In 1609, while on its way to Mexico from the Philippines,  Spanish galion San Francisco ran aground on the coast of Iwawada (today Onjuku, Chiba Prefecture). Historical records show that the local bare naked women shell divers saved 317 sailors including Don Rodrigo, former Governor of the Philippines, picking them up from the cold seas, warming them up and feeding them, laying the foundation for friendship, a commercial treaty and the first Japanese embassy to Mexico then Spain. It is also said that the masts of the vessel were recycled as beams for the roof of the main house on the grounds of Iwase Shuzou, a business created in 1723, who started to focus on good sake production during the Taisho era. Between November and March, three kurabito (brewery workers) led by the toji (master brewer) wash, soak and steam up to 800 kg of rice per day to produce a masculine, medium to full body sake, with a larger than usual proportion of Yamahai and Kimoto yeast starters (a long process leading to fuller taste and stronger acidity in general), branded Iwanoi. As it is often the case with small local breweries, Iwase shuzou is currently mostly selling into its network of local restaurants and merchants, for local people, at very reasonable prices. A farmer during spring and summer, Mr Y. is a kurabito working at the brewery during the autumn and winter seasons. On September 8th. he kindly took me through the premises, then introduced with passion a good range of the Iwanoi products. That was a few days only after the world had started to knock on this Onjuku door again! Iwanoi’s Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo had been picked up by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocates as one of 78 nihonshu deserving a grade of 90/100 or above.  At Iwase Shuzou as well, the phone keeps on ringing with calls from everywhere asking about their products, a situation Mr. Iwase the kuramoto was probably not ready to face. What will the new commercial strategy be? M.Y. would love to keep last year’s best Yamahai sake until the 2020 Olympics, to give it a chance to mature and express all its potential, but will it be possible ?


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