tsuki no Katsura, or a handful of specialty bars dedicated to the unique and treasured style, awareness surrounding the magic that time can work on a bottle of the right kind of sake is slowly building.

This week, Sebastien Lemoine, Marie Nagata and Justin Potts gather to discuss the historical and modern context of matured and aged sake, the formal definitions (or lack thereof) in place, the typical qualities that time imparts on a bottle of sake, what maturing sake could mean from a service standpoint, and more.

For those of you that missed our special interview on the topic for Sake Future Summit 2020, Aged Sake and the Test of Time, that’s a great primer (or follow-up) to this episode. Prior to this episode Sebastien actually sat down with Nobuhiro Ueno, while Justin paid a visit to Tokubee Masuda of Tsuki no Katsura, to help us get a bit more insight into this fascinating sake category. Those interviews will see the light of day in some form a bit further down the road, but for now, we hope you’ll pour yourself a glass of sake and settle in with us for an exploration into the one thing that proves nearly impossible to attach a price tag to no matter what the context: time.

Thanks for once again tuning in to Sake On Air. You can help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or on any of your favorite services that deliver you all of your podcasting needs. Contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts or feelings, or go ahead and follow us on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. Everything from Sake Future Summit 2020, as well as a number of other recordings, are all archived over on our YouTube channel, as well.

We’ll get into how time factors into the world of shochu and awamori in another show another day. For this week, give your sake a bit of quality time.

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.

Okawari: U.S. Love of Nigori with “The Sake Ninja”

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In an ideal world we’d bring you listeners a brand-new episode each and every week. While we can’t see that happening in the immediate future, in the process of creating or preparing for many of our episodes we end up with a lot of fun and insightful conversations that sadly just don’t make it into a final episode.

Whether it be interviews conducted in attempt to broaden our perspective and gain further insight into a specific topic before attempting to tackle it, or an unanticipated tangent during a regular recording that we just can’t bring ourselves to carve up, but also can’t force into the overall show structure, we’ve continued to amass quite a bit of material that we would love to share with our listeners at some point and in some capacity.

That’s what we’re testing the waters with this week, in our first (but hopefully not last) episode of “Okawari”.

In Japanese, the term okawari refers to ordering “another round”. Essentially, if you’re asking for okawari, you want to keep the party going. That’s what we hope this week’s show (and future okawari installments) can bring to the table.

As part of the process of examining the world of Nigori Sake for episode 60, we thought it would be interesting to get a bit of insight into the U.S. market’s unique attachment to this special style. In order to do that, we called up sake expert, certified Sake Samurai, and self-declared Sake Ninja, Chris Johnson, to share with us the evolution and status of the style in the U.S.

One thing for sure is that we’ll be coaxing the Sake Ninja to reappear in future episodes, as there are dozens of topics that we’d love to pick his brain on, and he deserves a feature all his own. That’s one of the reasons we’re giving this week’s conversation okawari status. Our chat with Chris is both great supportive material for our previous episode, while providing more than enough substance to be fully satisfying as a stand-alone episode in its own right.

We’ve got lots more material in the vault that we could use to pour you all “another round” of your favorite past topics, guests, and even entirely new snippets and insights. Let us know what you think of the concept and we’ll see what we can do to develop the format in the future.

You can send those thoughts to questions@sakeonair.com or message us via InstagramTwitter, or Facebook. Note that you’ll also help out the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or on whichever service you rely upon for your podcast needs.

Thanks for supporting us here at Sake On Air. We’ll be back with more sake and shochu-infused goodness in just a couple of weeks.

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.

The Murky Waters of Nigori Sake

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There’s a fascinating schism that’s emerged between the domestic and international markets’ relationship with nigori-style sake over that past few decades.

With its rather odd positioning landing it someplace between a more “traditional” style and at the same time a relatively “new” product proposition, a few distinct exceptions aside, nigori sake generally makes up an incredibly small portion of most makers’ product lineup.

At the same time, in some international markets (the U.S. in particular), nigori sake has developed a life of its own as an ever-present and iconic style representing the sake category as a whole, resulting in relatively more common placement on drink menus and amidst distributor portfolios than you’d often find in Japan.

Recent for creative and nuanced interpretations aside, for many years more “standard” offerings of nigori sake tended to be sold as (and as a result, perceived as) more budget products. However, the burdens of merely crafting a nigori sake are many and varied – arguably more demanding than a great deal of “clear” product – with the craft of producing a truly great nigori sake being in many cases a rather herculean task.

Why the disconnect? Is there really a “typical” or “traditional” nigori-style sake? Is Japan slowly developing a newfound appreciation for new styles of nigori? Do international brewers have an advantage when it comes to indoctrinating new sake drinkers through nigori-style sake?

Discussions around these topics and more this week with several of your regular Sake On Air hosts Sebastien Lemoine, Chris Hughes and Justin Potts. In preparing for this episode the team asked around different corners of the industry for various perspective and insight. You’ll get a bit of that here, but expect more from those interviewees in the coming weeks, as well.

There’s a lot to love about nigori, an infinitely diverse and growing style poised for a renaissance in the global world of sake. We hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Thanks for once again tuning in to Sake On Air. You can help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or on any of your favorite services that deliver you all of your podcasting needs. Contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts or feelings, or go  ahead and follow us on  InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. Everything from Sake Future Summit 2020, as well as a number of other recordings, are all archived over on our YouTube channel, as well.

Thanks for choosing sake and shochu. Be sure to pour yourself a bit of nigori this week, as well.

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.