Brewer, Heiwa Doburoku Kabutocho Brewery
●You used to work at Heiwa Shuzo Brewery in Wakayama Prefecture, but at what point did you join the Doburoku Brewery Kabutocho?
I came to Kabutocho last June for the opening of the Brewery. This is my sixth year at Heiwa Shuzo, and for the past five years, I have been involved in sake production and craft beer brewing, primarily at a brewery in Wakayama, as well as growing our own rice called Yamada-Nishiki. For the first six months after opening, I lived in Tokyo while managing the store and producing doburoku, but just this year I resumed sake production in Wakayama.
●So you are currently making sake in Wakayama but also work at the brewpub in Kabutocho?
Yes, I am! I travel back and forth between Wakayama and Tokyo daily.
●You have a tough schedule! Are you originally from Wakayama?
I was born in Hyogo, but I have been in Osaka for as long as I can remember. I also went to college in Nara from Osaka.
●Was there anything that you were devoted to when you were a student?
I played tennis from elementary school all the way through college. In junior high school, there were no club activities, so I played handball and was always involved in sports. I also liked hot springs, so when I found a job offer for a restaurant in a public bathhouse that said “Free hot spring bath once you clock out,” I immediately went to work there! For four years of my college life, I would clock out of my part-time job and feel healed by the power of the hot springs.
●What did you study at university?
I was in the agriculture department, so I grew vegetables and studied agriculture. There was no brewing department, so I could not study sake brewing.
●When did you first become interested in alcohol?
When I was in college, I often went out drinking with my friends at the izakaya (Japanese-style pubs), so I was quite fond of alcohol in general, but I especially liked sake and became more and more fascinated by it.
●What made you become fascinated with sake?
At first, I was only familiar with the sake served at the all-you-can-drink izakaya restaurants that college students often go to, but after discovering jizake (local sake), I became more and more fascinated by the fact that the same limited ingredients, rice, and water, could make such a difference in aroma and taste.
●When did you decide to properly make sake?
It was right around the time I was job hunting. During that time I started buying sake at the liquor store and drinking sake more seriously. Unlike cooking, in Japan, you need a liquor license to produce sake. Perhaps it was this that really attracted me to it; this feeling of having to formally enter the industry in order to make sake.
●So, your job search was centered on breweries?
I only applied to sake breweries! I visited five or six sake breweries across the country. The sake industry is mainly in western Japan, but I also took an internship at a sake brewery in Yamaguchi Prefecture that makes Dassai (a popular brand of sake), and I was able to actually live and work in the brewery and gain experience.
●What was your impression of the sake brewing experience?
To be honest, it was pretty tough. No matter how much I looked and researched, there was always something I didn’t understand until I actually worked on it, and I had to manage it regardless of whether it was early in the morning or late at night.
●So, it’s not really a job where you can always take weekends off?
Sake brewing doesn’t wait for you, so it’s not a job where you can say anything about time off, but I wanted to do what I loved, so it wasn’t hard for me at all.
● What were the deciding factors in your decision to work at Heiwa Brewery?
All of the breweries produced delicious sake, but I had the impression that the young brewers at Heiwa Brewery were making sake with a sense of satisfaction and pride, and that was when I made my decision.
●I see that the sake brewery also hires new graduates.
You don’t hear much about this because most breweries hire seasonally, but Heiwa Brewery has been hiring new graduates for the past 10 years. Every year the brewery hires one to three people, but we can receive as many as 1,000 applications per opening per year.
●1,000 applicants per opening! I had a stereotypical image of seasonal employment, like migrant workers brewing sake with the head brewer during the winter.
Heiwa Brewery also makes umeshu (plum liqueur) after the sake production is finished, and craft beer is also produced year-round, meaning that the brewery looks for full-time employees. We also have a doburoku brewpub.
●What is the difference in the production process of doburoku and sake?
Doburoku is like the ancestor or origin of sake. Sake is now well known, but it’s made from the same rice and it’s also made via fermentation. If that fermented rice is pressed and filtered it becomes sake, but if it is not, it becomes doburoku. Under the ‘Sake Tax Law’, sake is classified as “sake” and doburoku is classified as “other brewed sake.”
●Interestingly, the source is the same, but the classification changes depending on whether it is pressed and filtered or not.
In terms of taste, I believe that sake pairs well with certain foods because of its delicate taste and gorgeous aroma. However, it may for example not go well with strongly aromatic spiced dishes such as curry. But doburoku goes with everything, much like how white rice goes together with almost everything.
●When I first heard ‘doburoku’ I had an image of something like miso, where every person could produce their own home-made version and adjust it to their own taste. But actually, it was defined as a type of sake and made prohibited to produce at home right?
It seems that before it was regulated in the Meiji era, it was made locally by each farmer.
●Do you have anything in mind when presenting doburoku at this brewpub? The drink itself has such classic roots.
We want people to drink it freshly made. Also, the requirements for doburoku are different from sake. For sake, you are not allowed to add other ingredients. Doburoku, on the other hand, is classified differently from sake, so we can add other ingredients to change the taste profile.
●What do you think is the greatest appeal of doburoku?
I think it’s the ability to enjoy flavors that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to perceive when consuming the rice alone. For instance, you could try adding red beans or using herbs. Citrus fruits can also add a refreshing twist. You have a wide range of expression and possibility and you can also adjust it to match with certain foods, and that’s what makes it interesting. It takes only a few weeks to produce, so it doesn’t take much time at all.
●Why did your company decide to open a brewpub in Kabutocho?
The river near here was a transport route for sake that was brought in from Kansai in the Edo period, and at that time it was the new base for sake in Edo. In Nihonbashi Kabutocho, the town where it all began, doburoku, the origin of sake, is now being newly re-introduced. It’s a perfect fit, don’t you think? Also, coincidentally, the real estate company that manages this area is also …… (Heiwa).
●I think it’s the “Heiwa” connection!
It was all possible thanks to an offer from Heiwa Real Estate to do something at this building and location.
●What kind of customers come to Heiwa Doburoku Kabutocho Brewery?
Very varied. We have young and old customers and a 50/50 male/female ratio. There are also many young female customers. On weekdays, many people who work in the Kabutocho area stop by after work, and on Saturdays and Sundays, we are open from noon, so we have a variety of customers, from those who know our sake to those who are new to our brand. We also have many visitors from overseas.
●There have also been some events held at your brewpub recently correct?
We invite other restaurants to our events so that they can enjoy doburoku and sake with their food. The other day, we had the team from the Hogure Onigiri Stand (*1) make onigiri for us, and it was a great success. They are well-known, so I thought it was a good opportunity for their fans to get to know doburoku.
※1 Hogure Onigiri Stand
A traveling onigiri shop with no fixed address that makes fluffy onigiri on the spot at events and catering.
●The brewpub originally had a food and beverage menu other than doburoku and sake, right?
Yes, we do. From smoked nuts and other snacks to mackerel sushi, curry, and Wakayama ramen noodles.
● You also have a great selection of food. If you were to set up an event in the future, what kind of content would you like to include?
Doburoku is effortlessly easy to pair with Japanese food, but I think it would be interesting if we could also offer things that can be enjoyed with an unexpected twist, things like Mexican food. I myself look forward to making new discoveries. I would also like to do something together in the fields of music and art, and I would like to collaborate with pottery and other artists. Maybe liquor stores in town could visit us, or conversely, we could go to liquor stores and hold an event.
●Do you have any flavors of doburoku that you would like to make in the future?
So far, we have simply used one type of ingredient, brown sugar for brown sugar and basil for basil, but I think I would like to combine flavors and ingredients. As for different styles of service and preparation, I would like to offer doburoku mixed with carbonated water or perhaps use it as an ingredient in a cocktail.
●And does the brewing happen right there behind the counter?
That’s right. Basically, we produce sake and beer in Wakayama, but we make the doburoku right here in our brewing room. Much like craft beer, it can be made in a few weeks, however, it doesn’t require much space at all. Even in a space of about six tatami mats, we can fit a 10-liter enamel tank and a steam convection oven, which is used to cook and steam the rice, and that’s all the equipment you need really.
●In addition to sake and doburoku, it’s nice to be able to enjoy different types of alcohol, such as craft beer and plum liqueur.
We also have fresh and limited-run flavors of doburoku prepared in the brewing room. Also, we have a popular aged doburoku brewed in our main brewery in Wakayama. As you can see from the taps, we also have many different kinds of craft beer, in fact, we took inspiration from these taps to design the rest of the store.
●Would you say that craft beer is the main inspiration behind the design of the store?
The style of brewpubs was definitely a source of inspiration. The back is made for brewing and the taps provide a route from the brewing room to the lively atmosphere of the bar. I believe that the reason for the popularity of craft beer lies in the structure of the pub, which allows customers to feel close to the craftsmanship of the product.
●I see what you mean! I was just wondering about the tap and the brewing room behind you! Another thing I find intriguing is the interesting background music and the twisting and turning light fixtures you use.
The sounds you hear are of sake brewing, and sound samples taken from the nature of Wakayama, such as the sounds of ocean waves and flowing rivers. You can even hear the chirping of birds. The curved lights represent the wind, the flow of nature, and fermentation.
●So you can enjoy doburoku surrounded by the sounds of nature. I would like to ask you about how you manage the doburoku production process; could you tell us a bit about the sensory and scientific aspects?
In basic terms, we adjust the brewing process by adding water and controlling the temperature. Every day, we write down the alcohol content and take various measurements. The rice is broken down by the enzymes of the ‘koji’ (a type of mold), the yeast bacteria then feeds on the sugar produced by the rice and ferments the alcohol. So, I will taste the doburoku to assess the balance between the two. Therefore, the final judgment is based on one’s own palette. At the sake brewery in Wakayama, we test the sake every day, but the amount of sake we produce here at the brewpub is so small that if we tasted it every day, the barrels would be empty in no time!
●If it’s necessary to taste every day for analysis, the brewer would have to be a very strong drinker right?
Surprisingly, some of them are not strong drinkers at all. In fact, there are even some head brewers who are not very good at drinking!
●That’s so surprising to hear! The alcohol content of doburoku is around 10%, are there any reasons why you keep it at this level and don’t raise it further?
If we wanted to, we could increase the percentage to about 18%, but we set it at approximately 10% because we want people to enjoy doburoku in a more familiar and casual way. We also want people to compare the different kinds of flavors.
●Where do you get your inspiration for new flavors of doburoku?
Seasonal ingredients are always a good source of inspiration, but I also get ideas from the conversations I have with customers that come to the brewpub.
●As a brewer, do you also enjoy working at the bar of this brewpub?
As a brewer, my greatest pleasure is when I’m able to make delicious sake. However, a sake’s taste or expression cannot be seen until it is pressed. So to me as a brewer, it’s refreshing to see the expressions on the faces of customers who enjoy the sake, something I’ve never been able to witness in my life as a brewer. Recently I’ve enjoyed this aspect very much.
●That’s true, isn’t it! It’s surprising to think that those who make sake are not able to see the expressions on the face of those who drink it.
No matter how delicious the sake is, I think it’s important for brewers to witness the type of situations and the expressions of those that enjoy and drink sake. By having the brewer physically in the store I learn a lot of things. Not only do I get hints for new flavors from the conversations over the counter, but the customer’s reaction itself is reflected in my own taste buds. I feel that this is directly connected to the taste of our doburoku. Since I only get to meet brewers when I am at the brewery, I think it’s a valuable experience to hear the fresh perspective of customers to help inform my own taste buds.
●As more and more people enjoy doburoku, you can really see its potential!
Doburoku is the gateway to Japanese sake, so I would like people to use it as a starting point for sake. I hope to use doburoku as an opportunity to revitalize the sake industry in Nihonbashi Kabutocho, where sake culture from western Japan once flourished and sake wholesalers once lined the streets.
Born in Hyogo, Japan in 1996. Shukanami joined Heiwa Brewery in Wakayama Prefecture, and in June 2022 opened the Heiwa Doburoku Kabutocho Brewery in Nihonbashi Kabutocho, where he brews doburoku and manages the store’s operations. He travels back and forth between Wakayama and Tokyo daily, and when he is not busy brewing sake in the winter, he has a mischievous side where he loves to eat natto (fermented soybeans).
Text : Jun Kuramoto
Photo : Naoto Date
Interview : Jun Kuramoto
Brewer, Heiwa Doburoku Kabutocho Brewery
Representative Director of Nihonbashi Kabuto Live Promotion Council
Interesting people in Kabutocho
We’ve spoken together a few times before as he has been holding an event called “Enjoying Sake with Sake Brewers – Talks and Tastings” at Kabuto LIVE! He has often brought good friends from other breweries to the brewpub and I would like to talk with him again.