I just finished reading John Gauntner’s book: Sake’s Hidden Stories and it was a joy. I really enjoyed “getting to know” some of the brewers from across Japan. John takes us to meet key people of 13 kura, from the Akita and Iwate regions in the north to Yamaguchi in the southwest. These kura include:
- Daishinshu of Nagano Prefecture
- Dassai of Yamaguchi Prefecture
- Nanbu Bijin of Iwate Prefecture
- Tairin of Gifu Prefecture
- Kikuyoi of Shizuoka Prefecture
- Rihaku of Shimane Prefecture
- Tsuyu Masamune of Osaka Prefecture
- Daishichi of Fukushima Prefecture
- Taketsuru of Hiroshima Prefecture
- Yuri Masamune / Yuki no Bosha of Akita Prefecture
- Tama no Hikari of Kyoto
- Shichihonyari of Shiga Prefecture
- Rikyubai / Mukune of Osaka Prefecture
As with most things related to sake, I bought John’s book to see what new aspects I might be able to pick up on the brewing process itself, but this is not what this book is all about. It is about the people and their stories. Despite this I was able to still pull out a few useful tidbits. And the stories of each of these guys are wonderful. Take the first kura, Daishinshu, and the Tanaka brothers who run it. Katsumi is the toji, very passionate but pretty young at 36 (in 2009). His brother, Ryuichi, is the kuramoto or president of the brewery. Together with the kurabito they produce about 360,000 liters of sake a year. For them, more than most, rice steaming is important and needs to be done right.
Then there is Nanbu Bijin of Iwate Prefecture. Kosuke Kuji, in line to become kuramoto, is extremely knowledgeable about sake brewing. While, this may seem normal, many kuramoto concentrate on the business side and have only limited knowledge of brewing details. As is not uncommon, Kosuke did not want to run the business as he was growing up. However, while preparing for his role by attending No-dai, an agriculture university in Tokyo and working as an apprentice as several different breweries, Kosuke caught the bug and loves his work.
John saves Daimon Shuzo of Osaka Prefecture for last. This seems fitting to me in that within the Daimon story there is a sub-story that I did not know. At one point Yasutaka Daimon-san, the current Kurabito and Toji, had almost lost the brewery. While I have watched this brewery and Daimon-son himself for a few years I had only gotten to know him very recently and I had not heard of this barely missed disaster. For whatever reason, I was deeply moved by this and it started me thinking about the industry as a whole and the small breweries and what could be done to put things back to where they should be. However the industry problems are systemic and complex. But, like Daimon Shuzo, this wonderful industry can and I hope will reclaim all its glory and the love of both young and old.
All in all this is a book well worth the price and time. Go John and keep these coming!