Returning Reputation Through Tradition and Innovation
Yusuke Sato Photo/ Shingo Aiba
Born in 1974, Yusuke Sato is the 8th generation brewer of Aramasa Sake Brewery, a long-established brewery in Akita Prefecture founded in 1852. After joining Aramasa Sake Brewery in 2007, he switched to raw sake brewing, returning to a traditional manufacturing method, and away from the efficiency-oriented fast brewing method currently used by many sake makers. He switched from ordinary sake, made by adding brewing alcohol, to specialising in pure rice sake (Junmai shu), and revived Aramasa by coming back to genuine sake brewing.
If the Brewer is an Artist, Sake is the Product of Expression.
Regaining the original value of sake through traditional methods and innovation
Sato who has many names; “Steve Jobs of local sake”, “a revolutionary”, “a new leader”, among others, was 31 years old when he came into the world of sake. He has had a unique career path. Although he was born into a long-established brewery, he had no intention of taking over the family business, and he even had a negative view of sake. After graduating from the Faculty of Letters of the University of Tokyo, he started off as a journalist.
“During my journalist days, my seniors recommended a famous sake from Shizuoka ‘Isojiman’, and I was shocked by how good it was. After drinking Aichi's famous sake ‘Kamoshibito Kuheiji’, I also learned about the variety of sake. After that, I collected and compared sake that were said to be delicious from all over the country.”
Sato was moved by these two sakes, and was drawn into the craftsmen's environment and returned to the brewery to take over the family business.
“Although traditional family businesses tend to have conservative policies, the attitude of creators who make good products is no different from that of artists. At the root of creating an exciting brand and expanding the possibilities of sake is a sensibility close to that of creating art. If the brewery is an artist, sake is one of the products of expression.”
Sato's artistic efforts lead to the combination of traditional manufacturing methods that makes use of the strength of brewery yeast "No. 6 yeast" alongside modern ideas.
"No.6" Bottles Photo/ Shingo Aiba
Regional reconstruction through sake brewing with local roots
Sake breweries that value regional characteristics and are particular about their ingredients have a tight bond with the region. Aramasa Sake Brewery uses only sake rice produced in Akita Prefecture and owns a farm as well.
“By only using organic rice (free of pesticides and chemical fertilisers) to produce sake, it makes us focus on the agricultural practices of our ingredients. We believe that we can revitalise the region by being deeply involved in agriculture. "
In addition, Aramasa prepares sake in wooden barrels that harbour lactic acid bacteria and yeast, which help create the individual characteristics of their sake. Post WWII, brewing methods using wooden barrels declined, and the last remaining barrel manufacturer nearly closed down. That is why they also started working on a wooden barrel workshop, to keep the tradition alive.
Cooling the steamed rice Photo/ Shingo Aiba
“Akita cedar is high quality but it tends to be sold as cheap wood. Its value could be revitalised by promoting it as a sake brewing material, which would also support local industry.”
Furthermore, he says pursuing sake brewing focused on its region can also have an impact on local environmental conservation.
“If you look at traditional manufacturing methods, you will naturally notice the relevance and importance of the rice fields and forests, and not just your brewery. By linking forestry and sake brewing using wooden barrels, I think we can protect Akita's unique industries and contribute to the maintenance of forests.”
Without the power of local industry and the environment, we cannot brew sake that reflects the individual characteristics of the region. His strong commitment was clear when he said: "It is difficult to carry on the tradition and history of a region without supporting the region itself."
Washing the rice Photo/ Shingo Aiba
Envisioning the revitalisation of the entire sake industry
For a long time, Sato has been focusing on human resource development to bring ideal sake brewing to life. He mentioned his trust for his employees saying “All of our employees are unique and highly capable.”
“They share the company's philosophy of carrying on the tradition of sake not just for the brewery but for the industry as a whole. They have an unwavering commitment and pride as craftsmen to never cut corners, and work with respect for one another.”
On the other hand, from the standpoint of a manager steering the company, he said, “I can only do a good job because I have employees that share my vision of sake brewing.”
Sato is convinced that to revitalise the declining sake industry, the diversity of sake reflective of each region is vital. He explained the necessity of revitalising the whole industry, saying “From a business perspective, even if one brewery makes good sake, it is likely that there will be problems in long-term. Since sake is a part of traditional culture, it is meaningless unless the industry itself is enlivened and expanded.”
“Japanese fermentation culture is wonderful. I remember when one could walk around a rural town and enter a random liquor store, and get good regional sake from that area. Why do we drink sake on our seasonal holidays? This is because it is a masterpiece nurtured by Japanese culture and it shows respect for what has been passed down over the years.”
“The traditional manufacturing method of 'Kimoto Zukuri' is the pinnacle of fermentation. We must not forget that the brewer is a manufacturer of tradition.” said Sato, showing his endless passion for sake. In recent years, there has been a boom of incorporating the individuality of each brewer's philosophy into the sake. We found that at the centre of the boom is Aramasa Sake Brewery. With the efforts of its new leader with such creativity, Aramasa has power to lead the trend and start a revolution.