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Nov 11.1

Locally Sourced Sake: LUSH Buying Visits Our Supplier

One of the things that makes being a buyer at LUSH so interesting is sourcing ingredients for new products. This year saw Noriko soap produced in North America for the first time. Noriko takes its inspiration from Japan, reflected in its ingredients, which include sake, used for its toning properties.

At first blush it was thought the sake for our Noriko soap would have to be imported, until we discovered that Toronto has its very own sake brewery, the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. The brewery is the only of its kind in eastern North America. Aptly enough, it’s located in the Distillery District, the former site of the Gooderham and Worts distillery, which by the late 1860s was the largest distillery in the world, producing as much as 2 million liters annually. The buildings which remain today are the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America, and is designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The brewery is located on a pedestrian only cobblestone street. Inside the brewery is a small tasting bar, and then, behind glass, the brewing area.

Though in the context of soap making sake is thought of as an ingredient, it is of course itself made up of ingredients; the main ones being water and rice. The water is spring water from northern Ontario, and is well suited for sake production, sharing many chemical properties of the spring water used in the famous Fushimi sake brewing district of Kyoto. The rice is a sake rice grown in California. In addition to water and rice, special sake yeast and koji spores are also required. The koji spores are dusted onto the rice to convert rice starches into sugar, which is in turn consumed by the yeast to create alcohol. The yeast and koji spores are imported from Japan.

As the production process was explained, what struck us was the similarity to how things are made at LUSH, in small batches and by hand. The rice is washed and soaked until it reaches the correct texture, which is judged by hand. The rice is then loaded by hand into a steamer expressly designed for small batch sake making. The rice is cooled using traditional methods of rice tossing and kneading. During the koji making koji spores are worked into the rice, again by hand, with careful kneading. Even the pressing of sake is done with gravity and hand applied mechanical pressure, rather than with a hydraulic press. The same as at LUSH, mechanization is eschewed in favor of hand crafting.

A Few Sake Facts

- Geishas used sake to remove their makeup.
- Sake is the only alcoholic beverage that hydrates rather than dehydrates.
- It’s believed that bathing in sake can lower blood pressure.
- Serving sake warm was a method developed to mask the taste of sake which had been kept over winter.
- Sake doesn’t improve with age, and is best consumed as soon as it’s made. 


Written by Greg Pinch, LUSH Buyer