Ned Spang, Glen Fox and other in Japan

Exploring Sake in Japan

I was honored to have the opportunity to travel to Japan in November 2023 to participate in the 6th Annual Sakeology event hosted by Niigata University, Niigata Prefecture, and the Niigata Sake Brewers Association. Niigata is located about 150 miles northwest of Tokyo, bordering the Sea of Japan. The region is known for its rice cultivation and high-quality spring water that flows down from the neighboring mountains — two critical ingredients for producing sake! As a result, there are more than 85 sake breweries in the region, many of which are over 100 years old, and some continuously operating for over 400 years.

My fellow Food Science and Technology faculty member, Glen Fox, the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor Malting & Brewing Science, joined me on this adventure. Glen and I both spoke at the event. My presentations focused on the current and future activities of the Robert Mondavi Institute and my research and educational activities related to food loss and waste. Glen centered his talk on the cultivation of sake rice and the growing industry of craft sake brewers in the United States. This event proved to be the perfect follow-up to our recent Savor Event hosted by RMI, specifically focused on the emerging craft sake industry in the California region.

Our hosts invited us to a traditional Japanese dinner following the event, where we sampled a range of sakes and multiple causes of delicious Japanese cuisine. We traveled to Nagaoka's large Kubota sake production facility and the smaller Imayo Tsukasa sake brewery in Niigata the following day. We were able to tour both facilities to see how sake is produced at very different scales and try a number of different sakes produced at each facility. Glen and I were amazed at the range of flavors that could be conjured from the simple ingredients of rice, water, koji, and yeast - ranging from sweet to dry and with flavor notes that spanned from green apple to rich chocolate. We were humbled by the welcoming reception we received from our gracious hosts, and both of us left with a deep appreciation for the art of sake brewing and a desire for continued collaboration with our new connections in Japan.

If you missed our Savor - Brewing Change: Craft Sake in the United States event, I encourage you to watch the recording to learn about the sake industry in our own backyard.

Sake brewing poster


Ned Spang presenting


Ned Spang, Glen Fox on sake tour in Japa

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