ICHINOSEKI, Iwate Prefecture--A craft beer maker in this northern city is using a yeast strain that barely survived last year's tsunami to create a brew that is helping to fund rebuilding efforts.
The Sekinoichi Shuzo microbrewery began marketing 330-milliliter bottles of its Fukuko beer brand at a price of 500 yen ($6.30) on March 11, exactly one year after the tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake ravaged the coasts of northeastern Japan.
The name of the brand, which uses kanji that signify "good fortune" and "fragrance," rhymes with the Japanese word "fukko" for rebuilding.
The brewery received orders for 3,000 bottles of Fukuko from all parts of Japan after Wataru Sato, its 40-year-old president, wrote in his blog about the tough path that led to the beer's commercialization.
It began in May last year, when an official of the Iwate Industrial Research Institute asked Sato: "Will you be able to use yeast to make a product that could help with rebuilding?"
Two months earlier, the tsunami swamped Kitasato University's Marine Biotechnology Institute in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, which was studying about 250 strains of yeast collected from flowers and trees in the prefecture for prospective commercial use in beer and bread.
The tsunami knocked out the power supply to the freezers that stored the strains, putting them at risk of being wiped out.
But the institute restored more than 90 percent of those strains by cultivating them at an Iwate University lab.
One of the surviving yeast strains had been collected from an Ishiwari Zakura (rock-breaking cherry) tree in Morioka, the capital of Iwate Prefecture, which is a government-designated natural monument. But the brewery had to go through a trial-and-error period brewing the beer with that strain because wild yeast can hamper the fermentation process.
Craft beers in Japan are usually fermented at temperatures of about 20 degrees. Sekinoichi Shuzo tentatively used temperatures of around 30 degrees and used larger amounts of yeast, producing a flavor close to that of Belgian beer, Sato said.
Sato subtracted the raw material costs and other expenses from the proceeds of shipments in March and donated the remainder, about 200,000 yen, to a marine products company in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, that is struggling to reopen its oyster farm.
"I want to continue making donations to the marine products industry and to people involved in rebuilding it," Sato said.
The brewery’s Japanese website can be reached at: http://www.sekinoichi.co.jp.
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