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Yohji Teraoka is a very exacting gentleman.
His tenacity and fine attention to fine details, coupled with a superior knowledge of his land and people, has earned him national attention and praise for some of the finest sake in Japan that Isojiman Brewery in Yaizu City has been offering over the years.
Known since its foundation in 1830as Teraoka Brewery until 1990, it became the first kura in Shizuoka Prefecture, and allegedly in Japan, to transform the whole premises into a completely refrigerated brewery as Mr. Takahiro Nagashima, of Nagashima Saketen in Shizuoka City, and I discovered on March 7th.
The walls and ceilings are internally isolated with metal sheets while the floors are laid with synthetic material enabling the most efficient refrigeration (we had to don coats beforehand as the temperature is constantly maintained under 5 degrees Celsius) and cleaning by powerful water hoses.
Talking of water, Isojiman Brewery, instead of using their own well, utilizes city water. I thought it a bit strange that such fine sake could be concocted with seemingly base tap water until Mr. Teraoka pointed out that Yaizu City pumps it from a well dug in Negishima 130 deep to collect water already naturally filtered all the way down from the nearby Southern Alps. Moreover, the water is again very finely filtered before use. If I needed another proof that Shizuoka is blessed with some of the best water in Japan, I would not have to ask anyone else!
Which explains why Isojiman has concentrated on creating only preminum sake since 1982 when the kura was renovated.
The crew of 8 local (most of hem in their 20’s and 30’s) led by Nanbu Guold Master Brewer Nobuo Tada and his two aides brew a total of 1,650,000 1.8l. bottles a year.
Rice comes already polished from Hyogo Prefecture (Toku A, Yamada Nishiki, Aiyama) and Yamagata Prefecture (Kiyonishiki for honjozo sake). Some Shizuoka-grown Hyakumangoku is used to create « Oigawa Meguri » for five local sake shops in Yaizu City.
On the other hand yeasts are Shizuoka HD-1, Shizuoka NEW-5, and yeast grown by the Brewery.
The attention to fine details was amply demonstrated again through a visit of the whole kura. Ginjo tanks are lined with glass instead of the cheaper ceramic variety which tends to crack soon or later, harbouring unwanted matter spoiling the quality of any sake brewed and stored inside the tank.
The whole establishment is a solid proof that traditional and state-of-the-art equipments can work together. Where wood is needed such as inside the « koji muro »/fermenting rice chamber, it is only the best that can be bought in Japan.
Alcohol content, dryness and acidity are computer-measured.
Yeasts are grown and kept in rooms and refrigerators sanitized to the extreme.
Bottled sake is carefully stored inside their own completely refrigerated and isolated hangars.
It is traditional grunt work when it comes to the preparation and fermentation of the rice.
As we happened to visit the kura when they were processing the last batch of honjozo rice, we were allowed to manually participate (briefly) and try our hand at working the rice loose before covering it again for further fermentation.
Tim would have felt at home among those young muscular bodies!
On the other hand Etsuko, Melinda and Jocelyn might have felt a bit aggrieved to learn that ladies are not allowed anywhere inside the premises, with the exception of Mrs. Teraoka serving tea to guests inside the office.
Even the great hearty food prepared by grandmother, mother and wife is taken inside by one of the youngest male kurabito.
An interesting and vital detail is that every kurabito/brewery staff, regardless of his age or seniority, has his own private room on the third store with a small lounge overlooking Suruga Bay.
Mr. Teraoka is also extremely passionate about his work. We spent no less than two and a half hours on the premises visiting, talking and tasting the latest brews not on sale yet!
Such a long interview might also be explained by Mr. Teraoka’s soft soft spot for wines of my own country, France.
He goes as far as to write the vintage of its best brews in French (with explanation!) and designing his own escutcheon/Arms!
My last impression before we took our leave, cradling precious junmai daiginjo (a « little » present!) in our arms?
I felt impressed, pleased and satisfied! And humbled…
ISOJIMAN Premium Sake Brewery Co., LTD
307, Iwashigashima, Yaizu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, 425-0032 Japan