Under the beautiful glacier-covered southern Alps, a year-old sake brewery is gaining the attention of New Zealanders. It is called “Zenkuro”, which means “all black”. Of course, “All Black” is more popularly known as the name of the national rugby team in New Zealand.
Mr. David Joll, a Director and brewer of Zenkuro, gave an interview to Experience Sake.
Rie: Nice to meet you David. I am Rie from Experience Sake, and am interested in your story to start brewing sake in New Zealand.
David: Nice to meet you, Rie
I had spent many years in Japan since I was 17 years old, as an exchange student. And now, together with partners Richard Ryall and Craig McLaclan, I have run the tour company named Tanken Tours for Japanese tourists for over 20 years.
I drank sake normally with my Japanese wife and colleagues, then I realized that there were no sake breweries in New Zealand. I thought, it is a business chance, and an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture, history, religion and everyday life.
My colleagues, Craig and Richard, are helping with accounting, sales, and website management, aside from their work at Tanken Tours. First of all, we tried to work together, brewing and tour guiding, but we realized that brewing sake needs concentration, so my wife and I decided to take on a full-time job brewing sake.
I learned how to brew sake for one and half year at Yoshikubo brewery which is famous for Ippin, and YK3 Sake Producer in Canada.
The brewing process is fallowing exactly the traditional Japanese way, though we can’t brew sake the same as Japan because of the size, facility, and ingredients, so we decided to follow the Canadian way which is just near in size as I imagined.
Struggles in producing SAKE in New Zealand
Rie: I can imagine that you struggled a lot to select ingredients and facilities. How did you manage these?
David: Sake is made from water, rice, yeast, and koji mold. Water was no problem. We have fresh and clear water from the Southern Alps. But rice, yeast, and koji mold was hard to find. I tried and made a lot of mistakes.
Struggles with rice
Of course I hope to use Yamadanishiki, one of the best rice for making sake, but it is hard to import rice from Japan. I am using Calrose from California, US, which is also used in Canadian breweries. Originally the same species of Japonica rice used in Goshu, Australian Brewery, and it is registered as sake rice by the Japanese government.
Now, I found and started contacting with a farmer who is making Yamadanishiki in Arkansas, US. I’m so excited about it.
Struggles with yeast
At first, I didn’t have appropriate yeast. Everyone can buy yeast for sake in the U.S, but I was turned down exporting to New Zealand. I tried any yeast that I could get—baker’s yeast, beer brewer’s yeast, wine yeast, but of course I couldn’t make sake that I imagined. And now, finally, I can use yeast for sake called No.901 from Japan.
Struggles with koji sake mold
As a matter of fact, I made a koji room here to make koji by myself. But I realized that I don’t have enough time to do it, so I gave up. I tried freezing koji which I bought in Japan. Then after that, I found a good partner who is a professional mold making company, Urban Hippie in Nelson, New Zealand.
Koji mold room made by wood. It is now a cooler room.
Ingredients and brewing process was about to fixed at 9 times of brewing. We just finishing 12 times. First year of brewing volume was just 2000 litters. Here are cold in whole year, so we can keep brewing even in summer.
Rie: Are there any specialized changes for New Zealanders?
David: We only make Junmai style of sake, using only rice and water because New Zealanders care to choose healthy products, as you see they prefer no additives to wine.
In addition, we use Kaibou, the tool for stiring sake, for Manuka Tree. It comes out vitamins.
Rie: Can you show me your brewery?
This is a tank for Funeshibori squeezing process. We asked a bath tub making company to prepare this size of tank. We use plate of Matai Tree and push the pressure of stone to squeeze sake. This is the old style of squeezing process but it fits to our brewing volume.
This is the plate of Matai Tree for squeezing, and Manuka Tree for hanging Shizuku Shibori, drip pressed.
This is the filtering machine normally used for wine. This is the only electronic one and others are all by hand.
I store many prototypes and experiments in the refrigerator. For example, one is to examine how much and how long does it take to sink the Ori dregs. We need to know this to provide the equal amount of ori for Nigori sake.
Rie: Could you describe your products?
David: We provide 4 types of sake, Original, Wakatipu, Shizuku shibori, and Nigori. All of our products are great alternatives to either white or red wine with your meal. These are a great match with a wide range of Japanese, European, or New Zealand dishes.
Original is for those who have not drunk sake before, it is easy to drink by making lower alcohol contents.
Wakatipu Sleeping Giant is named after Matau, the legendary strong sleeping giant of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown. The fermented mash is transferred to bags, then gently pressed in a traditional pressing tank to make strong, flavorsome, and full bodied tastes like Matau.
Drip Pressed Shizuku Shibori is hung up to allow the sake to gently filter through the mesh, using gravity alone. While the yield is low, the sake produced is highly refined.
White Cloud” Nigori is crafted by lightly filtering the fermented moromi (mash) a number of times to leave behind just enough lees in the sake to maintain its origina white color and slight sweetness. It is silky smooth, and goes particularly well with spicier and sweeter dishes and snacks.
Even in sake breweries in Japan, each year has different tastes. We label which tank it came from and when we brewed each bottle so that you can say which one you prefer to choose next time.
You can find our products at mostly Japanese and Asian fusion restaurants, and some western style restaurants started serving it. We only provide in New Zealand, so I want to export abroad in the future. But first of all, we want to deliver sake, the most iconic product influenced many aspects of Japanese culture, to New Zealanders especially in our home town, Queenstown.
David was lively and looked so engaging when he talked about sake and his story. No doubt, he must’ve gone through a hard time and faced many challenges before he could start brewing outside of Japan. But when he talks, it’s just like having a normal, funny conversation with him.
He just started producing Pram Sake, and he looks so excited about his new challenge.
We wish David and Zenkuro all the best!