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Shochu master brewers eager to hand down techniques
A group of ‘‘shochu’’ distilled alcoholic beverage master brewers in a southwestern Japan town is eager to hand down techniques to younger generations. The group, which has been promoting high-quality shochu brewing techniques in Kyushu and Shikoku since the prewar days, is called the ‘‘Kurose Toji’’ in the town of Kasasa, Minamisatsuma, in Kagoshima Prefecture.
In the Kurose community, there used to be more than 100 master brewers, but they now number just over a dozen because unstable seasonable employment and hard work have discouraged many from pursuing careers. Master brewers are also rapidly aging.
But the shochu boom in recent years has brought small-size brewing companies that stick to hand-brewing techniques back to life, and the existence of the Kurose Toji has drawn renewed attention.
‘‘To foster successors is also an important job. We are teaching young people everything from A to Z,’’ said Masami Yoke, 78, who has been brewing shochu for more than 50 years.
Yoke has been teaching Daijiro Yagi, 22, and other young people who were accepted four years ago by Yagi Shuzou Co in Tarumizu, Kagoshima Prefecture. ‘‘Techniques have been handed down from the top elder to young people,’’ said Eiju Yagi, Daijiro’s father and president of the brewing company.
Each day, Daijiro writes down details of what he learns. ‘‘Mr Yoke knows everything from working with ‘koji’ (rice malt) to sweet potatoes. He looks years younger when he is working. He once scolded me for a week when I failed to manage the temperature of unrefined shochu,’’ he said.
‘‘There seems to be no limit to shochu brewing, and each year, the work becomes more interesting. One day, I would like to brew shochu in my own way,’’ Daijiro Yagi said.
On a small hill near the Kurose community, a small brewing location was established within the existing master brewer materials hall with an investment from the municipal government and others, which are trying to keep the tradition alive. At the site, local trainee Michiya Kurose, 35, a former company employee, is trying to learn the techniques of Hiroki Kurose, 63, a master brewer.
Michiya Kurose said, ‘‘My father is also a master brewer, and I have long wanted to do brewing. I started brewing five years ago, but each year, the method of brewing is different due to temperature changes. There’s a lot more to it than you’d think.’’
‘‘I am pleased that a young person has come,’’ said Hiroki.
Koichi Katahira, 50, an employee at the Minamisatsuma municipal government whose grandfather and father were master brewers, said, ‘‘When I was a small boy, almost all adults were involved in shochu brewing.’’
But things are not what they used to be. ‘‘No classmate has chosen the job of shochu brewing,’’ he said.
Since the 1960s, the brewing process is increasingly managed using technology, and when advancements in zymology, or the science of fermentation, have been introduced, less importance is placed on master brewers’ feelings and experiences.
‘‘But there are cases in which master brewers have an upper hand and science is trying to catch up with them,’’ said Shinji Setoguchi, a researcher at the Kagoshima Prefectural Institute of Industrial Technology.
‘‘Master brewers are brewing shochu in a dialogue with such microorganisms as koji mold and yeast. There is a need to pass down techniques which can’t be replaced by machines and science,’’ he said.