Episode 55 Show Notes

Episode 55. Few sake personalities shine as bright as Mr. Kosuke Kuji, the 5th generation President of the Nanbu Bijin Sake Brewery. Known as “Mr. Sunshine” of the sake industry, Kuji-san has been a tireless booster of the sake while promoting his Nanbu Bijin brand literally around the world. We were honored for Mr. Kuji to take time to talk to us. After a bit of introduction to his brewery, we finally learn the answer to a question that has long puzzled sake fans far and wide! Why is “Nanbu Bijin” a.k.a. “Southern Beauty”, located in the northern prefecture of Iwate? You’ll need to tune in to find out! And also, we get Kuji-san’s take on the growing industry of sake brewing outside Japan. While learning the art of sake brewing on Youtube alone may not be the answer, listen in to find out why we need sake producers all around the world and not just in Japan. We also taste Kuji-san’s much loved Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo – it’s velvety and alluring. Listen in on this fun, interesting and enlightening talk with this well known Kuramoto!

Skip to: 00:19 Hosts Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to the show from John and Timothy

Skip to: 02:09 Kuramoto Interivew: Kosuke Kuji with Nanbu Bijin

Iwate Prefecture
Nanbu Bijin Sake Brewery

Nanbu Bijin is one of the most well distributed sakes outside of Japan and a lot of that is due to the current Kuramoto or Sake Brewery Preseident, Mr. Koshuke Kuji. Kuji-san has travelled the world and introduce his sake from South America to the Middle East, to Africa, Europe and North America. With his signature optimistic outlook, he spreads the gospel of sake far and wide while never forgetting to local culture of Ninohe, Iwate Prefecture, where his brewery is located. Kuji-san produces his famous “Nanbu Bijin” sake in small batches which reach all over the globe. From Iwate to the world, Kuji-san never tires of introducing sake anywhere he can!

Check out this video to see a visit to Nanbu Bijin Brewery:

Skip to: 14:13 Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo

Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo

Alcohol: 15.0%
Classification: Junmai Daiginjo
Prefecture: Iwate
Rice Type: Yamadanishiki
Seimaibuai: 50%
SMV: +4.0
Brewery: Nanbu Bijin Brewery
Acidity: 1.6
Importer: Mutual Trading (USA)


Skip to: 21:23 Show Closing

This is it! Join us next time for another episode of Sake Revolution!

Episode 55 Transcript

John Puma: 0:21
Hello and welcome to Sake Revolution. This is America’s first sake podcast. I’m your host, John Puma from the Sake Notes. You may also know me as the administrator over the internet, Sake Discord, uh, that guy from Reddit, um, and also the guy on the show who’s not a Sake Samurai.

Timothy Sullivan: 0:38
And I am your host, Timothy Sullivan. I am a Sake Samurai. I’m also a sake educator as well as the founder of the Urban Sake website. And every week, John and I will be tasting and chatting about all things sake and doing our best to make it fun and easy to understand.

John Puma: 0:57
That is right, Tim. Now I understand that today is going to be another, in our series of Japanese Kimoto. Nope of Japanese Now, how do you want to phrase this?

Timothy Sullivan: 1:13
It’s Kuramoto corner.

John Puma: 1:15
Just the kuramoto, the corner. So this is that no, it’s not the kuramoto We’re doing something different.

Timothy Sullivan: 1:22
How many corners do we have?

John Puma: 1:24
I had too many. So Tim, this, if I’m not mistaken is, uh, uh, the second in our series of interviews with, uh, Japanese sake brewery owners.

Timothy Sullivan: 1:35
Yes. We refer to them in Japanese as kuramoto or the sake brewery presidents

John Puma: 1:42
Hello, Mr. Fancy pants.

Timothy Sullivan: 1:43
Today. We are talking to Mr. Kuji he is a renowned and famous sake brewery owner from Iwate and he makes a famous brand of sake called Nanbu Bijin, which we have tasted here on the show, haven’t we?

John Puma: 2:01
We have you specifically tasted the, uh, Tokubetsu Junmai in our Iwate episode. Check the show notes for a link.

Timothy Sullivan: 2:09
Yes. So Nanbu Bijin’s from Iwate and it is such an honor to have Mr. Kuji with us because he really is such an esteemed member of the sake brewing community. I think we’re going to learn a lot from him and I’m really looking forward to welcoming him. So Mr. Kuji, thank you so much for joining us today to get us started. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and also please give our listeners a brief introduction to the Nanbu Bijin Sake Brewery?,

Kosuke Kuji: 2:47
I’m the fifth generation president of Nanbu Bijin Sake brewery. was born on May 11th, 1972. As a young person I grew up in Iwate Prefecture, but for college, I went to the Tokyo Agricultural College where I studied to be a sake master. And after returning from college, I worked as a technician for the sake industry. The current production style that we use to make sake here at Nanbu Bijin was created working together with our former master sake brewer, Mr. Hajime Yamaguchi. Nanbu Bijin was founded in 1902. And our family motto since the first generation has been “quality comes first.” So the sake that I’m trying to make is simply a style that when you drink it, it makes you smile. We tried to make it as simple as possible so that everyone can easily understand the style of sake we are trying to make. Does this mean we want to make a sake that you have to try several times before you understand the taste? No. We want to create a sake that makes you think from the very first sip. Oh my God. This is really good.

John Puma: 4:08

Timothy Sullivan: 4:09
all right.

Kosuke Kuji: 4:17
So at we’ve won many sake contests in Japan, as well as abroad in 2017, we won the top champion sake prize at the International Wine Challenge. Also over the last 10 years, we’ve been focusing on getting various certificates. In 2013, we received our kosher certification and in 2019, we received a vegan certification for our sake. We have a non-GMO certificate as well. In the sake world, we were the very first to acquire the vegan certification. Why do we get all these certificates? It’s not only to grab the attention of people within Japan, but also people around the world. Brewing skills and ideas come from the Nanbu Toji Guild. That’s the master sake brewers Guild in our region. For example, we do a one-time pasteurization of our Sake and the bottle. We use bottles for the storage of our sake to avoid the possibility of spoilage that could come from storing our sake in large tanks and to preserve the aroma as much as possible for our sake We do only a single pasteurization, not a double pasteurization as is more common. Now, let me just say a quick word about our pasteurization method. By putting the bottles in a water bath, we bring them up to 65 degrees Celsius. That’s 149 degrees Fahrenheit, and this takes about 25 minutes. Then it takes another 20 minutes to cool the bottles back down to around 10 degrees Celsius. That’s 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and then we refrigerate the sake immediately to a very cold temperature below freezing. Compared to using a more industrial pasteurization machine, our method takes a longer time, but we think pasteurization in the bottle is the best way to preserve the aroma and to prevent any spoilage. So that would be my explanation of myself at our brewery.

John Puma: 6:22
excellent. Um, uh, Kuji-san thank you again for coming. I, I. Notice that the brand name is Nanbu Bijin and that, that means “Southern Beauty.” Um, but I couldn’t help, but notice that the brewery is located in the North. Um, so, so can you explain that?

Kosuke Kuji: 6:44
You know, I get this question a lot. So now in Japan, our country is divided into 47. Prefectures kind of like States, but earlier in our history, these areas were divided up differently into more independent regions that were called a HAN. So in the time when the regions were called Hans Iwate Prefecture used to be called the Nanbu Han. And for example, if you look at the other Hans, Miyagi Prefecture used to be called Date Han and Aomori Prefecture was called Tsugaru Han And so the reason why Iwate was called Nanbu Han was because the ruler at that time, his name just happened to be Nanbu. And so if his name was, let’s say, for example, a Hokubu, which actually means North in Japanese, then we would have probably just called it Hokubu instead. But it just so happens that his name was Nanbu which means Southern and Bijin means beautiful person. So it was named Nanbu Bijin because we wanted to create something that was beautiful in this area called Nanbu. It would have been much easier if we just called it Iwate Bijin. That’s the story. It just came from the ruler’s name.

Timothy Sullivan: 8:18

John Puma: 8:19
Thank you very much.

Kosuke Kuji: 8:25
I was actually unsure about calling our sake Southern Beauty in English when we first introduced it abroad because we’re not actually representing the Southern part of Japan, but eventually I was convinced that it would be much more straight forward and easy to understand. Also, this was like 20 years ago and in America, nobody really knew that Iwate Prefecture was up North anyway. So it just became Southern Beauty because it was way more straightforward and easy for people to understand.

Timothy Sullivan: 9:04
Uh, well, I think after 15 years of studying sake, that’s the most complete explanation of Nanbu Bijin’s brand name I’ve ever gotten. This was a masterclass. So, uh, Kuji-san, you are very well known in the sake industry for being very passionate promoter of Japanese sake What drives your motivation and what keeps you so positive about Japanese Sake?

Kosuke Kuji: 9:40
So my thinking was that here we are creating this beautiful sake and we want people all around the world, not just in Japan to drink it and to experience it. If this were a ramen shop, we’d have to ask people to come to Japan for the experience, but as a sake brewery, everything’s in a bottle. So we can actually export it. For that reason people can enjoy it in their own country and in their own homes.

John Puma: 10:05
Great. so. You have an exporting your sake, uh, for, for quite a long time. Uh, when did you first start exporting from Japan? Uh, overseas. And what inspired you to go international with the brand? Uh, did you have any reservations or concerns about exporting your sake?

Kosuke Kuji: 10:33
We started exporting in 1997. So when we first started exporting the local breweries around us were like, you guys must be crazy to do this. You guys are out of your minds. And these neighboring breweries told us back then that foreigners wouldn’t understand the nuance of sake because in foreign countries, they don’t even eat fish as much as we do in Japan, they only eat meat they said. I’m sorry, but this was a huge stereotype about the foreign markets at that time. We joined together with some other breweries to form the Sake Export Association. And as we began to export sake one of our goals was to inform, educate, and advocate for sake around the world. So right after we started this association, New York’s Japan Society contacted us. They told us that New Yorkers were developing a deep interest in sake but unfortunately they had no one locally that could talk about sake or do seminars. So they contacted us and they asked us to do a seminar and also a sake tasting. So that first tasting event in 1998 And since then we’ve been exporting all around the world to 55 countries So the very first place that had my sake outside of Japan was New York City at a restaurant called Decibel. There were many things that worried us in the beginning but the number one concern was the temperature of the sake for delivery and storage But that concern was gone quickly as the distributors had refrigerated delivery and storage.

John Puma: 12:14
Uh, well, now that there are quite a few sake Breweries that are making sake overseas outside of Japan. Um, and what do you think of people making sake outside of Japan? Uh, is it a competition? Is it, uh, a compliment to what you make? Uh, what is, what are your thoughts on that?

Kosuke Kuji: 12:42
I’m absolutely in favor of people making sake outside of Japan because if everyone globally started drinking and enjoying sake based on what we can produce here in Japan we wouldn’t have enough sake in the world It’s a big worry But no matter how much we can produce domestically here in Japan If everyone started drinking sake then we wouldn’t have enough stock to go around So it’s important that there are many local breweries outside of Japan but it’s also crucial that brewers outside Japan don’t make sake That sucks because of those brewers make sake that sucks It’s not going to be good for the sake industry as whole I mean if somebody somewhere in the world looks at a YouTube video and learns how to make sake just from that and says yay Look at us We’re making sake I mean that’s not good for the industry as a whole And so I think it’s very important that we as brewers in Japan communicate clearly about the technology and techniques that we use So many people ask if we consider the sake breweries outside of Japan to be our rivals or our competition And they ask if they might be stealing our techniques and technologies and our traditions But honestly we just don’t think of it that way There’s a saying in the sake world called Sakaya Banryu This means that there are 10,000 ways to make sake even using the same rice in the yeast If the brewery changes the taste of the sake will also be completely different And so if there are a hundred breweries there will be a hundred different styles of sake So we aren’t worried that people will steal our sakes flavor or taste but if they’re going to learn our sake making skills we want them to take the highest and best skills possible so that they can elevate the quality of sake around world

Timothy Sullivan: 14:31
Great Well speaking of delicious Sake that does not suck, we are going to move to our tasting portion for today So John and I have prepared Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo and we would like to taste this together with you Mr. Kuji could you introduce the sake to our listeners please?

Kosuke Kuji: 15:16
Okay First if you look at the bottle itself you’ll notice there’s not a front and back label as you usually see. We designed it to use one continuous label that wraps around the bottle completely. And this sake is called Shinpaku, which is a word in the sake industry that means the starchy opaque core at the center of the rice grain That’s very important for making the sake and the drawing on the label represents this shinpaku or the core of the rice. And we are using Yamada Nishiki rice for our Junmai Daiginjo. So as you might notice it has a very elegant almost strawberry or pineapple like vibrant fruity aroma. Okay That’s elegant and juicy but the best way to describe it is that it’s very alluring. I would recommend pairing with tuna or salmon but the more fatty that are really rich. Not leaner cuts of beef but more of a marbled beef like wog you

Timothy Sullivan: 16:28
Yeah I think what I may be picking up on in that vein is the texture. So in English we say like the texture is very silky and velvety and uh almost decadent in how smooth it is

Kosuke Kuji: 16:45
get it Yes

Timothy Sullivan: 16:50

Kosuke Kuji: 16:57
So our Tokubetsu Junmai is categorized differently It’s more clear and clean Whereas this one the Shinpaku is richer and more alluring Our Tokubetsu Junmai is more like a Japanese idol whereas Shinpaku evokes a Mariah Carey kind of vibe

John Puma: 17:17
so uh so Tim you prefer your more uh Japanese idol or or are you more you know Mariah Carey

Timothy Sullivan: 17:27
Well I’d say at my age I think I prefer a 1990s Mariah but honestly both of these sakes that uh Kuji-san is talking about I think they’re fantastic I’ve got the Shinpaku here in front of me of course And it is indeed alluring. I love this texture don’t you?

John Puma: 17:44
I do I do but really quickly though are we talking more of an emotions level Mariah Carey or are we talking like all in one for Christmas

Timothy Sullivan: 17:53
Let’s say that I like uh uh emotions This Sake has given me emotions So I’m going to there

John Puma: 18:01
And I do agree on the texture. The texture is the star of the sake and I totally get why Kuji-san would say that Wagyu marbled beef or fatty tuna would really really go well with this Kuji-san uh what other foods or preparations of foods would you recommend to go with the sake? To go with the

Kosuke Kuji: 18:32
They’ll go very well with this sake such as salmon or other fish but yeah I recommend something grilled or seared as the umami goes up And I believe that our sake is able to embrace that umami. Can you just imagine those flavors in your head. It’s like really wish I had it in front of me right now.

Timothy Sullivan: 18:52
Mm. Yes. And I can see that vision of aburi sushi, like, torched or, um, heated sushi. It also softens the fat and makes it much more velvety texture. And I can see that texture matching very beautifully with this.

John Puma: 19:13
uh, so, Kuji-san, what are your hopes for the future of the, the sake industry, uh, in Japan, overseas, and, what are your ideas for making more interest in sake?

Kosuke Kuji: 19:29
The future of sake is bright. Why? Because when I went to New York in 1997 as a young man, 24 years of age, I never thought people like you, John and Timothy would be interested in sake And here we are just 20 years later. I think sake is growing in popularity around the world. 10 times, faster than I’d anticipated. I think this is all due to opinion leaders like you, who are advocating for sake When I think about it. I remember that when I first saw people drinking sake in Africa, it really made me realize that sake really is becoming a global alcohol and that people will be drinking sake all over the world.

John Puma: 20:18
I can’t wait.

Timothy Sullivan: 20:21
Great. Yeah, so this, this is our last question for you and thank you so much for your time. We have a sake podcast mostly for beginners, uh, people who are first getting into sake Do you have any message for our listeners?

Kosuke Kuji: 20:44
sake is not a mystic, mythical alcohol from the far East. It’s a very elegant beverage that’s created from rice. For people just getting started with sake I would like you to compare it side by side against a white wine. And next time, if you’re having fish for your meal, please try pairing it with Japanese sake because it really goes well. And out of all the types of seafood, try oysters and see how well it pairs with sake And if you ever get a chance to eat Japanese food at a Japanese restaurant, please try Japanese sake not just wine or beer. And if you’re interested, then please after the Corona pandemic is over. Come to Japan and visit a sake brewery. We eagerly await your visit.

Timothy Sullivan: 21:32
Kuji-san, thank you so much for joining us, John and I learned a tremendous amount and it is always a pleasure to talk to you. We learned so much, and it was so much fun, which is the most important thing when you’re learning about sake. Right.

John Puma: 21:45
Yeah. And I have to say, I have, I’ve met, uh, Kuji-san, in, uh, New York a few times. And even, even having met him before I always nerd out a little bit. It’s very exciting. And so I’m still kind of like, woo. You know,

Timothy Sullivan: 22:01
Yeah, he has, he has a singular energy that he brings to the world of sake That’s why his nickname of course, is Mr. Sunshine of the sake industry. And I think today he earned it quite frankly. Absolutely. Well, I want to thank Kuji-san so much for joining us and of course I want to thank our listeners as well for tuning in. We really hope you enjoyed this episode. If you’d like to show your support for Sake Revolution, one way that you can really help us out would be to take a couple of minutes and just leave us a written review on Apple podcasts. It really helps us spread the word about Sake Revolution.

John Puma: 22:37
alternatively you might want to tell a friend about our show Uh and then also you might want to subscribe to our show and then get your friend to subscribe And then every single week when we put out one of these episodes it will show up on your device of choice without you having to do anything at all It’ll just be there And this way you won’t miss an episode your friend won’t miss an episode You guys can talk about the episodes later and then they can tell friends this is how it works out This is multilevel marketing guys is this is one-on-one I might rerecord some of that I don’t know

Timothy Sullivan: 23:13
And as always to learn more about any of the topics or any of the sakes we talked about in today’s episode, be sure to visit our website, SakeRevolution.com to look at our detailed show notes.

John Puma: 23:25
And if you have a sake question that you need answered, we want to hear from you. Uh, is, are there breweries that you would like us to interview? We want to hear from you reach out to us. The email address is [email protected] So until next time, please remember to keep drinking And,

Timothy Sullivan: 23:49