The Tokyo Shinbun Tokyo Web site covers one woman's story of leaving to pursue a completely different career, then coming home to take over the family brewery.
Aoki Shuzō in Saitama was founded in 1831, and its Gokeiji label regularly takes medals at competition.
Eldest daughter Chisa Aoki, the seventh kuramoto, has been working for the family business as managing director since 2014, although in practice it involves doing everything from helping with the brewing to accountancy to shipping.
The brewery is currently taking part the Ni-sai no Kamoshi (二才の醸, which may be a pun on "sai" as "years old" and as "talent/skill") project, a label which features only sake brewed by people in their 20s. It was started by Ishii Shuzō in Satte, Saitama Prefecture in 2014, then handed over to Takarayama Shuzō in Niigata. Aoki threw herself into the project as it was exclusively for younger people.
She became a nurse after graduating from university, working in intensive care wards in hospitals in Saitama City, and it never occurred to her to join the family business. That all changed in December 2013, when she heard from her mother Yayoi (60) that her father Shinobu (63) wanted her to come back. She was in her second year of nursing, used to the job and found it fulfilling. Although she was torn, her managers supported her decision and she dove headlong into the world of brewing.
One issue was that even when she went drinking with colleagues, she ordered beer or cassis oolong - not only did she not know anything about sake, she'd never even tasted it.
After returning home her father recommended that Aoki study with with everyone involved with the brewery, and she remembers how impressed she was that sake was made from nothing but rice and water. Her studies of course included tastings, and she got to know the difference in flavours between labels and appreciate the complexity of sake.
Aoki was intrigued by the Ni-sai no Kamoshi project, but also worried that taking up the baton for the third edition would be reckless. But it was also something that was only possible because she had returned to the kura in her twenties, so she decided to ask about it. She was the only person in their 20s at the brewery, so she set out to get some more young people involved. Rice farmers in the area introduced her to four students at the University of Tsukuba who were also sake fans, and they got ready to brew.
They set out to make an easy-to-drink sake, fruity and intense, that would be well-received even by first time drinkers. Brewing carried on until the end of November, and they ended up recruiting more and more young people until around 30 were involved in the project. They pulled in even more people for bottling and labelling in the new year, hoping to get as many people as possible interested.
Aoki believes that the intention and emotion of the maker are communicated in the final sake, so you can look forward to a youthful, passionate brew when the third instalment of Ni-sai no Kamoshi is released in spring 2019.
A fairly low-key story to round out this batch, but interesting to find out about this label for young brewers. I was also on a three-brewery team at ProWein in March 2019 with Chisa Aoki, so nice to see more about her!
- Original article (Japanese, Tokyo Shinbun Tokyo Web, 9 December 2018)
- Aoki Shuzō (Japanese)