The Challenge That Made 625 Combinations Possible
Raifuku Brewery, located in Ibaraki Prefecture, was founded in 1716 and brews sake under the Raifuku brand. The name Raifuku comes from a particular haiku, "Fuku ya kurimu," which means "be fated to happiness," giving the sake its celebratory name.
Raifuku Brewery was originally a locally-oriented sake brewery. Most of the sake produced was plain sake, and all were sold to the local market.
A significant change began around 1997 when President Toshifumi Fujimura returned to the brewery after graduating from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and training at another company. One year after his return, the toji (master brewer) in charge of production retired. The toji system was abolished then, and the brewery switched to employee output.
It was a time when some breweries in the industry were beginning to drop the toji system, and the quality of sake was improving due to workshops on production and investment in new equipment. This was also a time when sake was beginning to attract public attention, with the opening of sake specialty stores and special features on sake in Japanese magazines such as Brutus and Danchu.
Until then, there was a stereotype that only sake from Niigata could be sold. Still, as sake retailers began to feature regional sake and the general public began to get information about sake and sake breweries through social media and other means, the sake industry was getting a nationwide boost from regional sake breweries.
Thus, as the entire industry was going through a period of change from within and without, President Fujimura took over the brewery.
Abandoning Large Brewing Tanks
All brewing is done in small tanks. The first thing President Fujimura did was to stop using large tanks for production. This represents a drastic reduction in production volume from nearly 36,000 liters annually. Most of the large tanks in the warehouse were discarded. Some tanks were too large to be taken out of the brewery as they were, so they were dismantled inside before being taken out.
They chose smaller tanks because they wanted to try new brewing techniques. They could test brew in small quantities when brewing a new product and avoid bumping into production in a large tank. When brewing sake with 8% polished rice, they gradually changed the rice polishing ratio to test brewing. The company is also actively undertaking the production of original sake. In fact, they wanted to make a tank with casters to show the fermentation process to the brewery's visitors.
Other than that, even though they brew the same amount of sake in total, they can brew many kinds of sake in small quantities, allowing them to have many products. As a result, it is now possible to make proposals tailored to the individual needs of dealers and general consumers. Even if we speak of retailers in one word, each store has its own style, such as its location and the types of alcohol it specializes in.
He says it has become possible to make proposals tailored to each store by increasing the number of products. In addition, since the general public now wants to explore a variety of tastes rather than drinking standard products all the time, the company is releasing one new product every month and increasing the number of developments planned for seasonal and Halloween events to make it easier for people to pick up the products.
Using Over 25 Types of Yeast and Rice
President Fujimura says he has always enjoyed taking on new challenges and does not like to do things the same way as others. This character is reflected in the selection of yeast and sake rice used.
Raifuku Brewery uses more than 25 types of yeast and 25 types of sake rice. He says that the reason they started using flower yeast was to differentiate themselves from other sake breweries.
The flower yeast was developed around 1998. When he returned to the brewery, he visited Professor Nakata at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and received it as a gift. We started with Nadeshiko yeast and now have 25 different types of yeast. The yeasts are cultivated in the brewery based on what is available as sake yeast from Professor Nakata's laboratory.
Japan's Rice Fields Are the Home of Sake
Rice is another feature of the sake. This, too, is filled with President Fujimura's spirit of challenge. While some breweries have a policy of using only local rice or handling only a particular type of sake rice, Raifuku Brewery uses a variety of sake rice. This is also to differentiate themselves from other companies.
President Fujimura believes that "using domestic rice is terroir," His motto is to grow the right crop in the right place without being particular about local rice. He prioritizes the compatibility between the quality of the soil and the properties of the sake rice.
If there is rice he wants to use, he asks a farmer whose land is best suited for that sake rice to grow it. They have regularly visited contract farmers throughout Japan every year for the past 20 years, except during the corona season.
In some cases, the rice is sold to local sake stores because it is made from local rice, while in other cases, the farmers ask us to brew sake with the rice they have grown. In this way, the relationship with the rice is connected. When new rice becomes available, he repeatedly tries it out first.
President Fujimura has revived a type of sake rice called Tsuneyoyo that was once grown in Ibaraki Prefecture but is no longer produced there. He took over 21 grains of the rice that remained at a Kyushu University research institute. He gradually increased its production, which has now been restored to the point where he can brew sake using this rice. The reason why we chose Tsuneyoyo was that this was the rice that we could still revive. I see the word "challenge" everywhere.
President Fujimura says that even now, he is unsatisfied with the status quo and wants to take on more challenges, not just orthodox ones. We cannot take our eyes off what kind of sake will be brewed by Raifuku Brewery, which will continue to take on challenges in the future.