Today I treated myself to a Thanksgiving of a different kind. I watched master (mistress) brewer Takahashi-Sensei work on three Sake brews at the Ontario Spring Water Sake Co. This is a complex, arduous and hot process that takes a total of a week for each brew. The brewery is suitably located in the Distillery District in the east end.
The Sake-making room is set up compactly with large fermenting bins, steamers, washing bowls, and bottling apparatus. Sake is graded in part by its quality of spring water. It is made from spring water from Huntsville and is rice-based.
I have read a few books on the art of Sake making. It is a life study for those who make it. Often generations of families will be famous for their particular style of brewing.
Fortunately the general manager who was assisting the two other Sake makers gave me some time to explain a little of the process. He made it clear that the most important thing for all of them was making Sake. They weren’t concerned about the folklore.
The process is very dangerous. When they lifted up the lids of the steaming caldrons, steam rushed to their faces and unprotected arms. At times the work looked backbreaking. The brew masters had to agitate the bags up and down to break down the rice particles by hand.
Alcohol is added to cheaper Sake. The higher brand Junmai is not marred by additives. The Sake from this brewery is always Junmai grade.
Sake-Kasu are dregs left behind after pressing the Sake. It is not wasted. I bought a beautiful ochre-coloured bar of soap with a sandal wood aroma and some delicious sesame salad dressing. Both were made with sake-kasu.
The Sake-tasting bar is right beside the viewing room. There are more very tempting and unusual products as well as Sake for sale. Here you can buy such items as sake cups, and very decorative carrying bags. They also have the ingredients to make soups, and they give away free recipes. These are fun gifts for people interested in things Japanese.
The bartender serves sembe or rice crackers with nori or seaweed to munch while sampling one of the nine types of Sake this brewery produces. I enjoyed the conversations that took place. Other visitors were happy and relaxed there, a new experience for all.
For $4 one can try one cup of sake. For slightly less, you can also sample a grouping of three varieties.
After my one thimble full, I happily went home to have a nap. This was an experience I want to return to the next time Takahashi-Sensei comes back for a brewing.
by P. Anne Winter.