Monday, January 5, 2015

Arkansan's vision for sake brewery draws attention in Japan

Posted By on Mon, Jan 5, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Ben Bell, last year at Big Orange - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Ben Bell, last year at Big Orange

We wrote about Sheridan native Ben Bell's vision for opening a sake brewery in Central Arkansas last year. He's currently learning the secrets of sake brewing as an apprentice at the Nanbu Bijin brewery in Ninohe, Japan. That caught the attention of Asahi Shimbun, a national newspaper in Japan. 

Bell, who works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with five brewers, now understands most of the Japanese used at work. But he always carries a smartphone and a notebook in his apron pockets to jot down jargon.

The second floor of the brewery is used to grow "koji" mold and the inside temperature is kept at above 30 degrees.

The hardest part of his work is the mixing process in a huge vat. Bell said he often ends the day with sore arm muscles after using a 2.5-meter-long wooden paddle that weighs 2 kilograms to do the job.

His brewery, which produces the Nanbu Bijin brand of sake, currently exports to 24 countries, and the United States is its largest importer.

Kosuke Kuji, the 42-year-old president of Nanbu Bijin, said consumption of Japanese sake will likely boom in the United States if producers use local rice and water to keep prices low. It will then create a market for quality sake from Japan, he said.

Describing Bell as studious with genuine enthusiasm, Kuji said, “We have been looking for someone like him.”

According to the Nanbu Toji association, which promotes sake-making techniques in Hanamaki, Bell would possibly be the first foreign trainee to manufacture sake in his home country after learning local brewing techniques.

Bell said he wants to produce rice wine with the same quality as in Iwate Prefecture so that people associate Arkansas with Japanese sake.

UPDATE: Andrew Neyens of Seattle writes to correct the Asahi Shimbun article. He worked a brewing season at Fumigiku Shuzo in Toyama City and now runs Tahoma Fuji Sake Brewing Company in Seattle.

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