Business

Yamagata brewing venture makes splash abroad with sake aged in wine barrels

Kyodo

A brewing venture in the Tohoku region has made a splash abroad with sake matured in oak wine barrels.

Wakaze Inc. in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, exports its Orbia brand sake to markets such as France and Hong Kong. Orbia comes in two varieties, Sol and Luna (Latin for sun and moon), with the former known for its rich sourness and fruity aroma and the latter for its delicate sweetness, the company claims.

Each one has a well-structured body and aroma, as the sourness and sweetness from the rice turns smooth and mild after aging in the oak barrels, the company said.

In early December, Wakaze President Takuma Inagawa and chief brewer Shoya Imai, both 29, were stirring malted rice with wooden paddles in the steamy brewery in Tsuruoka as snow fell outside.

They were in the process of making the kōji (mold) with a tinge of lemon-like sourness used to make Orbia, and they needed to manage the acidity level throughout the night.

“I prefer wine over sake in the first place,” Inagawa said.

After studying in France for two years, he was working for a major consulting firm until an encounter at a Tokyo sushi restaurant with what he called a great sake prompted him to change careers.

In January 2016, he established Wakaze in Tsuruoka, a place blessed with clean air and water that hosts a number of other breweries.

In developing new products, Inagawa believed conventional sake could be overmatched when paired with meat dishes or other fatty foods.

“If it has sourness like wine, it will improve the taste of those dishes,” he thought.

He came up with the idea of adding a fruity fragrance by letting the sake mature in oak barrels used to make wine and creating sourness by using the shirokōji (white mold) used in making shōchū (distilled spirits).

The venture raised money through crowdfunding.

Inagawa sticks with the concept of “Japanese modern” when determining the details of the products, such as the dragon and wave motifs used on the bottle labels. He also has a policy of using domestic ingredients.

“I realized that my identity is rooted in Japan after I went overseas,” Inagawa said. “I also want to tell the world about the joy of creating something in a traditional Japanese industry.”