'People of Sake' - David Joll

David Joll is the head brewer at Zenkuro Sake in Queenstown New Zealand.  Along with co-owners Richard Ryall, Craig McLachlan and Yoshihiro Kawamura he’s set up New Zealand’s first ever Sake Brewery. We have a chat to him about what’s happening in the Zenkuro world of sake.

Dave tell us about your background and when and why you decided to start brewing sake.

I have had a passion for learning about all things Japanese, including sake, since I first went to Japan as 17 year old high school student. I majored in Japanese at Auckland University, did post grad studies in Japan, and worked and played rugby in Japan for many years, before moving to Queenstown. More recently I have trained and studied at sake breweries in Japan and Canada, and have also completed John Gauntner’s Sake Professional Course in Japan.

Craig and Richard also have a long background in Japanese studies, both in NZ and Japan, and are authors of a number of books on Japan, and in Japanese on New Zealand. Together the three of us are the authors of Lonely Planet’s “Hiking in Japan”, and we also run a guiding company for Japanese visitors to NZ.

Yoshihiro is a young businessman with interests in both New Zealand and Japan. He is also one of Japan’s foremost “sake missionaries”, promoting and protecting Japan’s sake culture throughout the world.  Yoshi is also co-owner of YK3 Sake Producers, a pioneer sake brewing company in Vancouver Canada.


Do you think it is strange to be making sake in NZ?

Not at all. We have beautiful brewing water from the Southern Alps and a cool dry, pure climate here in Queenstown. So, the environment is perfect and the other key ingredients – rice and yeast, can be imported easily enough.

With interest in Japanese food and beverage culture growing throughout the world, the time was right we felt for NZ’s first sake brewery.


New Zealand has pretty amazing water – and you mentioned you import your rice ... where from?

At present our rice is imported from the USA. Our rice is Seimai Buai 60% Calrose Sakamai. We had difficulty securing a supply from Japan so began looking elsewhere. Sake Producer YK3 in Vancouver kindly introduced us to their supplier in California. It is purpose grown sake rice and can be milled at source to the desired level. Importantly the supplier also already had an established shipping route (for table rice) to New Zealand.


What about yeast?

Our yeast is #901 sourced from Japan. It is non-foaming which makes it practical for our small scale production. It works well at low temperature for an extended length of time and does not produce too strong an aroma. This suits our present aim of producing easy drinking sake that compliments a wide range of cuisine. 


What different types of sake are you making at the moment?

We have five types of Junmai for sale at present.

1. Zenkuro Original Junmai -14% alc.  blend of drip (shizuku) and box (fune) pressed junmai sake.

2. Zenkuro Wakatipu Sleeping Giant – 16% alc. single batch box (fune) pressed junmai sake.

3. Zenkuro Shizuku Drip Pressed Junmai – 16% alc.

4. Zenkuro White Cloud Nigori zake – 14% alc. Nama

5. Zenkuro Full Strength Genshu – 17-19%,  Muroka, Nama


What’s your most memorable sake moment? 

Producing a batch of sake that finally got the approval of my sake loving Japanese wife.


I have to give you guys kudos for the name Zenkuro ... “All Black” - genius name …  any plans for Zenkuro sponsoring the ALL BLACKS at the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019?

 We are free to dream of such things!


What’s the response been like so far, from people regarding Zenkuro?

Beyond our expectations! It is very exciting to see how much support there is out there for our New Zealand Sake project. Our belief that the world is ready for the spread of sake and sake culture has been confirmed.


I heard you guys are also making Sake kasu soap … tell us more.

Yes, we have been working with Azumi, a Queenstown local on this one, and now pretty much have a range of soap ready to go.  The soap will be available through our website very shortly!


Making good use of the sake kasu, which is full of beneficial vitamins, is a very important part of making sake. Providing a range of sake kasu products not only enables us to reduce waste, but also allows us to share sake culture with a much wider spectrum of the local community. Other than being widely used now by the local Japanese community, we have a beautician in Wellington using it for facial packs, and a number of restaurants throughout the country using it to create their own unique Japanese influenced dishes.  Experiencing this side of sake production is proving to be very satisfying for us.


What future plans do you have for Zenkuro?

That’s a tough, open ended question, but for now we are aiming for Zenkuro to become a name that Kiwis can be proud of at home and abroad, and that it will bring enjoyment to all who try it in some way or form. Go Zenkuro!


Thanks Dave for the chat - Keep up the awesome work! And Go Zenkuro! 



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09 May 2017

By Jason Adamson

Sake Sumo News

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