THE BIRTH OF A BREWERY
Since August 2022, Johan and Maeva's brewery has been based near Perpignan in the Pyrénées-Orientales. But the story of this couple of biologists from Montpellier, who are passionate about everything to do with gastronomy and fermentation, really began around ten years ago. Johan has a doctorate in microbial evolution and ecology and is pursuing his research in the world of baker's yeast, while Maeva is about to become a biotechnology engineer, specialising in the production of biofuels and molecules of interest from microalgae.
It was an online order that gave them their first opportunity to discover Japanese sake. That day, tasting a Tatenokawa still sounds like love at first sight !
Johan, who has also been brewing beer for a number of years at the Brasserie Associative de Figuerolles, was particularly intrigued by the finesse and complexity of the fermentation processes involved in producing sake. After reading up on the subject, he decided to make his very first brew at home. And why make simple things when you can make complicated things ? So he went straight to Kimoto! Three different families of micro-organisms (Koji, lactic acid bacteria and yeast) in the same fermentation tank, that's heaven for him !
Weeks went by until the day a wine merchant in Montpellier organised a sake tasting with a Japanese producer and an importer (that was us and it was at the boutique "Aux Grand Vins de France" 😉). As we chatted, Johan mentioned this little home-made cuvée, without imagining for a second that they would insist on tasting it, or that they would compliment him on its qualities for a very first try. It was this encouragement that sparked the idea of one day creating a French sakagura. In early 2017, at the end of a post-doctorate contract, Johan decided to embark on this adventure and proposed that Maeva, who had just finished her studies, join him in the project.
And so began a marathon that would last 6 years. From 2017 until their creation in August 2022, they would accumulate knowledge from the internet, books and scientific literature and, of course, one experimental brew after another: around twenty in very small volumes (15 to 20 bottles each time). First at home, then in their garage, they learn and repeat the gestures and practices of traditional Japanese methods. They will vary different parameters during the production process to understand how they affect the final taste, then repeat the process until they achieve a good degree of reproducibility.
And that's not counting all the R&D involved in the production equipment, because their finances won't allow them to import it directly from Japan, so they'll have to adapt... Among other things, by diverting beer brewing equipment.
This is also the time they will need to choose their future raw materials. Johan and Maeva want to make local Junmai sakés, using rice from the Camargue and spring water from the Pyrenees. They contacted the Camargue rice mills and the French rice centre to find out which Camargue varieties would make good sake and stand up to extensive polishing. But they soon realised that it was impossible to polish rice in France. So they finally decided to use a Camargue variety, Brio, which would remain only milled (90% of the grain remaining after polishing).
To rediscover the delicately fruity and floral aromas they so enjoy in sake, despite the low polish content of their rice, they choose to apply to their brews the fermentation dynamics normally typical of Ginjo or Daiginjo sake. This means long fermentations at low temperatures (over a month and a half at around 8~10°C). This is an atypical choice, since in Japan, rice with very little polish is generally associated with shorter fermentations at high temperatures (less than a month, around 15~17°C). This choice enables them to produce sakes with their own identity, combining the roundness and cereal-like, woody notes provided by their 90% polished rice with the fruity and floral accents from the cold fermentations.