The Birth of Sake at Terada Honke
At Maction Planet we pride ourselves on the access we are able to give visitors to The World’s Greatest Metropolis. Our mission is to continually outdo the traditional, cookie-cutter tours and give people memories to last a lifetime – truly unique experiences that they will not be able to achieve anywhere else.
That is exactly what happened on 20th November when we joined the Sake Shikomi (sake preparation) at Terada Honke Brewery – an incredible opportunity for guests to experience the birth of sake!
Terada Honke is a historic institution. The brewery moved to its current location in Kozaki in Chiba during the Enpo Years of the Edo Period (1673-1681). Kozaki is about 90km northeast of central Tokyo and requires a minimum of two trains to get to. This really was a unique local experience!
The event hosted by Terada Masaru, the 24th generation of the continuous line of Terada sake brewers.
We started the day with an introductory talk from Terada-san about the sake production process. Two of the key parts of the process – making koji and washing the rice – had already been completed. As he was giving his presentation the rice was being steamed. We were going to participate in the cooling of the rice and the initiation of the fermentation process.
We entered the production floor to the spectacular sight of steam coming out of a huge wooden vat and the Terada team readying themselves for the key moment.
At 10:13, everyone kicked into action. Rice was scooped out of the vat and placed onto 3 large wooden trays.
Now it was our turn. Our job was to help cool the rice by turning it and exposing it to air. There were a few useful techniques to make sure you did the job without burning your hands, and we had experts on hand to learn from.
After each bucket of rice was cooled, it was immediately placed into a small tank where koji malt, steamed rice and water are mixed. The yeasts and lactic acid bacteria are cultured in order to help healthy fermentation. The role of the lactic acid bacteria is to produce natural acids which protect and help the growth of the yeasts.
After we finished everybody co-operated to clean the preparation area.
Terada-san then took us on a tour of the rest of the facility. But this was unlike any other sake brewery tour tourists can go on.
We began by inspecting some sake which was already in production – comparing three day and ten day fermentation levels of Gonin Musume, one of the Terada brewery’s most famous products. We tasted the ten day old liquid which was already showing hints of the the distinctive Terada taste.
We then visited the koji production area. Steamed rice is brought into a special chamber, where it is sprinkled with the spores of the mold and cultivated for 50 hours. Temperature and humidity conditions are controlled until the mold is entirely grown on the rice. Koji making is one of the most important stages of the entire brewing process, and it has a huge influence on the taste and aroma of the sake.
Normally, the public is not allowed access to these areas for fear of contamination of the process. However, Terada is one of the few breweries still practicing the kimoto method. The sake is made with the aid of the natural microorganisms inhabiting the brewery itself. This approach, which takes around one month from start to finish, consumes about twice as much time and effort as the “quick fermentation” method (sokujo-moto), which yields results in half the time. Using kimoto method is a sure sign that you are dealing with master brewers – it is a technique which has been handed down from generation to generation.
We then inspected how our rice was getting on! All guests will be receiving a bottle of sake made using the rice which we prepared today.
Terada-san discussed some of the equipment used in the production process. The vats used to steam the rice were made by only one company in Osaka which has stopped operating. These vats require changing every 10 years, so right now Terada-san’s team are figuring out what they will do when that time comes.
All the sake preparation and touring had meant we’d built up an appetite and a thirst. Lunch beckoned, and what a feast it was. We were lucky enough to try Kashipara’s organic rice grown on their own farms, and vegetables such as beans, daikon and miso. 8 different sakes from Terada were available to taste, such as musubi genmaishu, katori, daigo no shizuku, and the unique amber colour hanahiraku.
As if that wasn’t enough, our tour continued in Narita, exploring the incredible Naritasan Shinsoji Temple Complex, founded in 940 AD, and dining and drinking in some truly local establishments!
Maction Planet runs Tokyo Sake Tastings and Sake Tours. Whether you are after a journey through this diverse drink on its home ground, a visit to a brewery, or want to get involved in some truly local experiences such as rice picking or sake preparation, we can help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org