News

Sake Brewing School at Gakkogura

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Along with a general interest in sake expanding globally, the number of homebrewers curious to try their hand at sake making and professional brewers setting up formal production operations around the world continues to grow year-on-year at an ever-increasing rate.

At the same time, as the population committing themselves to sake both personally and professionally across a range of activities – from sales and distribution to education and evangelism – more and more people are looking for ways to get a little bit closer to the process and craftmanship of sake in order to further develop their understanding from a more personal and experiential angle.

The need to fill the gap between “brewery tour” and “full-on brewer” for a growing number of sake-curious and sake professionals has been growing for years. Thankfully, Gakkogura appeared.

Officially operating in limited capacity since 2014, Gakkogura (literally, “Brewery School”) is the work of Obata Shuzo, makers of Manotsuru brand sake on the beautiful and historic Sado Island in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Niigata Prefecture.

The project began, not with the intention of constructing a brewing school, but with a desire to save a piece of personal history on the island. Due to population decline and decreasing number of children on the island, the beautiful Nishimikawa Elementary school had already been committed to closure by the local government, ending more than a century of youth education that spanned multiple generations of islanders.

Wanting to develop a means of saving the school and preserving it as a place for learning and connecting in the local community, president of Obata Shuzo, Mr. Ken Hirashima, along with his wife, Mrs. Rumiko Obata, the non-stop powerhouse leading the charge of the family business, together they settled on a community-centric, educationally-driven micro brewery as the means of breathing life into the historic structure.

Brewing only a small number of batches each year from late-Spring through the end of Summer, each batch of sake made is crafted with a specific goal in mind for a specific group of individuals, with the hands-on component of the brewing process timed and organized to fit the needs of the small group of people that have committed to attending the school on Sado Island for a pre-determined week in the summer.

Designed to be more than just a technical training establishment, each group of participants selected for each program are each attached to a single batch of sake, through which they are introduced not only to the production process, but also to life and culture on Sado Island and the role that sake plays in the lives and livelihoods of the people. Each group is taking part, not only in making sake, but in becoming a contributor and ambassador to the majesty of the island and the unique role that each batch of sake is crafted to play upon being introduced to the world at large.

Due to some peculiar legal regulations surrounding the production of sake in Japan, it wasn’t until 2020 that Gakkogura was finally able to really open up its operations and promote and share the fruits of their labor in a more outward-facing capacity. Having obtained that additional bit of freedom amidst the COVID pandemic, it’s really just now that Gakkogura is beginning to transform and grow into a new phase of community development and brewing education.

For this episode, in the first half we’re joined by Mrs. Rumiko Obata, representing five generations of Obata Shuzo and the communicative force behind Gakkorua. In this short interview, Obata-san shares with us some insight into the origins of the brewing school, the values driving the project, and the relationship between the unique brewery and the special place that is Sado Island.

For the second half, to offer a bit of an experiential perspective, we have a short roundtable discussion between this summer’s final group of brewing students, who were assigned to help craft the brewery’s first ever attempt at a kimoto-style sake. We’re joined by journalist, YouTuber and Tokyo Aijo editor, Roberto Maxwell, along with engineer and technical consultant-turned-sake startup founder, Philipp Maas, as well as Sake Tours founder and director Etsuko Nakamura, who has joined us on the show before at Sake Future Summit 2020. Regular show host Justin Potts (and Gakkogura program supporter and participant) joins the crew on-site at the brewery over a glass of sake following the completion of their week-long experience to get a feel for the impressions and takeaways that resonated with year’s final cohort.

If you enjoy 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 range of recordings, are all archived over on our YouTube channel, as well.

We’ll be back in another two weeks with more Sake On Air.
Until then, be well and 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.

Listener Questions: August 2021 Edition

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This week at Sake On Air we tackle a wide range of sake and shochu-specific topics based upon questions submitted by you, the listeners!

Even though we’re always available and eager to engage with our listeners, viewers and followers across all of the online spaces you can find us on, we also recognize that there’s still a great deal more that we could be doing to facilitate that dialogue. This episode is just one small piece of a larger initiative in-the-works to help make that happen.

In order to help improve and expand the flow of communication between our listeners and everyone here at SOA, we’ve actually welcomed a new partner-in-crime to the crew!

It was thanks to Cindy Bissig that we were able to make this episode happen, and if you happened to submit a question or interact at all with us here on social media over the past couple of months, chances are it was Cindy that you were talking to.

A talented, ambitious, sake-loving and ever-traveling documenter of the Japan experience, we were incredibly lucky to have our world collide with Cindy’s despite a year of limited interaction and travel. For the past few months she’s been keeping a close eye on the world of sake to share up-to-date info with our listeners, while also going out of her way to create more opportunities to dialogue with the people that make this show a joy to create: you.

On this week’s show, Cindy joins a handful of your regular hosts, Rebekah Wilson-Lye, Justin Potts and Chris Hughes, to tackle your questions and offer perspective from our position over here on the fine island of Japan. Consider this “Part 1”, as we still have many more questions that we weren’t able to get to and we’re always accepting your thoughts and questions. It’s an ever-expanding, never-ending quest that we’re on.

Be sure to send along a big “Kampai!” to Cindy and welcome her to the show! And while you’re at it, let us know what you think of this week’s format and if you’d like to hear more of this type of discussion-based Q&A from your hosts and guests. You can go ahead and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you rely upon for your podcasting needs, as well. Contact us at questions@sakeonair.com with any thoughts about the 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 more Sake On Air.
Until then, 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.

Sparkling Sake Interviews: Ichinokura & Shichiken

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Continuing this month’s series examining the world of sparkling sake, this week we bring you a pair of interviews with sake makers that have been instrumental in both evolving and improving the sparkling sake category.

Regular host Chris Hughes first sits down with Mr. Hitoshi Suzuki, president of Ichinokura, and sales representative Ms. Erina Nakamura, to discuss what’s largely considered to be the industry’s first commercialization of a naturally fermented sparkling sake product, the Miyagi-based brewery’s beloved Suzune, along with the sake’s roots in their other popular Himezen line of sake.

Following that discussion, Chris then invites CEO of leading sparkling sake producer, Yamanashi Meijo, makers of Shichiken, Mr. Tsushima Kitahara, to discuss not only the technical evolution of their sparkling sake, but also how committing to the style as a core of their business has resulted in sparkling sake now making up more than 30% of their overall sake production, with a dedication to ever-improving quality and communication around the style leading to opportunities and partnerships that are opening new doors for the wonderful world of sake.

If you have more questions about the fascinating world of sparkling sake, please do reach out to us. We welcome both your questions, as well as stories of your own experiences and discoveries with the style. We’ll be revisiting this topic again down the road, so any thoughts and feelings you’re willing to share now will serve as fuel for developing a future episode of Sake on Air.

You can always help us out by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you rely upon for 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 more brand new Sake On Air.

Until then, 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.

Deconstructing Sparkling Sake

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Of all the requests that we get for various show topics, an episode focusing on “Sparkling Sake” is probably one, if not the most requested topic filling our inbox. So this week, we (finally) bring you the first of two episodes that we’ve put together to help provide a bit of context and perspective for this rapidly expanding style that’s showing no signs of slowing down.

This week Chris Hughes, Rebekah Wilson-Lye and Justin Potts break down the range of sparkling sake styles – from the classic kassei styles, to CO2-infused staples, to bubbly derived through secondary fermentation, and the relatively new Awasake – outlining how they differ, what makes each unique, and a providing bit of context for how each are developing and evolving in the market, particularly as the style exists in Japan.

A couple of weeks from now we’ll be bringing you a follow-up episode featuring interviews with a pair of sake breweries that have been instrumental in developing, proliferating and expanding the style, pursuing ever-improved quality while carving out their own interpretation of this exciting category.

Listeners, when you ask, we deliver. We hope you’ll enjoy this month’s exploration into a style of sake poised to rapidly gather the mindshare of a world of sake lovers while transforming the perception of sake for a new world of drinks-curious.

Let us know what you thought of this episode of Sake On Air by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or whatever service you rely upon for 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 to dive even deeper into the world of sparkling sake here 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.

Rakugo Storytelling (and Sake) with Katsura Sunshine

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This week we have a rather special story to tell, as we’re joined by Katsura Sunshine, the second non-Japanese master Rakugo-ka in the history of the craft.

The nuanced, playful, dramatic, and at sometimes outright hilarious art of Rakugo storytelling carries over 400 years of historical and cultural significance, passing down universal messages and timeless life lessons that have helped shape how Japan enjoys and appreciates its stories.

While sharing in a bit of sake, Katsura Sunshine opens up to us about his ongoing life journey through the largely untrodden (outside Japan) world of Rakugo and his steadfast dedication to endlessly honing his craft while bringing honest and faithful depictions of the artform’s beloved stories to international audiences, whether it be Off Broadway, or on YouTube

At Sake on Air, after having been away from our regular home at the JSS Sake & Shochu Information Center amidst a turbulent and challenging year, our guest brought a much needed bit of Sunshine to our short-lived return to our sake sanctuary. While this week’s show isn’t entirely sake (or shochu) specific, together with our very special guest, your regular hosts Chris Hughes and Sebastien Lemoine explore the shared qualities of both the sake and rakugo experience, while being treated to a few performances – and resulting laughter – along the way.

Sunshine’s next show is on the 7th of August at the Yoshimoto Yurakucho Theatre, tickets are ¥1,500 in advance or ¥1,800 at the door. Doors open at 12:30 and the performance will begin at 13:00. Tickets can be purchased at https://yoshimoto.funity.jp/search/?kaien_date_type=2021%2F08%2F07&kaijyo_code=999230&kaien_time=13:00

If you enjoyed this week’s (or any week’s) episode of 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’ time with more Sake on Air.

Until then,
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.