Masa Shiroki Knows Sake

photo by Christine Campbell
photo by Christine Campbell

It is important to Masa Shiroki to make the distinction that Sake is rice wine and not a beer product or by-product, “It all comes down to your choice of words – fermentation instead of brewing.  I think the misconception is from when people came to Japan to study the art of Sake making and someone saw the process and associated it with beer but it is not like beer.  Sake is wine – it is a rice wine.”

Shiroki was born in Fukui, Japan, which is located 60 miles north of Kyoto.  When asked why he came to Vancouver, he states, “There was a lot of political instability in Japan in the 60’s…there were student demonstrations being held by extremist groups.  It became unsafe. So, I came to Vancouver to visit a cousin and my entire life was influenced by one year outside of Japan.”

He has held many senior roles and titles over the course of his career that spanned from Montreal to Vancouver.  The one he is most proud of is his journey of becoming a SakeMaker (it is of utmost importance to him to use that word as one would “winemaker” to describe one who makes wine) and his thirteen-year quest of creating the Sake Association of British Columbia where he holds the title of President, “We have nine companies that are members and directors.  Collective voices are needed in this society.”

He started to import premium Sake to British Columbia in 2001 and still imports three premium Sake brands (Echigo Denemon Sake, Masukagami Sake and Toshimori Shuzo Sake) from Japan.

In 2005, he met a Sake consultant who was incredibly influential.  Shiroki asked, “I am thinking of making Sake in Canada.  What do you think?”  The consultant was positive and strongly urged him to locate himself somewhere that had a lot of foot traffic, exposure to an international tourist audience, and somewhere with an active arts and culture pulse.  On June 1st, 2006, Artisan SakeMaker was born on Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C..  He leased a small space on Granville Island amongst jewelry makers, potters, and art supply shops, “I want to position myself as an Artisan and differentiate myself from premium brands as I do not use automated systems.”

Shiroki in his field at Granville Island Sake, Abbotsford, BC
Shiroki in his field at Granville Island Sake, Abbotsford, BC

He trained as a SakeMaker in Japan, learning and practicing everything by hand.  On October 24th, 2006 his first batch was started and on December 25th, 400 liters were produced.  He had to wait until mid-January 2007 for his distribution license to come through.

Shiroki doesn’t filter any of his Sake and blends them with water to bring the level of alcohol down from 18% to around 15%  – depending on the style he is making.  He named his brand ‘Osake’ because “O” in the Japanese language and tradition expresses respect and honor.  This Sake is handcrafted at the Granville Island location and Shiroki has 7 Sakes in his Osake series that range from Junmai Nama to Junmai Ginjo Nigori Genshu.  He also makes North America’s first ‘Traditional Method Sparkling Sake’.

The other series is called ‘Fraser Valley Junmai Sake’ which is 100% Canadian Sake made with rice grown in Abbotsford, British Columbia.  The specific rice he uses is called Ginpu 49L.  Shiroki is on a quest to turn marginal farmland into viable producing rice fields.  Rice needs water to grow and lots of it so Shiroki contracted someone to level the land and put in a levee.  Currently, he grows on 5 acres that consist of two plots of land.  He practices sustainable growing techniques and does not use herbicides, pesticides or any chemicals.

Shiroki has a suggestion for the restauranteurs in the world, “Every oyster bar should have Sake on their wine list.  Umami in oysters matches the umami in Sake. It is the perfect balance.”

When asked what table wines he currently enjoys he said 40-year-old vine Malbec from Cahors, France.  He is also a fan of the British Columbia wineries: Blue Mountain, Township 7 and Tinhorn Creek.

photo by Christine Campbell
photo by Christine Campbell

As the first person in Canada to commercially produce Sake, Masa Shiroki feels fortunate to be doing what he loves to do, “I am thankful for the support and direction I have received.  People have many chances in life to make a choice.  My timing has been correct and I am able to see that and am thankful for it.”

Shiroki is a pioneer.  He is a talented man with a clear vision and the determination to see his vision come to life.  Find him online at http://artisansakemaker.com

Some Artisan SakeMaker Sakes to try:

OSAKE Junmai Nama – perfect with shellfish and acidic cheeses

OSAKE Nama Nigori – this cloudy, creamy Sake pairs with chicken or Brie

OSAKE Junmai Nama Genshu – very rich and full, pair with pâté or red meats

Fraser Valley Junmai Nigori Sake – the ideal match for spicy food

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