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A woman wipes tears from her eyes as she smiles after tasting the sake she and her father made -- their first batch since the Fukushima disaster forced them to leave their ancestral brewery. (NPR)

Fukushima Sake Brewer Is Back In Business — After Rescuing Yeast

Feb 16, 2012

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Reported by

Bill Chappell

In Japan, a family whose sake business has its roots in the Edo Period (which ended in 1868) is finally back at work, after months of disruption brought on by the catastrophic failure of the Fukushima nuclear plant. The family isn't brewing at their old facility — but they are using their proprietary yeast.

Their historic sake brewery in Futaba is located just over 2 miles from the doomed nuclear plant. Last June, the family was given special clearance to enter the quarantined area to grab a couple of samples of yeast from the brewery. That event wasn't a secret — in fact, a news crew came with the family.

Then, the yeast was tested and grown. As connoisseurs of sake will know, yeast helps to create sake's essential character, especially its bouquet. You can learn more about yeast's role in sake — and the qualities of different strains — here.

I came across this story at the Japan Probe site, where they report that the brewers can't use the water and rice that their family has relied on for centuries. Instead, they're using another sake brewer's facility. From JP:

"After three weeks of brewing, it was ready for a taste test. The father and daughter had a few sips and were delighted to discover it had a familiar and great taste! It was a very emotional moment for the family, as they had feared that their sake business could have been destroyed forever. The daughter was moved to tears."

Thanks to Japan Probe for flagging the story — and for posting this video from Japanese television, about the family's quest to restart their brewing tradition. It pretty much tells the story visually — especially the final few minutes, where they get back to brewing sake again:

Due to my own near-total lack of knowledge about the Japanese language, it's hard to determine which name applies to the family and which to their brewery. I'm tempted to label it the Shirafuji sake brewery, following the lead of their website. But if anyone can clarify that and share their point in the comments section below, that would be very welcome. They also have a Facebook page.

Back in January, Nancy Shute wrote about Why X-Rayed Food Isn't Radioactive, And Other Puzzles, over at The Salt.

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