This last weekend I joined a group of brewers for a brewer’s tour of the SakéOne Kura. Greg Lorenz, SakéOne’s Sakémaster gave the tour to a group of brewers from the Oregon Brew Crew.
As we gathered in the tasting room, we sampled the current nama on tap, a junmai ginjo genshu namazake; wow, very nice. What a way to start the tour. Once everyone had gathered we topped off our glasses and headed out with Greg in the lead.
Stopping in front of a picture of Mr Murai, Greg explains how Mr Murai was a man ahead of his time and how he thought that it was time to establish a Kura in the US. How he had pushed this idea for some time without success, until one day on a flight when he sat next to Grif Frost.
Not long after the meeting between Mr. Murai and Grif they conspired to build a sake brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon. Mr. Murai’s company, Momokawa Brewing, Inc. of Japan, in partnership with SakeOne, helped Grif set up the Sakery with special equipment and know how.
Moving on down the corridor, we came to the milling room. Greg tells us that this room shows how east meets west at SakeOne. The rice mill is from Japan and is on the east side of the room, while the rice storage, silos and transportation system are locally constructed and reside mostly on the west side.
The rice mill has a whirling milling stone that spins rapidly while the rice falls past it and is transported back up to the hopper above the mill with a vacuum process. The rice flour that is milled off is drawn away and place in its own silo to be sold for feed. It takes roughly a day to mill one batch of rice to 60% remaining in this mill and four of these batches are needed for a single brew the size SakeOne makes.
Moving on we go upstairs and see the kura’s Shinto shrine; old meets new with the shrine atop a control panel. Most, if not all kura have these shrines.
We then looked at another piece of equipment from Japan. This is a special piece of equipment for growing yeast. Load it up with yeast, yeast nutrients and food and the device autoclaves the media, adds the yeast and begins stirring the mixture. Before you know it, it has produced about 5 pounds of concentrated yeast paste; just enough for a batch of sake.
Next up on the tour, the steam kettle; this behemoth of a kettle tips over on hinges to give up its contents. The highly milled rice is layered in the kettle for steaming. After steaming the rice goes to one of two places; to make koji and to be added directly to the ferment.
Rice for koji is scooped out of the kettle at about 180F, on to a conveyor belt where it travels through a device to breakup the clumps and cool it down to about 90F. After cooling to 90F it passes under another device that finely spays koji-kin over the rice to thoroughly inoculate the rice. It continues up the conveyor and into the seigiku-shitsu (a special room that has a controlled climate; temperature and humidity). Greg explains that there are really two separate rooms for preparing koji: the first is to initiate the growth of the mold where the rice is wrapped in blankets and the second is where it is spread out and allowed to mature. This second room is equivalent to the stage where some kura place developing koji in boxed that are stacked in one position for a while and then rotated every few hours. Finally we see the room where they hold the koji until it is needed. It is a cold room with what looks like hospital laundry carts filled with koji; the koji is sweet and chewy with a slight bitter aftertaste.
Greg leads us to the next room on the tour, the fermentation room. This room has a pair of tall slim tanks on one side with a moto in progress. There are five or six very large tanks poking their heads up through the floor so we can see down into them through an opening. These are the fermentation tanks. As soon as a moto is ready it is transferred from the tall skinny tank into one of these hug tanks and receives its additions of koji then steamed rice and water for the main ferment; the Moromi. Greg watches over the batches as they progress and when ready puts them through the filter press and into aging tanks where the sake matures.
After maturing, the sake is bottled and sold, or sent over to the tasting room where we head back to for some more deep analysis of the beverage. On the way, I get Greg and Fred Eckhardt to stop for a picture with me. The placard behind us is for the Murai Family Tokubetsu Honjozo, one of my favorites.