On Thursday, July 22ed, I decided to go to a “Meet the brewer” meeting that was being hosted by SakeOne at Zella Sake House. I learnt about this gathering from a tweet by Marcus Pakiser who is a local sake expert working for Youngs Columbia, a distributing company. Having never gone to this type of event for sake I was not sure what to expect. Portland is a huge craft beer town and has this type of event weekly in the beer context with the primary audience being home brewers. However, the homebrew sake community is much smaller so I did not expect many other sake brewers to be present. Despite this I put together a list of questions that I hoped I would have the chance to ask the Yoshinogawa Toji.
Zella’s is a small sake bar so I was a little worried that if I did not show up early there would be no place to sit. Living on the west side of town means that I would have about 45 minutes to get to Zella’s but I gave myself an hour and fifteen minute just to be on the safe side. As it turned out, the first bridge I tried to take was closed. Portland is split in half with the Willamette river dividing the east side from west. Following the detour at rush hour eventually got me across the river and I arrived at Zella’s with a few minutes to spare. I want in and was asked if I was part of the sake tasting group. I said I was and was seated at a reserved table. It turned out that the table was reserved for the SakeOne group and I was asked to move once they arrived. I felt a little silly but no big deal, this only meant that the show would get started soon.
I had brought a gift for the toji, a bottle of my last batch of sake, a muroka genshu junmai ginjo. As it turned out the toji as not going to come, rather Mr. Michio Takahashi (30 years of brewing) and Masayoshi Nakagawa (18 years of brewing) represented Yoshinogawa’s brewers. With Marcus’s translating help I presented Mr. Takahashi-san the bottle of sake I brought. Having done this, I found myself a seat at the bar, ordered some sushi, sake and waited to see what would happen next.
Soon I was talking to another patron; I didn’t get his name. He had come for dinner and did not know there would be any event. I enjoyed talking with him while we eat, drank and waited. Marcus brought over the first of three sample tastings just as we were finishing our dinner. It was the Yoshinogawa Gokujo Ginjo; very nice. Once I finished the sushi I slipped over to get a sample of the second sake. It was the Gensen Karakuchi. Also, very nice. While there I talked to Marcus for a little while and he suggested that I go and sit with the other brewers at the SakeOne table. With his encouragement I went over to the table and asked if they would mind if I joined them. They said it would be OK, so I sat down and introduced myself with the help of Ken Kojima who is currently working for SakeOne in their sales department in New York. Ken is here for a year before he goes back home to work in the family sake brewery; Sohonten Brewery in Yamagata Prefecture.
Shortly I found myself asking if it would be OK for me to ask some questions; that I had written some down before coming and wanted to get some insights into them. They all said sure but when I went to grab my list from the bar and gave it to them they got a little nervous, especially Dewey Weddington, SakeOne Vice President of Marketing. I think Dowey was worried that the Yoshinogawa guys might be caught off guard and feel a little trapped; not my intention at all. Anyway we talked through a few of the questions on my list and I had a good time. Nasayoshi-san poured me some kan zake which was the Gensen Karakuchi. I did not recognized that it was the same sake I had just had slightly chilled. It was good both warm and chilled. Greg Lorenz, SakeOne Master brewer, discussed ways to experiment with different aspects of sake.
After a little while it looked like Ken needed to help others and that I was hogging too much of his time. I thought that I should let everyone get back to it so I excused myself and headed home.
Dewey videotaped some of the event and posted the following video: (Youtube video “rCsLCU5n8to” seems to have been removed, :-()