Wednesday, November 26, 2008

11/4/08: Day 5 in Japan Part I: Nanbu Bijin Experience

Today called for another early wake up, this time at 6:30 am. Today's agenda is to tour Nanbu Bijin Brewery. In addition, Kuji-san has arranged for me to participate in parts of the brewing process, something I've seen but never done before.

To see Nanbu Bijin's account of my visit, please click here.



The first thing Matumori Brewmaster did was to check the tanks and gather data.

The fermentation in this tank is very vibrant. To control the fermentation, they've added extra lip to the tank as well as machine that pops the bubbles to keep from overflowing.

Here, I find the tag for Tank #1 which we got to taste last night. It says, "October 8, Batch #1, Shiboritaté Nama."

Tank #7 is a Tokubetu Junmai Nama slated to be shipped to the US. Fermentation began 10 days after Batch #1.

My first assignment is to mix the mash.

Mixing the new batch is a very hard work, as it is mostly solid,.

After the rice is steamed...

it is shoveled into...

a machine where...

it is cooled then separated by the brewers.

The rice is then packed into sacks, and sent upstairs to the Koji Room.

Nanbu Bijin uses silk sack instead of can when sprinkling Koji mold. This task is tougher than it looks. To sprinkle the mold, you must maintain the right rhythm. I was so focused and tight during my first attempt that I was actually told, “you know, you really ought to breathe.” To appreciate the difficulty, put three quarters in a dress sock, and shake it so that the quarters bounce and make sharp clinking sound each time.

Working in the Koji Room made the biggest impression. After sprinkling the koji mold, the job was to mix the rice and manage the temperature. We used digital thermometer to track temperature, and brewers made small adjustments by opening and closing the door. They really live in a world where a mere half a degree makes difference. When the koji rice is down to about 32.5C, then it is neatly wrapped for resting.

Although I don’t have the photo, the next assignment was making boxes for shipping. This was low pressure job by comparison, but in the worst case, screwing up here can result in breakage and waste all the previous efforts. Thus, the importance of this job cannot be understated.

After boxing, we had lunch. Because last night’s ramen was a huge hit with the gang, Kuji-san asked the kitchen to make the Nanbu Bijin-style ramen. My first serving was the traditional soy ramen, while the second was miso. The soup was rich and balanced, and exactly what we needed.

After extended lunch break, I assisted in preparing rice for steaming the next day. As there are several layers in the steamer, my job was to make sure each layer was evenly distributed.

Posing ith Kuji-san. My work day ended around 5:00 pm, as I had to go catch a train to Akita City.

As I am traveling from Ninohé to Akita City, I kept thinking of how people throughout the trip has been very generous in welcoming me into their domain and letting me participat in these rare experiences. I will forever be grateful to everyone.



1 comment:

Tony Alexander said...

Nice experience. Thanks for sharing.