Turning back the brewer's clock

About 55 days after the first washing of the sake rice, new sake is pressed from the moromi. The brewers' emotions at this moment are indescribable. When good sake drips from the mash, sake they know they can be proud of, all the backbreaking labor they put in until this point disappears. It's a moment of joy, a moment when the brewers' best efforts shine through.

Kokuryu presses its premium sake in two traditional ways. “Fukurozuri” involves filling canvas bags with moromi, suspending the bags and letting the sake drip naturally. The second way uses rectangular troughs called “fune” or boats. (Many sake-pressing terms come from nautical terms. For example, the chief presser is called the “captain.”) Small canvas bags are filled with moromi, then stacked into the fune and slowly pressed with a hydraulic sake-pressing machine. It sounds simple, but fune pressing requires the wisdom of experience. For example, when the moromi bags are stacked, their openings are not tied, but simply folded. A less experienced worker might accidentally let the moromi leak from the openings, resulting in cloudy sake. This critical job can only be given to one who has learned from experience.

At Kokuryu, we have two old-fashioned hydraulic sake-pressing machines—despite building a new brewing facility in 1994 and equipping it with new machinery. The old-fashioned machines may have been antiquated, but they excelled at hydraulic pressing, and the market at the time had nothing that came close. We had no choice but to specially manufacture replicas of the old machines.

Equipment changes as time goes by, so it takes a strong resolve to stand by traditional techniques. We take pride not only in being sake brewers, but in being traditional Japanese craftsmen as well.